Our ‘Dual Focus PhD’ series tracks the working lives of our part-time PhD fellows. Many work at the highest of levels, both nationally and internationally, including for other parts of the UN system. They come to Maastricht for our unique PhD Dual Career Training Programme in Governance and Policy Analysis (GPAC²). This time Dr. Mindel van de Laar speaks to Bernard Nikaj, Ambassador of Kosovo in Brussels.
You defend your PhD thesis on 24 November. In your research, you study a remarkable ‘Case Management Information System’ in Kosovo. Can you briefly explain the background and why you decided to study it?
My research looks into the roll out of a ‘Case Management Information System’ (CMIS) in the judiciary of Kosovo, which began in 2001 and remains ongoing. The implementation of this system has driven reform of the judiciary throughout Kosovo’s development as a state – from the early phases of post-conflict emergency intervention, through the various stages of development, right up to post-independence state building and consolidation. As such, the CMIS represents a unique case study of information technology implementation in public administration institutions, especially in relation to studying or investigating the impact that technology has on the shaping of state institutions. This was what intrigued me to find out more about the CMIS, and why I eventually ended up studying it.
Your case findings show that in Kosovo, e-governance can precede law making. What is the wider relevance of that finding?
The CMIS in Kosovo shows that in situations of state-building, with weak institutions and questionable decision-making processes, the implementation of technology solutions can define and constrain the development of laws, procedures and institutions. Specifically, this means that the implementation of technology solutions is never neutral. Rather, information technology solutions, such as CMIS, together with laws and procedures, become hybrid regulators of particular sectors including, in this case, justice.
These findings are relevant both theoretically and practically. Theoretically because the case provides insights from a new context (state-building), thus showing in part how technologies can have framing effects. At the same time, the case shows that some of the conceptions that hold for established state situations, don’t hold for state-building contexts (for example, processes for introducing new ICT solutions such is requirement specification, user involvement, etc.). On the practical side, the findings show that when implementing new technology, more planning and thought has to be put in early on in the process – because the impacts can be long lasting.
Many things will have changed in the years after you began your PhD. Did this CMIS in Kosovo trigger other sectors to digitise their processes? If so, how so?
The digitisation of public administration, in my opinion, is no longer innovation: it has become mainstream. This means that most public administration sectors now rely fully on information technology to provide their services: whether tax administrations, business services, citizen services, health sectors, etc.
In Kosovo, especially in the justice sector, CMIS had and still has great impact on further digitisation of the processes. From the initial phases of trying to automate the workings of the courts, these days Kosovan institutions are working with international donors and experts to use CMIS and the digitisation of services in the judiciary as the cornerstone of efforts to combat corruption and to increase transparency and accountability, not only for the management of the justice sector but also in relation to the public, i.e. citizens.
When you started your PhD, you were a consultant. In the meantime, your career path changed a lot. Would you do it again?
It is true that I started the PhD with a completely different carrier path in sight. In the meantime, I was honoured to perform some very important functions for my country, which at the same time put some strain on my PhD work. However, looking back at it now, I don’t regret the effort. Doing the PhD has provided me with a unique skillset for approaching things that have been very useful in my day-to-day work. Besides that, I have met and become friends with many inspiring individuals. So, to cut a long story short, yes, I would do it again!
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / Herman Pijpers; Flickr / Allan Leonard