Eva Pavlíková of Česko.Digital: Experteering helps to solve situations where the government falls short
In recent years, Česko.Digital has been mentioned mainly in relation to large projects that help the government with digitalization. The community of top specialists from a wide range of fields (from IT to project management to marketing), who help in their spare time by doing what they do best, is constantly growing thanks to the great results and enthusiasm of its members. What has been CEO Eva Pavlikova's experience with the last big project Stojíme za Ukrajinou (We Stand with Ukraine), how far along she thinks we are with the digitalisation of the country, why she moved from Prague to a meadow, and how she deals with her own screen time?
Česko.Digital was founded as a community of volunteers who spend their free time helping meaningful projects grow. Initially, it was just a few members, whose ranks have grown over time to over 5000 today. This massive growth is due, among other things, to the pandemic during which large projects such as Učíme Online and the government website Covid Portal needed help to get off the ground. "Every project like this naturally brings new members with it" says the CEO of Česko.Digital. How is it possible to manage such a large community? "This is very much a topic of responsibility and competence of the individual. The ideal model for us is one where the community manages itself. Individuals then come up with ideas that make sense to them, and if enough members get excited about them, the projects get implemented. We try to connect people and teams with the necessary expertise and create the right environment for more and more projects like this to emerge" she explains.
Financial donations vs. volunteering
From the projects that Česko.Digital has completed, it is quite clear that the platform is very different in its focus and operations from ordinary companies. Unlike them, it does not invest energy in maximising profit, but in maximising impact. This is mainly through so-called experteering (expert volunteering), which Eva sees as an important part of employee training through experience on a specific project. "It makes sense for us to give people the opportunity to help where it matters to them, in other ways than financially. Consumer society forces people to earn money so they can donate it because it's expected of them. Whereas in the case of volunteering, everyone keeps their competence with themselves and still develops it in most cases" she explains. "The great thing is that people are not sitting idly by, but helping directly with their skills, gaining a new experience and yet it doesn't isolate them from the problem and the community that is solving it, as in the case of financial donations" she says. She believes that companies should want to involve their employees in such projects on a regular basis. "In the end, everyone involved benefits" she adds.
"The great thing is that people are not sitting idly by, but helping directly with their skills, gaining a new experience and yet it doesn't isolate them from the problem and the community that is solving it, as in the case of financial donations."
Website for Ukraine in less than a week
This was also the case with the last big project that was created under the banner of Česko.Digital a few months ago, Stojíme za Ukrajinou. This giant navigation aims to connect all those who want to help in the current war situation in Ukraine but don't know how, with those who need help but don't know where to turn. The idea for the project came at the moment of the great wave of solidarity that has risen in the Czech Republic, with a tight deadline of one week.
Despite the fact that Česko.Digital normally avoids fixed deadlines, in this case they made an exception. "But if someone comes to us with a regular project that they want to meet a deadline, we say that we are not a cheap digital agency. We want to be part of the solution to the problem, not just code something" Eva explains. "With Stojíme za Ukrajinou, there was a real need for individual people who wanted to solve it themselves. I myself would be in favour of more people seeing Česko.Digital as a space where if they bring a good vision and idea and get enough people excited about it, it is possible to meet a specific deadline if it makes sense within the project" she adds.
However, the moment they decided to agree to the killer deadline, it was clear that a technical solution would have to be chosen that would allow the fastest possible response to the situation. Great user-friendliness and a time-saving implementation were needed. "Solidpixels took the guesswork out of choosing a technical solution. In previous projects, we regularly spent a large amount of time just choosing which way to build the solution. For example, with the Covid Portal, we spent a week doing this - the same amount of time that it took us to have the entire site ready for Stojíme za Ukrajinou. This allowed us to focus on the content itself and what information we wanted to provide and in what quality" says Eva. "A more complex technical solution requires more time, and it's not certain if someone will be able to take over afterwards. We usually hand projects back to non-profit or government organizations that don't have the necessary competencies to manage custom-developed projects. From this point of view, it is always more reliable to look for a no code solution, because the chances are much higher that we will hand over the project safely and that the organisation will be able to manage and update it" she adds.
"We usually hand projects back to non-profit or government organizations that don't have the necessary competencies to manage custom-developed projects. From this point of view, it is always more reliable to look for a no code solution, because the chances are much higher that we will hand over the project safely and that the organisation will be able to manage and update it."
We are not just developers
The original claim of Česko.Digital "Through ones and zeros we are changing the Czech Republic for the better" is still valid, today the project goes far beyond the technological community, it includes programmers, marketers, lawyers, teachers or psychologists, in short, anyone who has the necessary skills and wants to get involved. Anyone who has a good experience with no code solutions is also very welcome.
What do the projects selected by Česko.Digital have in common? Most often they come from the non-profit sector or from the public administration. According to Eva Pavlíková, these are very similar worlds. "They both perform a public service, each of them does it a little differently, and at the same time they are sectors that are significantly underfunded, so they are undersized and don't have the very best people they could have. So digitisation is often initiated by their IT departments, which brings its own disadvantages. From an IT perspective, digitalisation in general does little to serve non-technical users. It brings a technical solution that forgets about the user." This is also what Česko.Digital is trying to change with its approach. "Non-profit organisations come to us with a specific problem they want to solve, but it often turns out that the problem or its cause is elsewhere or looks different. It pays to take two steps back. We've found that it's best to be at the very creation of the solution to the problem, where we're not talking about the technology, but about the needs of the user and the target audience, and asking why we want to solve the problem. Asking why is terribly important" Eva explains.
Digitalisation is about people, not technology
Since projects that help with digitalization in the field of public administration regularly come to Česko.Digital, digitalization of the government is naturally a very important topic for its members. "I already see it as a kind of social bon mot - how we need to improve the digitalisation of the government. For us, it's about dialogue with all stakeholders, about lowering the barrier of understanding, which is often difficult because there are terribly deep trenches dug in this area. Citizens and public administrations are afraid to communicate with each other, and at the same time we as citizens are often terribly demanding, we want everything perfect and right away, and that creates pressure on both sides" Eva opens the topic. "Digitalisation reflects what kind of public administration we have, what kind of public administration we want, what kind of political representation we choose. The state of digitalisation is to some extent a reflection of how we are as a society" she continues. In general, however, she believes that technology is not the main topic in the discussion about the digitalisation of the state. "I always say that digitalisation is not about technology, it's about people. We often give too much attention to technology, but topics like transparency, competence or proactivity and inclusiveness of the government start to get lost in the debate" she explains. "We should not only target the citizen, we should also add value to individual officials. Make them understand that technology has a use value for them in particular. They will come into contact with it every day, and if they understand its benefits, they will be able to push digitalisation and innovation from the bottom up across the entire public administration" she adds.
"I always say that digitalisation is not about technology, it's about people. We often give too much attention to technology, but topics like transparency, competence or proactivity and inclusiveness of the government start to get lost in the debate."
Life in the meadow
Although Eva's great professional and personal interest is the topic of the functioning of public administration, she herself ironically leads a rather "anti-system" way of life with her family. They bought three and a half hectares of meadow outside the city, where they moved to from Prague. "The idea to move to the meadow was originally born because we wanted to offer our two sons another alternative to the consumerist life in Prague, where a child normally gets a tablet in the first grade. For myself, it is a form of compensation. I have a history in business consulting, IT consulting, where I got a taste of the consumerist way of life that forces people to earn and then spend a lot of money, which in most cases, due to the workload, they don't manage to do anyway. That's why I started thinking more intensively about how to reduce my cost of living" she explains.
Building digital responsibility
Experts in social networks and modern technologies are very often staunch opponents of them in their personal lives and have strict rules for their use in their families. This can be seen, for example, in the popular Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. As CEO of a major digital platform, how does Eva think about these things? "We try to offer alternatives to children rather than telling them what's allowed and what's not. They're in first and second grade, they don't own an iPad, they don't own a phone, we don't have a TV at home. We're not strictly closed to technology, rather we try to discuss these things with them. It's important to put the responsibility on them. If we agree to play for an hour, they set their own alarm. It's not like an app is going to sort it out for them" she says. She sees delegating personal responsibility to apps as a general problem. "If I feel too attracted to a piece of technology, I try to mentally work with it internally, figure out why that is, etc. I feel that if I hand over that responsibility to an app, I'm actually making it terribly easy for myself. Plus, even when I've tried to set it up sometimes, I've always gotten around it somehow" she says. "Technology in general is a kind of compensating sense of security for people. It's easy to understand, simple and comfortable to trust them with your decision-making. But we should constantly be aware of what information is being transmitted to us and decide how to deal with it. The final decision-making process must originate within us and not from the outside. We sometimes apply technology head on, but the world is much more colourfuls" she says.
"Technology in general is a kind of compensating sense of security for people. It's easy to understand, simple and comfortable to trust them with your decision-making. But we should constantly be aware of what information is being transmitted to us and decide how to deal with it. The final decision-making process must originate within us and not from the outside."
And how is she doing with her own screen time? "I consciously say I spend an hour or two on Twitter as part of my working hours. It's a work tool for me because I'm using it to try to raise the visibility of the company and our views outside of our social bubble" she says. Even from her engagement on social media, it's clear that she sees her job as a mission. "Of course it's a matter of control, being able to let go of things and also working with your ego on a daily basis. Consciously thinking about whether I'm tackling particular things to be good at them or whether I'm doing it for a higher purpose. I think I can say with a clear conscience that I'm trying to serve some higher purpose, that I'm trying to make better public administration, better government, better nonprofits, better communities, and I think people can feel that coming from me." She says she doesn't have a one-size-fits-all recipe for peace, though it's readily apparent. "A lot of people tell me that I seem very laid back, that's my conscious work, my setting, and the fact that I try not to solve everything, but to let it flow more. I'm also trying to listen to my intuition more. I'm surrounded by capable people and if I see a problem and I don't solve it, someone else will come along and help" she concludes.
Would you like to start your own project with us? Let us know more about it and we'll help you make it happen.