Developing countries are often notorious for their inefficient public service delivery. However, the Bangladeshi government is seeking to vastly improve the citizen experience of government services through empathy-led innovation, write Anir Chowdhury and Nick Beresford. This involves arranging for civil servants to act as secret shoppers to identify weaknesses and come up with solutions, often using new technologies.
In the last 8 years, Bangladesh has established a new development paradigm through its approach to socio-economic development which is high growth yet inclusive, self-reliant yet collaborative, and respectful of heritage yet ambitious in its use of new technologies. The country has moved up to low middle income status but, more importantly by human development indicators it has achieved a level of development commonly predicted for twice its per capita income.
The Digital Bangladesh Vision 2021 agenda – the country’s launch pad for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – is a long-term vision of poverty reduction and human development anchored ingovpreneurship (entrepreneurship by the government) and hopes to empower Bangladeshis to co-create solutions to development challenges. Within this, a2i Public Service Innovation Lab+ was established by the Prime Minister’s Office with support from UNDP in 2007 to ensure easy, affordable and reliable access to quality public services which harnesses (but is not limited to) the power of digital.
Bangladesh has significant advantages when it comes to harnessing new technologies, particularly as around 50 per cent of the population is under the age of 24. Many of these youths have or will have jobs in industries that didn’t exist 20 years ago. They might be app developers, cloud computing experst, block chain specialists or big data analysts. At the same time, the technology that we master today threatens to master us tomorrow! Taxi drivers are now Uber drivers, but tomorrow’s driverless cars could negate the need for any drivers.
a2i (short for access to information) helps government officials analyse and redesign workflows within and between ministries in order to optimize end-to-end processes and automate non-value-added tasks. On the face of it, it may seem a2i is simply a programme to digitise Government services. It has established over 5,000 Digital Centres providing Internet access throughout the country. As a result citizens can access hundreds of both free public services (such as land records, birth registration, telemedicine, life insurance, passport and overseas job applications) and private services (mobile financial services, assisted rural e-commerce, insurance, various types of computer and vocational training, etc.).