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Punjab charging ahead with m-Governance

Last weekend, talking about policy and regulatory issues will drive Pakistan’s adoption of broadband.  My co-panellists were Faisal Sattar (CEO of Pakistan’s Universal Service Fund), Salman Ansari (former advisor to the Ministry of IT & Telecom in Pakistan) and Kojo Boakye (Policy Manager at the Web Foundation).

I was at Pakistan ICTD Workshop organized by newly set up Information Technology University  in Lahore and the Punjab Information Technology Board.  The fact that both organizations are headed by one individual (Umar Saif, PhD and the fact that the Punjab Chief Minister (Shahbaz Shariff, brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff) has taken a personal interest in using ICT-enabled governance has led to some interesting results.  The students and faculty at IT-University are in the wonderful position of having a willing and eager client (in the form of Punjab IT Board) who roll-out and scales up the applications they developed.  Having (captive) staff at the university research lab has enabled Punjab to rapidly prototype and then develop software – instead of going through expensive (and worse) long government procurement cycles they would otherwise face if they were competitively selecting a software developer. While it can be argued that selecting the best vendor out of many (instead of sometimes using software developed by the university) is best practice, after seeing some of the results, I’m less concerned.  To start with, they rely on ubiquitous mobile devices for much of the field level interactions (instead of insisting on big-box/computer based eGovernment).  Furthermore, they seem to have taken a very data-driven approach to the design of initiatives.  For example, Ali Cheema, PhD of LUMS was explaining how it was first established that crime in Lahore was indeed concentrated in a small number of beats BEFORE changing the approach to policing and designing the relent mobile apps.  This gives me hope.

At the moment, most of the data that’s generated are behind protected firewalls.  Some data (e.g. geo mapped crime data) may be more sensitive, unless anonymized and aggregated at some level.  But why not make at least some of the data (e.g. the schedule for the rapid transit system bus) public?  So that the young hackers do play around with it, and see what comes out?

Interestingly, I had separate meetings with the Chairman of the Pakistan Telecom Authority (Syed Ismael Shah, PhD) and the State Minister for Information Technology (Anusha Rehman) in Islambad the day before I attended the Punjab workshop.  While the meetings were meant to be about telecom policy and regulatory issues, the conversation ended up on eGov. IT seems the central government too is driving a big eGovernment push, and is it wants to learn from the experience of countries that did this first.  I proposed the team at ICTA/eSri Lanka would be ideal to talk to, and agreed to do introductions.

The program and slides from my talk are available online.

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