It appears that unlike the previous government that was not of one mind regarding the centrality of mobiles, the new government has accepted it. The Digital India project that aims to offer a one-stop shop for government services would use the mobile phone as the backbone of its delivery mechanism. The government hopes the Rs 1.13-lakh crore initiative that seeks to transform India into a connected economy to also attract investment in electronics manufacturing, create millions of jobs and support trade. In an interview with ET, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to ensure a smartphone in the hands of every citizen by 2019.
The IDRC Asia Office was kind enough to permit publication of a part of a concept paper I wrote for them. Here is an excerpt: At present, the principal methods for understanding users or demand are quantitative research (representative-sample surveys) and qualitative research. The former is used primarily for understanding “what” questions and the latter for “why” questions. Quantitative research is very costly. Its limitations include problems of recall and different forms of bias.
Last year, I wrote about how the ubiquity of mobiles had helped a Bangladeshi doctor improve vaccination rates and win a Gates Foundation Prize. Here is another story about how the ubiquity of mobiles is helping improve government service delivery in Lahore, Pakistan. Even among the poorest fifth of households, 80% now use phones, so the technology can reach almost everyone. Illiteracy is a problem, but the chief minister’s call alerts a recipient to get help, if needed, with reading the text message when it arrives. It contains a specific question: did the police respond, as required, within 15 minutes of your emergency call?
Most people are electronically connected to each other and to their governments. This happened in our countries in the past decade. How does this translate into being treated with more respect as a citizen? Almost everyone has experienced the frustration of going to the wrong office; of going to the right office but being told the right official is absent; of finding the right official and being told the documentation is not complete; of having the required documents but not having the payment in the right form, and so on. For those whose language is not Sinhala, there is the added frustration of not being able to communicate, not being able to read the forms.
Last week I attended a day-long seminar on applying design thinking to government. I wasn’t fully convinced that this was truly novel. But there is no doubt that government does not adequately research the end user of its services. A write up about the event in Mint highlights that aspect: Design thinking denotes an approach to problem-solving, with three distinct aspects. First, users are studiously followed and analysed employing ethnographic tools.
LIRNEasia in partnership with Lanka Software Foundation and several other partners has spent a lot of time figuring out how we could catalyze the growth of useful apps on mobiles, in connection with a project proposal we just submitted. Unlocking the wealth of data sitting inside government, as described in this op-ed by Richard Thaler is a great way to go. The US is doing it. Can we get our governments also to follow? Not surprisingly, San Francisco, with its proximity to Silicon Valley, has been a pioneer in these efforts.
Our research on the rubber growing industry has taken us into a terrain where there are many government services, not optimally provided, and suggestion about more government services that could be provided to further one or another objective. In this context, the article just published in Ground Views has relevance, as shown by the opening para below: There is little value in simply reiterating complaints about government service delivery since there is an over-supply of dissatisfaction. Instead I seek to provide a set of conceptual tools that can be useful in understanding what government services are essential and why government over-extends itself in service delivery, doing too many things badly. Hopefully, this will help us structure our thinking and expectations relating to government services. The incentives of politicians and bureaucrats are to always do more things, irrespective of need and efficiency.
Last week, LIRNEasia’s lead scientist and the director of the knowledge to innovation project, Dr Sujata Gamage, made a presentation to the annual sessions of one of Sri Lanka’s oldest social science associations, the Social Scientists’ Association (SSA), on the literature pertaining to Research to Policy and how to take research to the policy process. Given the preoccupation of those associated with the SSA with the ethnic issue in the past decades, the very fact that they invited Sujata to react to the papers that were presented suggests a transition is underway from Right to Protect (R2P) to Research to Policy (R2P). The presentation is likely to be useful for anyone wanting a quick and comprehensive overview of the literature. It uses the work being done at LIRNEasia on the delivery of government services with IDRC support as an exemplar and is possibly the first publication of some of the findings of her research on self-organizing networks that are emerging among Sri Lankan local government authorities.
“The government is spending a lot on e-governance by putting up kiosks in villages. These kiosks cost a lot and need electricity, which is not always available in rural areas. An internet kiosk costs the government about Rs 1.5 lakh, while this would cost Rs 22,000.” Financial Chronicle (New Delhi edition) quoted Subhash Bhatnagar, adjunct professor, IIM-A who did a Mobile 2.
Sri Lanka’s 1919 Government Information Center, serving 20 million people gets around 3000 calls a day, compared to New York City’s 311 service which is serving perhaps the same number of people but gets 50,000 calls a day. Long way to go .. . .