Access to Information (a2i) Programme
Prime Minister's Office, Bangladesh

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
In Bangladesh about 70% of its citizens live and work in rural areas. They usually had to travel miles, often several times, spending money on travel and other expenses and enduring service-delivery delays and other hassles to access government services. They had little information on how to navigate through the labyrinth of intricate service-delivery-processes. On the other hand, operational cost of the government was much higher as it followed paper-based manual procedures. In the centralized, hierarchical nature of decision making system the mid-level and field-level – who are mostly mid-level – officers had almost no voice. Although they are better placed to offer useful ideas to improve service delivery condition, they did not have resources and environment to experiment with potential solutions. The scenario was frustrating for citizens who desire high standards to be followed in service delivery and bred corruption. This means that the underserved citizens had to bear with undue expenditure, unbounded timeframe and other hassles in accessing public services. Like many other developing countries in Bangladesh citizens’ rising demand on service standard and resource constraints have put the pressure on service-process redesigning. For example, around 80,000 farmers of Fulbaria sub-district needed proper and timely information on ways to identify and treat plant diseases. But the whole area, which is about 401.16 sq km, had just 46 agriculture field officers who could be reached at sub-district level administrative headquarter. So, the farmers had to spend much time, money and effort to travel about 20 - 30 kilometres to get their advices. Such scenario is symptomatic of the fundamental challenges that have inspired innovation in public services in Bangladesh. A survey done on the impact of Union Digital Centres (UDC) revealed that previously on an average citizens required 7 to 8 days for birth registration. Such lengthy procedures demotivated citizens to seek public services. For setting up a business the followed procedure was a very difficult one since it required many documents. The study shows that previously citizens had to visit 5 times to a concerned office to get an environment clearance certificate. For land related services like, correction of land ownership record (mutation), land lease, payment of land development tax etc. citizens borne similar hassles. In most cases citizens could not find any way out to receive the required services and were easily ensnared by the middlemen. Highly centralized decision making system, age-old rules, command-tendency rather than helping in the service delivery are adding to the woe.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
With the purpose of promoting transparency, accountability and integrity in public service, the Access to Information (a2i) programme has been working for 10 years on developing an innovation culture for ensuring services at citizens’ doorsteps, simplifying service processes and delivering online services by employing following strategies: • Empowering civil servants with the tools, expertise, knowledge and resources they need for experimenting and innovating citizen-centric solutions to public service challenges; • Establishing both physical and online one-stop access points that scale innovative services and make them available to citizens easily, reliably and in an affordable manner; • Encouraging and supporting non-government actors, including small entrepreneurs, teachers and youth, to partner with government actors.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The a2i initiatives towards building a Digital Bangladesh, an integral component of the government Vision 2021 agenda, has successfully addressed the issue of processing delay in public services and enriched people’s lives. The Programme has made significant contributions on citizen’s empowerment through higher quality, cost effective public services and a better relationship between citizens and government. Various studies revealed that the programme has massive scale of socio-economic impact. For example, findings of TCV (time, cost, and visits) studies on 9 service sectors revealed that the intervention of a2i initiative saved 1 billion man-days, 1.5 billion US$, and 400 million visits in 2016 only. A review of a2i programme conducted by the University of Dhaka mentioned that the Access to Information (a2i) Programme successfully illustrated that, if used correctly, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be a powerful tool to empower populations by reducing costs, corruption and inefficiencies and improving quality, transparency and promoting access to government services. It can lead to enhanced transparency, as processes are re-engineered to be “e-deliverable”. The Programme achieves its outcome through a three-pronged approach – capacitating the bureaucracy to design citizen-friendly e-Service, ensuring decentralization of the delivery of the services through physical and online access points, and encouraging non-government actors to partner with government actors. Due to easy access to online and telecommunications services, citizens have become more capable and empowered. For example, Union Digital Centres (UDC) were established in all Unions (lowest tier of local government) of Bangladesh to ensure availability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) enabled services for citizens living in rural areas. The UDCs, a novel approach of public private partnership, are providing 114 types of public and private services and have become the hub of information and services on agriculture, education, health, businesses and other commercial services. Each UDC is run by two entrepreneurs; 1 male and 1 female and provide 5.1 million services in a month across the country. As a recognition, Digital Centre has received internationally recognized World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Award-2014 in E-Government Category. The a2i Programme has trained service providers as part of building empathy triggered innovation journey to capacitate government officials to experiment and innovate regarding service delivery. Over 0.13 million civil servants and thousands of digital centers’ entrepreneurs have been trained to provide e-services. Consequently, citizens now have easy access to hundreds of affordable e-services at lesser cost and hassle. While a typical villager had to travel to the district government office about 40km away and it required multiple visits to get a certified copy of land records, he/she can now apply for it online and receive doorstep delivery of the documents. Thus, a2i has been playing a pivotal role in accessing information and public services by reducing time, on an average, from 30 days to 16 days, cost from USD 3.3 to about USD 1 and the number of visits required to the government office from 5 to 0. To incentivize broader partnership between government and non-government actors, a2i provides Service Innovation Fund (SIF). It provides seed funds and incubates cost-effective, user-centric, home-grown innovations to solve some of the most important problems affecting underserved communities. As a result of the SIF, Bangladesh now has solar-powered multimedia classrooms being set up in off-grid locations; DAISY standard multimedia talking books for using by visually impaired students and slow learners; an online application system for Environment Clearance Certificate; and a 3D printer which has already been used to print artificial limbs for disabled children whose parents are too poor to afford conventional, higher cost prosthetics. About 133 proposals have been awarded from the Service Innovation Fund to entrepreneurs. Cumulatively, 0.5 million beneficiaries have benefited from the SIF prototypes till December 2016. SIF has engaged and empowered both the public and the private sector to co-create novel solutions to development challenges and boosted their chances of making impact at scale.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
a2i works to bring about a paradigm shift in the Bangladesh Civil Service, away from its rigid, rule-based roots primarily designed to control, towards a modern, citizen-centric and flexible service delivery system designed to serve. a2i’s initiatives are more creative and innovative in terms of: • Service Process Simplification (SPS) and TCV measurement: Equipping civil servants with a tool to simplify access to public services, thereby reducing the time, cost and number of visits (TCV) required for citizens to access them. • Up-scaling programmes: After hundreds of innovation pilots, selecting the ones that have the potential for large impact and designing and partnering for countrywide expansion. • Policy Support: Ensuring policy formulation to ensure institutional adoption and sustainability. • Public-Private Partnership: By bringing in the private sector, in the form of the entrepreneurs at the local level and corporate entities at the national level. • Social Media in Public Service Innovation: Redress citizens’ grievances, break down hierarchical barriers in communication, and create a peer-support and mentorship network within the civil service to nurture a culture of citizen-centric public service innovation. • Incentives and mentoring for innovators: Introducing Service Innovation Fund (SIF), Empathy Tranining, and Innovation Awards, nurture a culture of innovation.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The initiative is implemented by the Prime Minister’s Office through a2i Programme. The Programme is supported by the Government of Bangladesh, UNDP, and USAID. In collaboration with a2i, the initiative was executed by respective Ministries, Departments, Directorates, and Field Level Administration. It provides technical assistance to respective authorities (Ministries, Departments, Directorates, and Field Level Administration) for building their capacity and to implement the initiatives. The programme is being implemented across the country and the total population of Bangladesh are the beneficiaries of this programme. However, the biggest focus is the underserved, including the poor, the marginalized, persons with disabilities, living mostly in the rural areas. The programme aims at delivering easily accessible, affordable and quality services to the citizens across the country. For example, a total of 5,000+ Digital Centers established all over the country run by 10,000+ entrepreneurs of whom 50% are women. These Digital Centers have been providing 114 types of public and private services and ensured access to information and services for rural people. Teachers Portal, is a sharing and learning platform for all primary, secondary and higher secondary school teachers. All necessary digital contents can be found in this portal to facilitate multimedia classrooms. Currently, a total of 1,50,000 teachers are active members while 101,000 educational contents are available at Teachers’ Portal. Using Facebook in public activities ‘Innovation Practices for Public Services’ has become supportive power. Currently, social media are being used in more than 5,000 government offices where more than 2.5 million common citizens are connected with these platforms. a2i has developed National Portal, considered as the world’s largest government portal, that has integrated 43,000 government offices in a single platform and providing information services to all citizens of Bangladesh – this portal received about 60 million hits every month. Thus, a2i has been an instrumental enabling force for all citizens of Bangladesh.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Access to Information (a2i) Programme drives the creation of a public service innovation ecosystem and delivery infrastructure from the Prime Minister’s Office working closely with the Cabinet Division. a2i’s unique, simple and powerful Innovation Lab+ model revolves around: • Establishing delivery platforms enabling ‘Services for All’: The driving mantra of Access to information (a2i) Programme is ‘Services at Doorsteps for All’. a2i emphasized on capacity building, partnership, empathy-change in mind-set to provide citizen centric service. • Simplifying through ‘SPS’: This term is considered as equipping civil servants with a tool to simplify access to public services, thereby reducing the time, cost and number of visits (TCV) required for citizens to access them. Officers from 55 directorates/public agencies have been trained to simplify their services. • Cultivating ‘Empathy’: Empathy training for the civil servants to help embark on a journey of innovating citizen-centric public services. • Supporting innovation through ‘SIF’: a2i’s Service Innovation Fund (SIF) was designed as a seed funding mechanism for incubating cost-effective, user-centric, home-grown innovations to solve some of the most important problems affecting underserved communities. More than 133 projects have been selected to implement using SIF fund. • Celebrating innovators with ‘Innovation Fairs, Innovation Summits and Innovation Awards’: The summits and in particular, the district level innovation fairs organized across all 64 districts of the country, are a key element of our strategy to make the entire innovation culture in Bangladesh public facing. Also The Civil Service in Development Innovation Summits are high-profile, international events, hosted by the Honorable Prime Minister’s Office, that bring together remarkable innovators, development practitioners, heads of states, ministers, bureaucrats and thought leaders from the world’s most respected ‘innovation nations’, companies and academic institutions. a2i mobilizes its resources with the extensive participation mechanisms of local, national, government and international commitment. These include providing technical trainings, extensive community participation mechanisms, generation of local economic benefits, institutional stability, and international commitment to programme goals. Although the programme is run by the Government of Bangladesh, UNDP and USAID, the a2i programme mobilizes its resources through private sector funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), World Bank, ILO, the Chinese Government and other institutions for testing and implementing different initiatives. They provide intellectual, technological and institutional support to develop products and implement programmes across the country.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
a2i primarily remains a catalyst in all initiatives and actively nurtures ownership among change champions from within all ministries, directorates, departments, district and sub-district administrative heads, and representatives from local government institutions. Together, they form a2i’s guiding coalition, which plays a crucial role in ensuring that service reforms are successful and sustainable. However, a2i, in partnership with ministries, runs a few flagship large-scale initiatives that need ownership of many ministries. a2i programme, run by Prime Minister’s Office and supported by UNDP and USAID, is designed in collaboration with different ministries, directorates, departments and private sector, such as; • Digital Centre and service delivery partnerships: Local Government Division, private sector and public sector providers • Administrative partnership for wide-scale governance reform: Cabinet Division, Ministry of Public Administration, Deputy Commissioners Offices. • Education partnerships: Ministry of Education, Ministry of Primary and Mass Education. • Financial inclusion partnerships: Bangladesh Bank, and other banks. • Technology partnerships: ICT Division, Posts and Telecommunications Division, Bangladesh Computer Council, Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, Google, Facebook, Telenor, Mozilla, etc. • Academic and research partnerships: Public Universities (University of Dhaka, Jahangirnagar Univeristy, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, University of Rajshahi, University of Chittagong) of Bangladesh, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, Maldives, Griffith University, University of Cambridge, International Growth Centre, National University of Singapore, Khan Academy, London School of Economics, The Beharoural Insights Team, Innovations for Poverty Action, Japan International Cooperation Agency, The Better Than Cash, The CGAP, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, EGL Singapore, Telenor, Mozilla Foundation, Google, and so on.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
a2i has been implementing diverse programmes to establish ‘Digital Bangladesh’ where the aim is to make public services more prompt, cheaper and hassle-free. However, there are many initiatives that proved most successful, such as: • Digital Centres: A total of 5,286 Digital Centers have been established all over the country in which 114 types of public and private services are provided. On an average a total of 5.1 million services are provided from these digital centres in a month. This initiative won the ITU’s WSIS Award in 2014. • National Portal: ‘All services in a single platform’ is the aim of this world’s largest government web portal (www.bangladesh.gov.bd) which received WSIS Award 2015 for its outstanding contribution in implementing the Right to Information Law. 43,000 offices of the government are under this portal featuring about 2 million contents and receiving 60 million hits every month. • Teachers’ portal: It is a sharing and learning platform for all primary, secondary and higher secondary school teachers. There are 150,000 active members and 101,000 educational contents in this portal. It is bringing a paradigm shift in teacher training in Bangladesh by introducing the concept of peer-to-peer training which is addressing teacher trainer shortages and also lack of refresher training. This initiative received the WSIS Award in 2016. • Service Process Simplification (SPS): a2i’s initiative to implement SPS for improving the quality of services trained government organizations to apply 400+ vital services. This initiative also received the WSIS Award in 2016. • Service Innovation Fund (SIF): The SIF opened up an unprecedented opportunity to incubate solutions from both government and non-government actors. Since launching, SIF has completed 8 rounds. Nearly half of the 2, 800 plus proposals to the Fund came from the private sector, NGOs, Universities and even individual innovators. • Empathy training: a2i’s empathy methodology has empowered hundreds of civil servants to redesign services in a citizen-centric manner and launch Innovation Pilots around the country, especially at the field level. • E-filing: This is the government’s day-to-day decision support system that was popularized from the district offices and making its way up to the ministries and directorates. The target is to run 19,000+ offices of the government by 2018. This initiative won the Open Group Architecture Award in 2017. • Social Media in Public Service: Social media, especially Facebook has become a good platform of grievance redressal in public activities Facebook is in use in more than 5000 government departments where 2.5 million citizens are connected. • MuktoPaath: ‘MuktoPaath’ (www.muktopaath.gov.bd) is an open e-learning Bangla Platform. Anyone from anywhere at any time can engage in this to acquire knowledge and skills. There are 90,000 active members in MuktoPaath.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The first major obstacle was a service delivery paradigm that existed to control and rule than to facilitate and serve making things very complicated for common citizens. The SPS methodology met with significant resistance from civil service because of fear of change. a2i decided to pursue a slower approach and initially trained 120 officers from 36 departments to methodically identify and simplify the most vital service processes. These officers became ‘champions of change’ and acted as inspiration to the rest of civil service. This allowed a2i to expand the SPS training to thousands of civil servants. SPS was made a policy mandate by incorporating it into the Annual Performance Agreement of every agency in the government. Later, ‘Empathy Training’ enabled service providers to ‘walk a mile in the shoes of the customers’ to re-design the service delivery process from their perspective. The need for strict adherence to rules straitjacketed most civil servants into inaction and even fear about trying to change the existing paradigm. A combination of Service Innovation Fund (SIF), Innovation competitions and Awards, and the assurance from PMO that ‘Failure is OK’ incentivized many to experiment with new, citizen-centric ideas. Many of these ideas generated very useful innovations. Many of those innovations created tremendous benefits for the citizens. The policy support that a2i was able to mobilize from the PMO and Cabinet Division facilitated institutionalization of these changes enabling massive transformation. The most difficult challenge was from vested interest groups within and outside of the government who materially benefited from inefficiency, delay and opacity of the service delivery processes. Fedex-like tracking mechanism, social media-based complaint management methods allowing extreme transparency and public monitoring broke some stronghold of vested interest groups. But in many other cases, only partial success was achieved and extremely context-specific methods had to be introduced.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
a2i programme has been striving to provide services at peoples’ doorsteps, simplify service process, and transforming manual services into online services. As a result, people are now getting public services with less TCV (time, cost, and number of visits) that has made significant impact on their lives and livelihood. An empirical study on 9 service sector reveals that a2i initiatives saved 1 billion man/days, 1.5 billion US$, and 400 million visits. For example, citizens can now pay their utility bills like- electricity, gas, water and phone bills and conduct banking transactions through mobile phones and consult with doctors from remote rural areas. Application for land records through the internet, university admissions through SMS, online tax submission, e-notification services for farmers and patients are some examples of how a2i is bringing information and services to citizens’ doorsteps and increasingly within the palms of their hands. a2i has empowered civil servants to redesign services in a citizen-centric manner and launch ‘innovation projects’ around the country, especially at the field level. The 5286 Digital Centres - one within 4 km of every citizen in Bangladesh – now deliver 114 services – both public and private – to an average 5.1 million underserved citizens at a much lower TCV than before. With a2i’s support, many government ministries have redesigned their services to make them ‘e-deliverable’ through these centers. Services that would require multiple trips to the district government office 40 km away are now available at the nearby Digital Centre. On an average, time to receive services has come down by 85%, cost by 63% and the number of visits by 40%. Poor people are directly getting benefits from various a2i initiatives, such as; • SMS based livestock service: with the help of Service Innovation Fund (SIF), Department of Livestock now provides services through SMS to the farm owners and the livestock owners in remote areas. From any mobile phone, people can send SMS without any additional cost for asking solution of problems regarding livestock services. Throughout this service, people in remote areas can get instant solution regarding livestock services. • Skills for employment: a2i Programme has developed a strategic framework on “Skills for Employment” identifying priority areas to increase remittance per capita and ensure decent work focusing more on skills development and employment generation. Through this initiative a2i in partnership with ILO, has started skills development through apprenticeship for unemployed youth. • Rural e-commerce: Rural e-commerce activities have started through 5,286 Digital Centres throughout the country. Various electronic goods, books, CDs, dresses, gift items, jewelry, shoes, utensils, e-tickets etc. can be purchased through Digital Centres in marginalized areas. On the other hand, Digital Centres are helping in creating an alternative virtual market of good quality tea, vegetable, fish, mango, litchi, rice, lentil, card, sweets, etc. grown/produced in remote areas. • The National e-Tatthyakosh: The first knowledge Bank in Bangla has been developed to ensure availability of pertinent information on livelihoods including information on agriculture, education, health, law and human rights, tourism, employment, citizen services, environment and disaster management, trade and industry, science and communication technology etc. in animated, pictorial, audio, video format in Bangla in the National e-Tathykosh. A total number of 100,000 contents on 10,000 subjects are available on The National e-Tatthyakosh. Besides, a2i’s Empathy Triggered Innovation Journey has been making a deep understanding of citizens’ needs central to transforming public services. Thus Empathy training projects have the potential to change millions of lives.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Indeed the initiative improved integrity and accountability in public services since a2i’s intervention is all about public service innovation. a2i programme has helped civil servants to realize the ‘Digital Bangladesh’ strategy of the Government for more transparent and accountable service delivery. The opportunity exists to scale up this initiative and to expand a culture of innovation across the Government. As a result of a2i intervention, public services have become more accessible and accountable to the citizens. For example, in case of collecting passport, previously, it was a matter of great hassle. However, due to a2i’s intervention, people now can easily apply for passport through online and can easily get this service. a2i’s strategies are to improve integrity and accountability in public service. As per Annual Performance Agreement, initiated by a2i each ministry is supposed to develop one SPS (service process simplification) and one e-service. This is an indication of improving integrity as well as accountability in public service. Also District Dashboard is a great initiative of monitoring performance that ultimately results accountability. On the other hand, each Digital Center provides information of their daily income and number of services. Empathy is a guiding principle in a2i’s approach (Initiation–> Execution–> Celebration) to help civil servants embark on a journey of innovating citizen-centric public services. After getting Empathy training, participants are to design, present, and implement a project that ease the sufferings of common people. Examples can be drawn from; • Social media grievance redressal mechanism: All 64 Districts Administration and many other public agencies receive citizens’ grievance through social media pages creating unprecedented public accountability. Hundreds of grievances are solved in a very public manner. • Peer Pressure: Social media and dashboards across districts and peer agencies have created a form of healthy competition amongst civil servants to bring excellence in public service delivery within their respective sphere of influence. • Competition for recognition: a2i organizes district level innovation fair and national level innovation summits in which best Innovators are recognized for performance and also going beyond ‘call of duty’. Innovation awards are given to the top most Innovators.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
a2i emphasizes on women empowerment and development. Various special measures are put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable, such as; • Digital Center: a2i ensures gender parity among the 10,000+ entrepreneurs of the Digital Centres promoting female entrepreneurship especially in knowledge economy work and ensuring greater degree of comfort for the female customers. About 31% of service recipients are women that indicates benefits of women and girls. • Teachers’ Portal: In Teachers’ Portal, female teachers constitute about 40% of the nearly 1,50,000 teachers because this mechanism allows them to get trained without leaving their homes and disrupting family life. That is why more than 50% of the best teachers being identified every week by the Portal are female. • IT Outsourcing: More than 3,000 women have received training on IT Outsourcing and 3,300 women are communicating through the UDC Blog on a regular basis. • Service Innovation Fund: a2i encourages women for involving in the mainstream of development. A total of 14 projects have been awarded to women innovators. • Challenge Fund: a2i has launched a Challenge Fund to reduce child marriage and prevent early school dropout of girl children.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Prime Minister's Office, Bangladesh
Institution Type:   Ministry  
Contact Person:   Anir Chowdhury
Title:   Policy Advisor  
Telephone/ Fax:   88029183452-8
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   anirchowdhury@a2i.pmo.gov.bd  
Address:   Prime Minister's Office, Bangladesh, Old Sangshad Bhaban, Tejgaon, Dhaka
Postal Code:   1215
City:   Dhaka
State/Province:  
Country:  

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