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DIGITAL BANGLADESH: STORIES OF CHANGE

A fundamental government responsibility is providing information and services aimed at improving the
social and economic welfare of citizens. In Bangladesh, as in many developing countries, widespread
manual processes, resistance to change by civil service and over-centralisation frustrate citizens in their
attempts to avail of government information and services. Opaqueness in service delivery increases the
scope for rent-seeking.
Bangladesh has been on the cusp of a digital revolution ever since the current government set its sights
to realizing the vision of a Digital Bangladesh. The vision envisages a socioeconomic transformation
process, improvement of service delivery to the underserved citizens including the poor, ethnic minorities,
persons with disabilities, and very importantly, women. The Access to Information (a2i) Program,
supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United States Agency for
International Development (USAID), and spearheaded by the Prime Ministers Office, stands at the
forefront of building a digital nation. Their agenda take public services all the way to every doorstep
within the country.1 To materialize this vision, a2i used service innovation as an entry point and ICTs as an
enabler to ignite major improvements in public service delivery, both in terms of its management and
delivery.
The Access to Information (A2I) Programme primarily focuses on:
making government services cheaper, hassle-free and responsive to the citizenry; and,
bringing services at the citizens door-steps through increasing efficiency, accountability,
transparency and predictability
by leveraging the flexibility and ubiquity of indigenous information and communication technologies
(ICTs). This umbrella service delivery transformation initiates plans, coordinates and facilitates across
various ministries, divisions and agencies of the government.
In a matter of six years (2006-2013) with facilitation from a2i, hundreds of e-services have mushroomed
throughout the country, through a Service Process Simplification (SPS) exercise under the Quick-Wins
auspices which simplified many public service delivery processes. Quick-Wins are small service delivery
process improvement prototypes, led by a government officer with technical support from a2i. 2 Some of
the successes achieved by a2i are presented below.
Citizens can now pay their electricity, gas and phone bills and conduct banking transactions through
mobile phones, download English lessons on these phones and can consult with a doctor 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 efficiency gain
has been introduced in government service delivery, making it responsive in accommodating citizens
needs for information and services.
Moreover, 4,500+ ICT-empowered service delivery outlets are operating in rural local government
institutions with financing from the government, private sector and local entrepreneurs, thus following a
PPP model. A typical citizen walks 3 km to the nearby Union Digital Centre (UDC) saving time, money and
harassment of going to the district HQ 35 km away. With a2is support, many ministries of the government
have redesigned their services to make them e-deliverable through these centres. The UDCs are today
1
2

For more details download http://www.a2i.pmo.gov.bd/sites/default/files/Access%20to%20Information%20%28a2i%29_09_Janu_14.pdf


For more details see http://www.a2i.pmo.gov.bd/content/quick-wins-innovation-services

working as self-independent micro-enterprises paving a gateway for the traditionally excluded from
participating in market opportunities to availing of healthcare and other livelihood related information
and services. Again, effective business models are in the process of development for the UDCs. Currently,
every month, more than 4.5 million underserved citizens receive more than 60 e-Services (including birth
and death registration, mobile banking, health consultations, exam results, etc.) from 5,300 digital centres
at upazila, pourosova, and city levels (popularly known as UDC, PDC, CDC).3 Given the level of success in
bringing services at the citizens doorsteps that resulted in a2i receiving WSIS award (by the International
Telecommunication Union in Geneva, Switzerland) in 2014.
The government has set up centres similar to these entrepreneur-led digital centres in all 64 Deputy
Commissioners offices (district headquarters), which is the focal point in public administration. These
one-stop district e-service centres (DESCs) have consolidated a slogan that has driven a lot of the service
process simplification work in recent times: Citizens need NOT go to the services because services will
come to them.4
Following the widespread success of the Quick Wins initiatives, a2i launched the Service Innovation Fund
(SIF) in March 2013 with the objective to provide seed funding to pioneering and creative innovations
which cater to delivering public services in less time, fewer costs and fewer visits and to scale up the
operations of small to medium initiatives working to find creative solutions via technology for the purpose
of development.5 Already SIF funded youth-led innovations like Ma O Shishu mobile app and
Emergency Services mobile app are available for free downloading.6 Apart from funding, a2i has brought
innovators into limelight through a series of expositions called the Digital Innovation Fair which are
organized at all districts in Bangladesh and where the best local innovations are recognized through
Innovation Awards to innovators.7
a2i has initiated capacity development activities to prepare the service providers that include all levels of
government officers, over 1000 Innovation Teams with over 6000 Innovation Team members, public
representatives and private entrepreneurs with a view to facilitate better service delivery to citizens.
Strengthening training institutions through partnerships recognizing mutual drive for enhancing
knowledge and skills of civil servants, coupled with e-learning and online platforms for problem solution
are few of the strategic approaches in this regard. MoUs have been signed with leading private sector
training institutions and also international training institutions, like the e-Government Leadership Centre
(eGL) of Singapore. As a result of these actions, a2i has launched the first-ever e-learning system for public
sector training institutions in Bangladesh.8
Governments go online in order to make public institutions transparent and responsive to citizenrys
demand for information and services as we have seen in countries like Singapore. In Bangladesh, prior to
2008, extremely few of the 25,000 government offices had web presence. The a2i program then
developed and implemented National Portal Framework to address the multitude of problems. The NPF
is an engine for designing public sector web portals, conforming to certain set guidelines for both content
and visual alignment. At the dawn of 2013, at least one officer in each of the 25,000 government and local
government offices had acquired the technical skills required in keeping the web contents of the portals

For more details download


http://www.a2i.pmo.gov.bd/sites/default/files/Union%20Information%20and%20Service%20Centre%20%28UISC%29_09_Janu_14.pdf
4
For more details download http://www.a2i.pmo.gov.bd/sites/default/files/District%20e-Service%20Centres%20%28DESCs%29_09_Janu_14.pdf
5
For more details download http://www.a2i.pmo.gov.bd/sites/default/files/Service%20Innovation%20Fund_09_Janu_14.pdf
6
For more details see http://www.a2i.pmo.gov.bd/innovation-fund-awardees
7
For more details download http://www.a2i.pmo.gov.bd/sites/default/files/Incentivising%20Innovators_09_Janu_14.pdf
8
For more details download http://www.a2i.pmo.gov.bd/sites/default/files/Capacity%20Development_09_Janu_14.pdf

updated, thus, eliminating the dependence on external technical vendors.9 After months of effort from all
these officers, the National Information Portal (the largest of its kind in the world) has been developed
bringing 42,000 government offices under one umbrella and providing access to over 2 million updated
content.10 In very little time, this portal was generating over 65 million hits per month and got the WSIS
award from ITU in the category of access to information and knowledge.
Something similar to the National Information Portal are the Service Portal11 (locally known as
Sebakunjo) where currently 400 services are being simplified and uploaded by 36 public agencies, and
the Forms Portal12 providing access to over 1,000 forms anytime from anywhere. Other important portals
and information repositories include the Teachers Portal13 where more than 60,000 teachers are creating
and uploading contents, and in essence learning from each other creating foundation for the 21st century
classroom. Also there is the e-Tathyakosh14 where 350 content development organizations have already
created 110,000 pages with hours of video/audio on agriculture, health, education, law and human rights,
disaster management, tourism, etc.
With the successful experience of using online social networking in grass-root level through UDC Blog in
Bangladesh, a2i then took the bold step of actively engaging more than 6,800 civil servants in innovation
discussion and problem solving. Thus, many public grievances are being solved and meaningful content is
being generated in more than 250 Facebook pages by public offices. Following the international standards,
Social Media Shonglap is being conducted on urgent public issues through video conferencing by top
brass of the government. To capitalize further on the potential of social media, a2i has gone viral with its
initiatives and ideas through its facebook pages (a2ibangladesh, AccesstoInformation, A2I-Access to
Information), youtube channel, twitter, Google+ page, etc. Now a2i is inviting everyone, especially the
youth, to come and share their problems, ideas, solutions and stories of change so that the government
can operate an effective and efficient feedback mechanism which is vastly important for socio-economic
development to take place. We have already seen how online competitions like Jibon Theke Niye has
empowered citizens to identify citizens problems and also come up with innovative, low-cost and
implementable solutions which can have maximum possible impact.
These experiences have encouraged a2i to start working on achieving an ambitious vision of facilitating
the process of bringing 60% of all government services over mobile phones (call centre, IVR, text
messaging, data, social media, apps, etc.), 30% through digital centres (within 5km radius of households)
and 10% through traditional means (by visiting office) by 2021.
a2is intervention can therefore be summarised in a four-prong generic framework. The first is of
increasing access to public and private information and services, which depends on identification of the
process to be simplified through electronic or e means. Following, a2i strengthens existing comparative
advantages of its potential partners by building capacity of stakeholders, which is more than a one-time
exercise. Capacity building exercises and nation-wide alongside local-wide awareness initiatives are
carried out within a partnership ambit so that ex-post, those who are able to make an impact in
transforming the service delivery process to the citizenry, are publicly recognized and rewarded for their
innovations (e.g. the annual Digital Innovation Fair). At the third stage, a2i explores the scope of reforms
in the policy context. It engages proactively through policy advocacy in order to forge a participatory policy
9

For more details download http://www.a2i.pmo.gov.bd/sites/default/files/National%20Portal%20Framework_09_Janu_14.pdf


For more details visit www.bangladesh.gov.bd
For more details visit www.services.portal.gov.bd
12
For more details visit www.forms.portal.gov.bd
13
For more details visit www.teachers.gov.bd
14
For more details visit www.infokosh.gov.bd
10
11

reform process. At the final stage, policies, laws and regulations are put in place with the objective of
institutionalizing innovations in public information and services delivery.
a2i deliberately remains a catalyst in all initiatives and actively nurtures ownership among change
champions and institutions. Most of the impact has been created through public-private-people
partnerships or PPPPs (4Ps) with public organizations, private sector players, development partners and
citizens. The latter is conceived as a key partner in each of the initiatives undertaken by a2i which has
proven to be an innovative approach that combines PPP with crowd-sourcing, helping micro-enterprises
draw investment from communities and small entrepreneurs. Unlike the conventional PPPs generally
geared towards building large-scale infrastructure projects, 4Ps aspire to initiate small projects by
including local residents.

TIME TO ANSWER THE CALL OF THE NATION


In order to accomplish the Digital Bangladesh vision and to promote ourselves from a lower middle
income nation to a middle income nation by 2021, we continuously need to keep providing information
and services aimed at improving the social and economic welfare of citizens.
For this to happen, the first and most vital step is to understand the problems which are impeding us on
doing so and holding us back on the progressive path of socio-economic development. To understand the
problems, one needs to look at the world through the sufferers perspective, i.e. gain empathy.
The youth of Bangladesh are believed to be most capable in this regard given the immense imaginative
strength and out-of-the-box thinking that they possess. At this stage of the competition, you are
requested to sit in team and brainstorm to find out the problems which are:

Innovative: Have not yet been addressed


Impactful: Affect a large population, especially the marginalized and the underserved
communities
Implementable: Can be addressed within 2021 and with the least possible amount of resources
Insightful: The problem has to be precise and well-articulated, and avoid unnecessary details.

THE DECISION OF WHETHER YOUR TEAM PROCEEDS TO THE NEXT ROUND OF THE COMPETION
SIGNIFICANTLY DEPENDS ON IDENTIFYING THE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF PROBLEMS THAT FIT THE
ABOVE CRITERION.