Understanding the citizens we serve is central to what we are trying to do. When public services are not designed with empathy for the people who use them, mothers have to travel long distances with their newborns and wait in long queues to collect government maternity allowances; citizens, not knowing where to go to access a service or even how to apply, ping-pong among different agencies, sometimes for months (land services) and years (judicial services). Unscrupulous intermediaries or ‘middle-men’ take advantage and charge exorbitant ‘speed money’.
Typically, civil servants who are in a position to overhaul processes and institutionalize improvements in service delivery are far removed from the grassroots level where citizens come in touch with the system. Even when, for example, the Director General of Health makes an effort to visit a village level community clinic to see how things are first-hand, given their rank (which shields them from being exposed to the real picture) and knowledge of their own domain (that makes it difficult to objectively assess process flows) they are often unable to identify ‘pain points’ from the citizen’s perspective. a2i’s empathy methodology thus arranges for relatively senior government officers to act as secret shoppers and visit citizens’ access points for services outside of their ministry or area of expertise. This truly places them in citizens’ shoes since they are forced to navigate public systems without any official or intellectual privileges. The result in most cases is a powerful, moving experience that creates a deep sense of empathy for citizens and the myriad sufferings they must endure to avail even the most basic services. This experience helps participants develop a critical eye that they use to scrutinize their own agency’s delivery systems and improve the overall quality of services.
To date, 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. These pilots, some of which are funded by a2i’s Service Innovation Fund and the rest funded by local resources mobilized by the innovators themselves, allow government innovators to test their ideas. Public Service Innovation Bangladesh – a social media powered peer-support and mentorship network – offers a platform for sharing, discussing and refining the pilots (and other promising ideas) boosting their chances of making impact at scale. Finally, outstanding efforts to transform public service delivery are celebrated through national and district level Innovation Summits & Fairs that enhance citizens’ knowledge and deepen their engagement in making further improvements.