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THE A2I JOURNEY : How UNDP is Making Digital Innovation Work for the Poor

9 December, 2022

Source : bdundp.exposure

Reading Time: 5 Minutes

9 December, 2022 ·
Source : bdundp.exposure
· Reading Time: 5 Minutes

THE A2I JOURNEY : How UNDP is Making Digital Innovation Work for the Poor

THE A2I JOURNEY : How UNDP is Making Digital Innovation Work for the Poor

a2i: A Nation Builder

a2i, the flagship Digital Bangladesh program, was born in the Prime Minister’s Office and was incubated there as a whole-of-government, digital innovation catalyst for 11 years before graduating to a much larger implementation program in the ICT Division and Cabinet Division, with support from the United Nations Development Programme. Since its inception, it has developed tentacles in all 60 ministries, all 400 departments, all 64 districts, all 492 sub-districts, and all 5,000 plus rural and urban local government institutions in the country.

a2i was set up to disrupt the traditional civil service mindset. We have found success in practicing innovation as a bottom-up process, a2i has been methodically developing service simplification and innovation capacity within hundreds of thousands of administrators, teachers, doctors, engineers, students, and researchers, creating a cadre of govpreneurs and working on refining various incentive systems to propel and sustain that bottom-up innovation revolution. a2i runs a Service Innovation Fund that has supported hundreds of innovators within the government, startup ecosystem, and research communities.

However, to scale up an innovation one really requires policy intervention from the top-down. The combination of the bottom–up to create a solution prototype and top-down scaling up through policymaking is really what drives the unprecedented, citizen-centric digital transformation in Bangladesh. a2i’s strategy has thus been to parallelly build and maintain ‘policy Legos’- building blocks that facilitate the creation of new innovations by govpreneurs.

 

The Government & The People

Countries are too often prone to follow a ‘planners approach’, which is, I-know-the-answers (often borrowed from the West), leading to centralized planning and top-down execution. But how do you bank on William Easterly’s ‘searchers approach’ of experimentation coupled with local knowledge triggering bottom-up execution? Who are the searchers in the government? We call them ‘govpreneurs’- public service providers who, driven by a strong sense of empathy and duty towards service seekers, increasingly think and act like an entrepreneur- acquiring tacit knowledge about how to get things done in the public sector, building new relationships, leveraging resources, working across sector lines, replacing the profit motive with the pursuit of enhancing public value, and acting, and sometimes failing, fast. How do you find them? How do you encourage them? How do you foster the culture of seeing through the citizen’s lens and walking a mile in the citizen’s shoes when designing innovations? How do you remove barriers to innovation for them?

The promise of Digital Bangladesh was that of a dream realized for the people by the government. A large part of actualizing Digital Bangladesh was changing the mindset of civil servants who are given the authority to make changes in the lives of millions. Without a clear sense of purpose and a different mindset, a different way of thinking and enacting, the potency of that authority remains unrealized, lasting change becomes impossible to achieve.

Keeping that in mind, a2i’s sensitivity and empathy training provided for the smoother redesign of simplified services, again with TCV as the guiding star. Perhaps more importantly, they helped develop a more citizen-centric mindset among civil service providers, making ‘govpreneurs’ out of many.

 

Delivering on that promise thus required putting citizens at the very heart of the development process. It required a clear sense of purpose, a unifying objective that could permeate to different tiers of government and galvanize widespread collaboration and unprecedented innovation.

It required a framework to measure progress towards that sole objective. All of this is encapsulated in ‘TCV’ – that is, reducing the time (T), cost (C), and the number of visits (V) required of citizens for accessing services. It made it possible for the whole of government to rally around the notion that anything that reduced the time, cost, and the number of visits it took for citizens to access public information and services constituted the creation of public value and provided a metric that everyone understood.

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