Digital Government Begins with the Citizen

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Digital government services need to drive real changes on the ground – and not just stay as a “nice idea”.

In order to do that, “citizens have to be at the centre of the digital transformation process,” said Ashok Kumar, Centre Director of the Singapore e-Government Leadership Centre (eGL).

He emphasised the importance of outcome in any digital government projects. “There needs to be a strong focus on impact and improvement to the well being of citizens, which can be measured by direct or proxy indicators.”

eGL is one of the Centres of Excellence at NUS-ISS, providing thought leadership, capability building, and applied research in the domain of Digital Government.

“At eGL, we have four key thrusts: public service innovation, digital government transformation, citizen engagement, and Smart Nation,” said Ashok. “Singapore has done very well in thinking through the end-to-end integration aspects of a transformation project, paying attention to last mile details, as well as impact on eco-system. We share these valuable experiences and practices with other countries. In the process, we also learn from them.”

The centre has collaborated with governments in ASEAN countries and Indian sub-continent - India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other nations. Over 5,000 officers from 133 countries have attended eGL programmes.

Delivering government services to the doorstep of citizens

Access to Information (a2i) was an initiative by the Government of Bangladesh, Office of Prime Minister that focused on innovation and design of citizen centric services, delivered literally at their doorsteps. eGL has been privileged to be a part of this journey towards Digital Bangladesh 2021.

“eGL worked with the officers in the field who were specialists in their own domain such as Agriculture, Fisheries, Live Stock and enabled them with Service Innovation and Design skills” said Ashok. “Besides the workshops, we also mentored them through the project life cycle to deliver prototypes. Finally, the participants were also required to cascade the knowledge and lessons learnt. This process truly delivered building capacity in the field officer community”.

“The poverty ridden citizens in rural areas refrained from visiting government hospitals, as they could not afford even the nominal fees. Lives were lost due to fake medication and unqualified medics,” recalled Ashok. “Subsequent to learning journey at eGL, one of the participants undertook to identify the citizens below poverty line, provided them with a medical card, streamlined the hospital process, and introduced simple automation to track their treatment proactively. This not only saved lives but inspired other fellow colleagues to innovate and design services for citizens,” said Ashok.

 “It is when you put the citizen at the heart of the digital government services, that you would be able to develop the design, processes and delivery of services to them,” Ashok explained. He added that while technology was the enabler that allowed the change to happen, the impact for citizens’ well being is the outcome. “And in this case, the impact was in the form of human lives that were saved.”  

Inspire, Lead, Transform

A crucial important aspect of the programs at eGL is experiential learning journey. “eGL’s unique approach is the program design which has a careful mix of sharing, facilitated discussions, expert speakers, workshops and site visits. The content is contextualised to their countries and immediate problems so that they are able to relate to and apply new ideas to solve the problem,” said Ashok.

Essentially our learning journeys are designed to Inspire the participants through our Singapore showcase of transformation, best practices, tools and techniques. This will equip them to Lead and Transform their areas of work to deliver effective citizen centric services.

Unlearn

“Embracing digital disruption will require us to unlearn our bias, prejudices, old traditions at an individual and as well as organisational level,” said Ashok.  We need to be aware of active inertia phenomenon - tendency to follow old process, even in though there are dramatic changes in the environment and the original purpose of the processes are no longer relevant, he observed.

eGL carefully curates unlearning and learning journeys that enable the participants to apply new of new approaches to address an issue. “We share the Singapore stories with them. One very powerful example was that of our water management over the years – we told them about how the Singapore River was cleaned up and brought them to Marina Barrage to let them understand how we have used technology to manage the water and flooding,” he said. More importantly, the visit to Marina Barrage showed them how the water management space could be used for multiple purposes, such as water sports and recreation.

“Reservoirs in Singapore used to be cordoned off areas that were treated like a protected, defense area. Schools would plant a fear factor into the students, falsely scaring them about crocodiles in the water and prohibiting them to stay away from the water catchment areas.” However, over the years, the Singapore government’s approach to the problem statement changed – to one that focused on educating the population on the importance of water conservation and respect for the reservoir areas.

“These are the kind of stories that will stay will motivate the civil servants to explore new approaches to involve the citizens, collaborate and co-create solutions”,” Ashok explained.

Digital transformation is not just a technology project but also importantly a mindset change. “The digital future will look very different, and what has worked in the past may not work anymore. Therefore, it is crucial that the government and citizens to unlearn the old constraints and prejudices, in order to leverage on the new opportunities that digital economy offers. The Future is ours to seize!” he concluded. 

For more information on the Singapore e-Government Leadership Centre, click here

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