Policy Reform

An evidence-based, bottom-up approach to policy making

Ensuring policy formulation is informed by small-scale experiment conducted by field-level civil servants that measurably improve the lives of common citizens. Show more

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ction first policy later – previously an unimaginable motto is now inspiring civil servants in Bangladesh to extract insights from experimentation in service redesign by government officers in the field to ensure that policy instruments are citizen-centric and measurably improve the lives of common people. The two cases that follow illustrate this approach.

Successful piloting of Nothi makes way for updating Secretariat Instructions, the Bible for Bangladesh Civil Service

Deputy Commissioners’ Offices represent the national government at the district level and offer hundreds of services. But citizens had to travel tens of miles, spending a lot of time, money and enduring considerable hassle, as the offices only recognized applications written on paper.  Moreover, once they submitted the service requests or applications, citizens had no idea about progress made in processing them – the system was completely opaque.

a2i thus convinced the DC Offices to pilot Nothi – a system that digitized the paper-based application and file processing system and enabled the tracking of file movement within government offices. It allowed citizens to send applications to any government office from their own computers or from the nearest Digital Centre. And since the system’s dashboard enabled Deputy Commissioners to monitor precisely how many service requests were pending, which officers were responsible for processing them and the latest progress status, time to actually deliver the services come down from 5-7 days to only 1-2 days depending on the nature of the case.  While an officer could process only 5-10 files a day under the paper-based filing system, with “nothi” this number increased to 25 plus.

Following this successful pilot, a scale up plan of covering 19,000 more government offices was soon drafted. But questions arose as to its practicality without any supporting policy, especially since government officers were accustomed to the traditional, paper-based system.  At that point, a2i began to work with the Ministry of Public Administration and assisted in updating the Secretariat Instruction – considered the ‘Bible’ for the Bangladesh Civil Service – that added new instructions for implementing electronic means in the service delivery process.

Demonstration of the power of uniting government offices online leads to Proactive Information Disclosure Guidelines

Similarly in 2010, when a2i started developing the award winning National Portal which unites over 43,000+ government offices, at first, each of the 64 district headquarters led by the DCs participated in developing their own portals. A lot of experimentation took place as a part of that. It also created both the technology foundation for up-scaling and an appetite for larger adoption.

Then, in 2013 the Cabinet Division issued a circular on the development, expansion and maintenance of the National Portal and the Information Commission issued ‘Proactive Information Disclosure Guidelines, 2014’ – wherein clear instructions were provided regarding the kinds of information one should provide in government websites.

Benefits of ‘Action First, Policy Later’ strategy

  • Service providers are now delivering services with more confidence and expertise
  • Service recipients now receive better services more conveniently
  • New policies are more citizen-centric and pragmatic
  • Procrastination in policy formulation is going down

Other notable policies that a2i contributed to in collaboration with relevant ministries and agencies  

  • ICT Act, 2006
  • ICT Policy, 2009
  • Right to Information Act, 2009
  • Right to Information Rules, 2009
  • Value Added Services Licensing Guideline, 2012
  • Gazette notification on the Citizens Core Data Structure, 2012
  • Gazette notification on Innovation, 2013
  • Cyber Security Strategy, 2014
  • Information Security Policy Guidelines, 2014
  • ICT Policy, 2015
  • Grievance Redress System Guidelines, 2015
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