Innovation Culture
as a catalyst

Creating empathy towards citizens’ needs, using social media to address problems and incentivising risk taking leads to innovation pilots which can then be showcased and celebrated both locally and globally.

EMPATHY TRIGGERED

INNOVATION JOURNEY

Empower civil servants to place themselves in citizens’ shoes and motivate them with a sense of purpose for driving improvements in public service delivery.

Exploring an Approach for Quick Delivery of Monthly Pension

After spending more than half their lives as civil servants, pensioners often fall victim to the unnecessary hassles of monthly pension collection process. Click here to learn how an account officer at one of the 500 sub-districts innovated to reduce the pensioners’ pain.

29,165 Officials

reached through 1,744 training courses organized by previous trainees

396 Innovation trainings

initiated by Ministries/ directorates/ district administration

488 Officials

trained in advanced-level Innovation documentation & dissemination

68% Innovation teams

have published Annual innovation work plan

Empowering citizens’, particularly the underserved

Empathy’ is the first guiding principle in a2i’s 3-phased approach (Initiation–> Execution–> Celebration) to help civil servants embark on a journey of innovating citizen-centric public services. In and Malaysia and leaving the backwaters of the rural areas of Bogra in Bangladesh, young Rahim stood confused between paying a hefty amount to an “immigration broker” for migrating to the dream land of Malaysia and leaving his hopes for a bright future ahead and joining his poor farmer father in cultivating others’ lands for a living. One day, a big brother from the neighbourhood, took him to a nearby UDC and showed him a website. Starting from information about application for migration to Malaysia to applying for government jobs, this portal had all the information he needs! He no longer has to run after dubious brokers for the information and the opportunities he needs. He has finally found his Midas Touch!

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What happens when public services are not designed with citizens’ needs in mind?

In the backwaters of the rural areas of Bogra in Bangladesh, young Rahim stood confused between paying a hefty amount to an “immigration broker” for migrating to the dream land of Malaysia and leaving his hopes for a bright future ahead and joining his poor farmer father in cultivating others’ lands for a living. One day, a big brother from the neighbourhood, took him to a nearby UDC and showed him a website. Starting from information about application for migration to Malaysia to applying for government jobs, this portal had all the information he needs! He no longer has to run after dubious brokers for the information and the opportunities he needs. He has finally found his Midas Touch!

Triggering empathy

Typically, civil servants who are in a position to overhaul processes and institutionalize improvements in service delivery are far removed from the grass-roots 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.

Citizen-centric innovation journey of civil servants in Bangladesh

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 mentor-ship 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.

INNOVATION PILOTS

Enabling civil servants to experiment with ideas for improving public service delivery using insights from their ‘empathy journey’.

Farmer’s Window- Solution of Your Plant’s Problem Lies Here

The desperation and hopelessness in the eyes of a cattle farmer brought a paramount shift in mindset within a livestock extension officer in one of the remote sub-districts in Bangladesh. Learn how Dr. Amitavo Chakrovorti conceived and implemented an innovation on livestock information services.

Empowering citizens’, particularly the underserved

Empathy’ is the first guiding principle in a2i’s 3-phased approach (Initiation–> Execution–> Celebration) to help civil servants embark on a journey of innovating citizen-centric public services.

1,143 innovation pilot projects initiated

by public servants at districts & sub-districts

466 innovation pilot projects completed

and awaiting scaling up

47 Innovation Circles

hosted by District administration reaching 4,148 Participants

10 ministries and directorates

arranged innovation showcasing events

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Empathy triggered citizen-centric innovation

a2i’s empathy methodology 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 effectively places them in citizens’ shoes since they are forced to navigate public systems without any official privileges. The critical eye that participants develop from this experience allows them to identify ‘pain points’ or improvement areas from the citizen’s perspective.

Supporting & managing innovation in the public sector

At this crucial stage, a2i equips the innovators with tools to engage citizen-beneficiaries and organizes workshops to learn from their feedback so the ideas are refined to effectively meet their needs. Moreover, through Public Service Innovation Bangladesh – a social media powered peer-support and mentor-ship network –we connect the innovators with present and former colleagues from across Bangladesh Civil Service who offer inputs based on their experience and act as mentors. Improving the service delivery of one department often involves dependencies, especially coordination at the field level, with departments from other ministries. Innovation Circles organized at the divisional level are thus designed to bring in another dimension to the exchange of ideas and whole-of-government collaboration necessary for the pilots to mature in both design and scope, form partnerships and mobilize the funding necessary to scale and sustain. These consultations also help the innovators to develop pragmatic solution designs and sound implementation plans. The solution and implementation plans are shared with the concerned directorates and ministries before finalization of the pilot initiative.

Results

To date, over 36 Innovation Pilots have been initiated and scores up-scaled in diverse service sectors ranging from health to agriculture, education, youth development, environmental conservation and many more – tangible exhibitions of the new culture of innovation that a2i is fostering in the Bangladesh Civil Service.

SOCIAL MEDIA IN

PUBLIC SERVICE INNOVATION

Redress citizens’ grievances, break down hierarchical barriers in communication and create a peer-support and mentor-ship network within civil service to nurture a culture of citizen-centric public service innovation.

Bringing Public Service to the doorsteps of Citizens through Facebook

Previously considered as unreachable, the government officers are becoming more accessible over internet. Click here to learn how a resident of a remote village managed to draw attention of the authority and rescue the local pond from encroachment by posting about it in Facebook.

2+ million

Citizens engaged

5,072+ Government

Facebook pages/ groups

10,776+ Government officials

Engaged in social media dialogues

Popularity of social media in Bangladesh

An overwhelming 80% of internet users in Bangladesh are on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. That is over 16 million people and counting – the rate of new Facebook users is outpacing the country’s birth rate as one new Bangladeshi Facebook account is opened every 20 seconds!

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Leveraging social media to catalyze public service innovation

This makes social media a great platform for government to reach out to citizens and stay up-to-date with current events and trends in society. a2i is thus supporting the civil service to harness the power of social media in 3 strategic ways:

  1. Discovering creative ways to attain effective citizen engagement in the process of improving public service delivery
  2. As a peer-support and mentor-ship platform to encourage the spread of ideas and interaction among experienced senior civil servants and junior officers with innovative ideas and ambition
  3. Institutionalizing and managing the practice of citizen-centric innovation by breaking down hierarchical barriers across all ministries, departments and agencies

Engaging citizens in improving public service delivery

Social media has traditionally been used for conducting public awareness campaigns (a very traditional, one-directional approach) and counting the number of ‘Likes’ and ‘re-Tweets’. a2i is working with government agencies to leverage this platform to enable citizens to voice their concerns and point out their needs in a way that is convenient for them. All 64 districts now have open DC Office Facebook pages, established and monitored by the Deputy Commissioners (DC). DCs are the chief government appointed executives of districts and residents rely on them for everything from maintaining law and order, to improving the quality of education, healthcare, and even settling disputes and tackling natural disasters. These pages are being used to redress citizens’ grievances and contributing immensely to the provision of better, quicker and more affordable public services.

Creating a frugal yet effective mentorship and peer-support network for government innovators

Public Service Innovation Bangladesh – a Facebook group for civil servants – has brought about a revolution in Bangladesh Civil Service’s internal communications system. Together with Departmental Blogs, they have led to the breakdown of hierarchical barriers that have historically deterred quick organizational communications and enabled civil servants to demonstrate their potential by sharing ideas, learning from and supporting each other by talking about their challenges. To date, over 10,776 government officials have engaged in social media dialogues through 5,072+ government Facebook pages/groups.

Inspiring and incentivizing innovation

Top bureaucrats like the Cabinet Secretary and Principal Secretary are not only writing posts on topics like innovation but even encouraging their colleagues, particularly those at the field level who are closer to citizens, to challenge their propositions and have online debates through comments on Facebook to decide on the best course of action. Moreover, the fact that an idea posted as a status on Public Service Innovation Bangladesh by a field level officer can attract a comment or question from their ministry’s top secretary serves as tremendous inspiration and an effective incentive for them to continue to think, engage and act innovatively to further the cause of citizen-centric public service innovation in Bangladesh.

INNOVATION SUMMITS & FAIRS

Creating space for cross-pollinating ideas, addressing key challenges and showcasing innovations.

In this day and age of alternative service options and the nearly ubiquitous presence of digital technologies, there are growing expectations on governments, non-government actors and businesses to address delivery challenges and improve quality effectively and sustainably.

a2i showcases and celebrates successful case studies of innovations in public service delivery in an unprecedented way through:

• Annual Civil Service in Development Innovation Summits

• District Level Innovation Fairs

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Raising citizens’ awareness and engaging them in public service innovation

The summits and in particular, the district level innovation fairs organized across all 64 districts of the country, are a key element of our strategy to make the entire innovation culture in Bangladesh public facing. The events are always designed to be open to the public as they are meant to enhance the awareness of Bangladeshi citizens about the government’s proactive efforts to develop an array of better, more affordable services that are easier for them to access. They also create an environment of healthy competition among civil servants from different government agencies, especially at the field level, to reach out to citizens and engage them in the process of improving public services.

Showcasing local innovations and creating an international network of public service innovators

The Civil Service in Development Innovation Summits are high-profile, international events, hosted by the Honourable Prime Minister’s Office, that bring together remarkable innovators, development practitioners, heads of states, ministers, bureaucrats and thought leaders from the world’s most respected ‘innovation nations’, companies and academic institutions.
They create an open forum to cross-pollinate ideas, explore novel solutions to key development challenges and provide a platform for innovators spanning civil service, the private sector, NGOs, universities and even private individuals to showcase their innovations and the most inspiring success stories of Digital Bangladesh internationally
South-South and Triangular Cooperation is also reinforced through these events which facilitate greater exchange of learning and the development of collective insights on:

• Contextualizing proven models and good practices in scaling innovations in public service delivery
• Development of the necessary capacities (including leadership capacity) and incentives (financial and non-financial) in countries from the Global South

TCV

Demystifying innovation, putting citizens at the centre of efforts to improve public service delivery and generating better results.

Developing citizen-centric metrics to measure inefficiency

Last year, Abdur Rahim, a poor farmer from Kurigram a remote, northern district in Bangladesh, had to travel to the Upazila (sub-district) veterinary hospital which was over 30 km away to seek treatment for his cattle. A week later, he had had to visit the hospital again for the follow up treatment. The lengthy consultation queues and multiple trips ate up 2 full days of his time and cost him BDT 2,500+ for travel alone since he had to hire a small truck to transport the animals.

Recently, however, an animal health service camp was set up in Abdur’s village and as a result, his costs in terms of time and travel expenses have decreased significantly. A TCV (time, cost, and number of visits) study revealed that by providing ‘services at doorsteps’, the animal health service camp had reduced 77% of the time, 97% of the entire cost by eliminating the need for citizens to visit facilities located far from their village.

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TCV: Placing citizens at the centre of efforts to improve public services

Reducing TCV has now become the byword for innovation within the Bangladesh government.

Reducing the time, cost and number of visits it takes for citizens to access public information and services puts them at the centre and offers simple parameters to measure and communicate efforts to improve public services and their delivery systems.

However, when a2i first started talking to civil servants and development practitioners about innovation; they almost immediately got bogged down in debates around what did or did not constitute innovation. What exactly is ‘innovation’? How do you identify it? How do you measure how ‘innovative’ something was? Opinions were sharply divided at the senior levels while frontline government employees – who were closer to citizens and thus potentially had more ideas to contribute – found it difficult to even conceptualize it.

TCV as a results management tool

TCV also helped replace confusing and frequently misinterpreted jargon like ‘outcome’ and ‘impact’. Since civil servants and development practitioners understand exactly what indicators to record and track, it has contributed immensely to an increase in the amount and quality of data that is collected and made available. Thus, TCV is also gaining popularity as a results-management tool.

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