Thursday, August 11 2022

Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of a series for the Bureaucracy Lab, a World Bank initiative to better understand the world’s public officials.

Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

“By introducing an automated client management system, we took a noose and put it around our necks. We are now responsible!

This thinking from a Nairobi water and sanitation utility succinctly captures the impact of MajiVoice, a digital system that records customer complaints, allows managers to attribute the problem to a specific worker, track its resolution and report to the client via SMS. As a result, complaint resolution rates have doubled and the time taken to resolve complaints has decreased by 90%.

MajiVoice shows that digital technologies can dramatically improve public sector capacity and accountability in otherwise weak governance environments. But is this example reproducible? Can increasingly cheap and ubiquitous digital technologies—there are now 4.7 billion cell phone users in the world—To advance the issue of governance and make bureaucrats accountable?

It is clear that there is no shortage of hype about the transformative and disruptive powers of new technologies. And the application of technology in government, as many World Bank team leaders responsible for complex management information systems projects have painfully learned, is fraught with pitfalls and disappointments. But the good news is that with some of the good “analog complementsDigital technologies can indeed significantly improve governance relatively quickly.

This is what we know:

First of all, digital technologies can help reduce absenteeism of service providers through better monitoring .

We have seen cases where teachers, doctors and nurses are often absent from schools and clinics in poor countries in part because controlling their presence is difficult, especially in rural areas. In addition, the supervisors themselves may be absent from their jobs or get along with the people they are supposed to supervise. Cell phones can alleviate both of these issues with traditional surveillance, as they provide relatively tamper-proof attendance recording and allow information from distant corners to be quickly aggregated and viewed. Impact assessments of India, Pakistan, and Uganda show that cell phone-based surveillance is working, reducing absenteeism rates for government service providers by up to 25 percentage points.

Second, e-government, by automating tasks and reducing the discretionary power of public officials, can increase the fiscal capacity of the state, reduce spending losses and improve transparency. The introduction of biometric registration, verification and payment systems in India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Program, world’s largest workfare program, reduced embezzlement by 35 percent. Electronic tendering has increased the competitiveness of public procurement and the quality of roads in India and Indonesia. And electronic tax reporting and payment reduced tax compliance costs, measured by the time to prepare and pay taxes, averaging 16% across a large sample of countries.

Third, process automation works especially well when combined with digital user feedback mechanisms, as in MajiVoice. One-stop computerized service centers are active in a number of countries: Albania, Azerbaijan, Brazil, India, Kenya, to name a few. These integrated service centers allow businesses and citizens to receive a variety of administrative services (eg, licensing and registration) in one place. The centers rely heavily on information technology: to process inquiries, monitor progress and use customer satisfaction to assess the performance of service providers.

The centers in rural Karnataka, an Indian state, allow citizens to receive a variety of essential documents such as birth and death certificates. On average, there are 3.4 fewer visits, 58 minutes less per visit, and a 50% lower chance of being asked for a bribe in centers compared to the typical government office..

However, in all of these examples, digital technologies require at least a minimum of analog complements – committed managers, political support – to have an impact. Digital absenteeism monitoring only worked if there were rewards and penalties associated with attendance and absenteeism. In Uganda, monitoring was to be combined with performance pay for teachers, and in India and Pakistan, the impact of monitoring was sometimes mitigated by politicians who refused to sanction absent providers.

Without strong political ownership, automation projects can fail as bureaucrats and vested interests resist reforms. User comments only work if citizens are encouraged to use the channel, and only if the comments provided are actionable for the service provider. For example, citizens are more likely to be concerned about a private good like household water supplies than about public goods like roads and municipal services.

However, evidence shows that digital technologies can empower pro-poor politicians and bureaucrats, who can be found even in the most difficult governance contexts, by giving them a tool to experiment and tackle problems. once seemingly insurmountable. The e-bureaucracy can therefore be an entry point to reform the bureaucracy.

How can digital technology help public officials to become more responsible? Read here

Can digital technologies stimulate public administration reform? Read here

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