Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Bangladeshi bureaucrats are increasingly taking interest in eGovernment

Bangladeshi bureaucrats are increasingly taking interest in eGovernment

Dr. Ahmed Imran, a teacher at Australian National University and
acclaimed scholar on eGovernment, speaks to The Independent

The Independent: We are informed that you developed a methodology of
eGovernment training at Australian National University, ANU, can you
shortly describe it?
Dr. Imran: Development and designing of eGovernment Management
training curriculum is a continuation of our work which was initiated
in 2007 basing on my PhD research findings. The research, which looked
at the barriers to ICT adoption in the public sector of LDCs focussing
on Bangladesh, revealed that decision makers’ know-how about the
strategic use of ICT in the public sector was the key hindrance to its
adoption followed by the attitude and mindset. To make e-government
successful, it is not the machine but man behind the machine is more
important. Most sophisticated e-government system will fail to deliver
its desired output if the people operating and managing them are not
convinced and equipped to derive its benefit.
Our research further suggests that knowledge deployment in this area
has the potential to change the entrenched attitude towards IT, which
can create a conducive environment for ICT innovation in the public
sector. Accordingly, we designed short burst training programmes for
senior officers for icebreaking in this sphere. The major deliveries
in our first phase included a comprehensive report outlining a
five-year strategic pathway for government adoption in Bangladesh, a
custom-built intensive training workshop for senior government
officials,  delivery of training workshops to 107 senior and mid-level
government officers and the production and distribution of an ICT
Management Handbook. It also had some awareness programme on
The second phase of the project (2010-2012) aimed to institutionalise
ICT knowledge among the wider Bangladeshi public service by developing
a rigorous curriculum for government officers. Bangladesh Public
Administration Training Centre (BPATC) was chosen as the preferred
institution for implementation of this programme where all the
officers of the government are expected to receive training. This work
is being done in collaboration with the BPATC and other experts from
Bangladesh and Australia. The accompanying textbook on e-government
will be a first for a least developed country. The establishment of
this knowledge is expected to build the capacity of public sector
officials to handle and bring about the required transformation
through e-government in Bangladesh.
The Independent: How did Australian Government’s Public Sector
Linkages Programme (PSLP) administered by AusAID help you to develop
the course?
Dr. Imran: Although the concept and design is formulated by us, we
needed support and funding to implement such programme at
international level.  AusAID’s Public Sector linkage programme (PSLP)
is an initiative of AusAID which aims to improve public sector
capacity in counterpart developing countries for sustainable
development-focused outcomes through bilateral linkages.  We could see
a clear potential to benefit a country like Bangladesh through our
research outcome.  We applied for this extremely competitive grant
scheme and were successful.
ANU’s endowed Professor Shirley Gregor and Dr Tim Turner from
UNSW@ADFA with his long experience on e-government joined me to make a
strong team in this endeavour. In this second phase, we are working in
partnership with the Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre,
BPATC, and other experts/stakeholders in this area.
The Independent: Now you are running an eGovernment management course
at Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre (BPATC). What are
the objectives behind designing such course?
Dr. Imran: Actually BPATC already had an existing course named as
Information Technology and e-government (ITEG).  We replaced this
course with this newly developed course emphasising management skill
and the knowledge a government officer needs in order to plan and
operationalise e-government in his/her department. The rapid
development of the Information Communication Technologies (ICT)
worldwide has impacted organisations and national economies. The
public service sector is also transforming in the information age of
the 21st century in terms of management and communication and ICT has
become a vital tool for public service administration. With the
increasing demand for ICT based applications and processes, government
officials are faced with the challenge of developing their ICT
management skill.
This course is designed to provide current and future managers in the
governments sector with the essential ICT managerial knowledge that is
needed to oversee successful e-government investments. The course
highlights the key aspects of successful ICT management practices in
the context of socio-cultural and organisational complexity.
The Independent: Senior and mid-level officers are joining your
course. So let us to know their response and adaptability of
technology based governance system?
Dr. Imran: I‘d say it is far better than what it was before 5-10
years. Government officers are increasingly taking interest in this
and we found the participants are very eager and enthusiastic to learn
even at their middle age. It was very encouraging to see them studying
beyond mid night and doing their group work.  Some of them who did
this course are already effectively applying their knowledge in their
respective departments.  It is also encouraging to see that the
government is also very proactive in this matter through its mandate
and initiatives. The slogan and move for Digital Bangladesh
demonstrates strong political will behind this transformation which is
also crucial.
The Independent: Do you think the participant officers will be able to
implement what you taught them?
Dr. Imran: This is one of the most challenging questions we face all
the time.  These officers who received our training are only a very
small percentage of the overall public service. When over a period of
time a mass number of officers will be trained and when great
understanding of the issue will flow on across the organisation, only
then you will begin to see the results.  Also there are many other
issues to tackle to apply the acquired knowledge for example legal,
technical and administrative issues which need to be addressed side by
side. However, this is just a beginning and good thing is that the
knowledge resources are now built and readily at hand to be
disseminated and utilised.
The Independent: Did you make any significant progress in taking the
tools of eGovernment to the common people?
Dr. Imran: Of course, the main beneficiary of e-government is
ultimately the citizens.  The benefit derived from the improvement of
government’s efficiency and productivity will eventually transmit to
the citizens.  Now the question arises how to make this happen
effectively, so that sustainable and maximum value can be achieved. I
think, when you are able to clearly measure the overall value addition
by any e-government initiative keeping in mind of 162 million citizen
of the country, you’re not likely to go wrong.  The training instils
that capacity amongst public sector officials in designing and
delivering value added and effective e-government services.  The
knowledge to use those systems will quickly flow on to the general
citizens through normative process.
The Independent: What are the biggest challenges for Bangladesh to be
based on e-Government to serve the people?
Dr. Imran: Bangladesh is a LDC and its context is quite different than
many other developed countries.  The harsh realities are, majority of
its population do not have the internet accessibility and minimum
digital literacy.  They are still struggling to meet the basic
essentials of life.  That does not mean e-goveremnet is not relevant
for Bangladesh. The vast majority of these people can, however, get
the benefit of e-government, if some of the critical internal process,
which can add significant value in terms of efficiency and
productivity, are automated. For example, if an internal process of a
routine license renewal can be re-engineered to process within an
hour, where a general citizen can take the delivery of the same
license over the counter in a day instead of waiting for two weeks,
even without using any computer by himself.
Independent: It is also reported that there are bureaucracies from
some bureaucrats to introduce government. What do you think?
Dr. Imran: I won’t say it is bureaucracy. Rather this is a very common
phenomenon when any new innovation takes place, especially in a rigid
organisation like public services.  It is the institutional inertia,
which takes time to change its status quo.  You have to apply
appropriate strategies for this and give sufficient time for this
transformation to occur.  All the countries have experienced this
The Independent: Do you expect this transformation in public service
will happen in Bangladesh?
Dr. Imran: Oh sure. I have no doubt about that.  It’s not the same
citizen we have dealt with 20 years back. Citizens of 21st century
have different expectations and in this information age the change in
bureaucratic business process is thus inevitable. But the question
is-- how fast you can accommodate and adapt the changes. Sooner is
better for the country. This lead and lag will actually determine the
more devolved and least developed nations in this knowledge based
The Independent: You already told that your eGovernment management
course at Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre, BPATC, is
successfully done. Can other countries replicate the model of your
Dr. Imran: Yes, this will be applicable in many other countries.
Already we have received expression of interest in the past to
replicate this programme in Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Indonesia.
In addition to publishing in reputed academic journals,
International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has published our model in
its annual publication titled ‘The Role of ICT in Advancing Growth in
LDCs, 2011 for LDCs’.
The Independent: What are your expectation regarding eGovernment
adaptation in Bangladesh?
Dr. Imran: It is now important that the knowledge-base built through
our initiative is used for further dissemination and effective
adoption of eGoevrnment.  We’d like to see e-government not only takes
off in the country but also it can maneuver successfully to give the
ultimate benefit to its citizens and thus can play a major role in
changing its overall socio-economic condition.  As a researcher in
this field we’ll be happy to provide and share our research output to
benefit all the LDCs including the country.

Caption- Dr. Ahmed Imran is conducting eGovernment management course
at Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre