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Using ICTs for accelerated service delivery

14 May 2009

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Uses of electronic identification facilities are seen as a tool to improve governance and service delivery for sectors like health and banking. The World Bank headquarters organised a global video conference that drew participants from 11 countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

New Delhi: National ID cards and eID applications could go a long way in providing social benefits in areas like health, social security, land titling and insurance, said Nick Manning of World Bank from Washington, DC. He added that such applications should also be seen as a tool that would benefit governance by improved demographic targeting and minimising leakages.

Manning was speaking in the conference – “Global Dialogue on Service Delivery and Electronic Identification (eID): How National ID Cards and Other eID Applications can Improve Service Delivery and Governance” – held in New Delhi on Thursday (May 7) that drew e-governance experts and practitioners from around the world.

 Plastic cards and phones as PKIs
Image credits: Forrester / Plastic cards and phones as PKIs

The conference was organised as part of the Public Sector Governance Knowledge and Learning Forum 2009 and the Government Transformation Initiative (GTI), a private sector collaboration of World Bank.

Participating countries included Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Grenada, India, Mozambique, Russia, Uganda and Kenya. The event was moderated from the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, DC, with its representative Samia Melhem chairing the session in which case studies from Belgium, Estonia and Pakistan were presented. The event was also followed and covered through social networking tools such as the e-development blog and twitter.

Joel Hellman, World Bank representative from South Asian Region/ India, dwelled on the aspect of governance and its correlation with power that could also be misused. He also underlined that it would be interesting to see how these Information Communication Technology (ICT) tools could be used to create countervailing power that is important to balance corruption that arises from the misuse of power.

Han Fraeters and Samia Melhem from the Washington-based World Bank Institute remarked on the complexity and scale of this process saying that there were lessons to be learnt from similar projects in the past as to how such large-scale collations were made possible. These processes should not be viewed as transactional, and should be leveraged well in terms of continuity and participatory exchange.

“Governments with a clear social agenda that offer benefits ranging from pension, medical care, childhood benefits and other social security gains can find eIDs and similar applications very useful,” said Bill Nagel, an e-analyst from Forrester Research, adding that this would make e-governance more efficient and also enable private sector to lower its security and identity-related costs.

An eID Reader
Image credits: FedICT / An eID reader

Most eID projects in European Union had been government-led. Major issues arising due to eIDs were related to security. But Austria had successfully brought out solution by using “sector specific identifiers”, which used different ‘silos’ of information and so that only sector specific data could be accessed, thus minimising correlation misuse. However, so far this had been economically unviable, they said.

Pakistan: Smart chain management

Ali Arshad Hakeem, chairman of National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), that issued the 70 millionth ID card last month, shared the success story of smart identity cards in Pakistan.

“Pakistan deals with problems of social exclusion and terrorism like most South Asian countries. Here NADRA employs smart chain management such as mobile registration vehicles and toolkits to reach out to the most excluded citizens in the country,” he said.

This process can also be seen as innovative and sustainable as it is integrated with other socio-economic services such as banking, health insurance, income support and savings for Haj.

NADRA cards benefit pilgrims and can be used by citizens to deposit savings for their pilgrimage. In this way the principal goal of NADRA is to efficiently connect every Pakistani to the services such as banking and insurance.

The last example could serve as a role model for other countries that wanted to build sustainable ICT solutions, Hakeem informed. Haj is a significant activity in Pakistan with 1.8 million people participating in this holy pilgrimage annually.

Established in 1999, NADRA today is the largest technology organisation in Pakistan with 10,000 employees in 400 offices spread across the country. It comprises younger and tech savvy employees and has proven itself much more efficient than the erstwhile Registration Department.

NADRA has been entrusted with the responsibility of issuing drivers’ license, national passports and ID cards. It also deals in issuance of family registration, children registration, birth and death certificates. NADRA has witnessed a growth in number of women registration that can be attributed to gender friendly approaches of NADRA such as women registrars.

Estonia: Public Key Infrastructure

Tarvi Martens from the e-governance academy in Estonia said that his was a small country with a population of 4.4 million, where most people were tech-savvy.

Elaborating on the country’s Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), which is now 12 years old, he added that PKI system was an ideal example of Public-Private-Partnership (PPPs) – where the country’s government issued the forms and the private sector delivered the identity cards.

Estonia is also the first country to successfully implement Internet voting. An advantage of e-voting is that an unsure voter can cast a vote again and only the last vote is counted as valid.

However the implementation of this process was not free from obstacles. On the one hand there were social factors such as habits and awareness and on the other technical barriers like the need for smart-card reader hardware and related software, he said.

The awareness problem was addressed through successful promotional activities using various ICT mediums. These measures were important as people realised the usefulness of these facilities and services only when they actually started using them.

Belgium: Simplifying a complex mechanism

Frank Leyman of the Belgian Ministry of ICT explained the complex mechanism of his country that had three governing authorities sharing the same administrative power because of its federal structure. For citizens this governance structure becomes very complicated.

To address these issues, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of ICT had to start by doing a back-office overhaul. Major steps that facilitated the development of this flexible and layered technology architecture included gathering authentic sources and distributing free electronic card readers, he said.

Every Belgian citizen is required to have an electronic identity card after the age of 12 onwards. Flexibility of developing Internet applications have facilitated multiple use of this eIDs ranging from basic services such as driving license, student cards, home-banking, health-care, e-commerce and other internet Single Sign-On (SSO) applications.

He informed that the department of ICT had also developed a user-friendly web portal to inform users about the availability of eID applications in their locality.

Issue of viability for developing countries

A participant from Uganda pointed out that it was still unclear as to how these systems would develop in countries with larger population and economic disparity that did not even have access to basic facilities and services such as electricity.
Participants however were convinced that ICTs had the potential to serve as the most powerful tools for addressing issues of inclusion by reaching the most isolated parts of the world.

Today, ICT applications have been successfully deployed to expand agro-business, e-governance, banking, commerce, healthcare and education service sectors. Whether these eID and phone-based identification cards truly benefit e-governance and thus have a positive impact on the ground is still to be seen and tested.

For the simple reason that the event was from a development perspective, it would be appropriate to quote the celebrated American economist Jeffrey Sachs: “Digital technologies will play a core role in ending poverty and in enabling the world to join together through markets, social networks, and co-operative efforts to solve our common challenges.”

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