24 October 2021
Despite the best efforts of the government, the lack of an effective platform to communicate real time local problems and issues that mostly remain unresolved due to the communication gap between the citizens and its government/administration, has been a common continuing household discussion amongst the citizens of Bangladesh.
This led to the formation of a public Facebook group, ‘Citizen Journalism Bangladesh’ by a2i in December 2016 in an effort to bridge the gap and build trust between government-citizen & non-government organizations. It provides a non-political platform for the citizens to share their experiences, needs and problems regarding government services and also solving problems collectively and reviewing citizen innovation under one roof. The group has over 34000 members and everyday new citizen experiences are shared.
This was later complemented by the development of a one stop citizen engagement and management digital platform, Shobar Dhaka, launched in January 2021 by Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) mayor, Mr. Atiqul Islam. City dwellers can download this application on their Android and iOS mobile devices to communicate with DNCC directly or report irregularities of the city corporation authorities by sending messages along with location and images under eight specialised categories. In 6 months, the platform has reached over 16000 registered users with a total of approximately 3481 complaints reported through the app, 95% of which (approximately 3304) issues have been resolved while the remaining 177 issues are in process.The platform has already won the Bangladesh Innovation Award 2021 in the Best Innovation in Public Service – Service Delivery category.
The app offers other features like emergency alert service, locations of available nearby services, updates of ongoing social events and training in the region, weather updates and contact numbers and addresses of DNCC offices and other various government agencies
The two platforms came together in collaboration in July 2021 with the aim to increase public participation in governance and reach to every household, to together identify and address all public concerns.
According to Md Tuhinul Islam, system analyst of DNCC, almost 10 million people live in the DNCC area and in comparison to that, only a small number of users were actively using the app. Hence as a campaign to reach a larger population, the mutual collaboration was put into action that seemed to have immediately gathered pace.
Through the app and Citizen Journalism Group, citizens are now easily reporting to the corporation by taking pictures with a real-time GPS location and details of everyday problems related to roads, mosquitoes, garbage, street lights, sewerage, public toilets, waterlogging and illegal installations. The app tracks the GPS location of the problem submitted by the citizens, determines which ward and region of the DNCC it belongs to and automatically sends it to the duty officer of the concerned region. The concerned officials take necessary steps to resolve the issue, all under the supervision of the information management and verification system of Shobar Dhaka. The citizens too are able to track the steps taken by the responsible officials to solve their issue on the app as well as keep track of the number of issues that have been attended to if multiple complaints are reported.
Mr. Samiul Islam from Mirpur (zone 2, ward 2) reported a complaint under Sewerage, on the 8th of May 2021, about a canal in Pallabi Women’s Degree College Road, brimming with dirt and waste material which was hampering the natural water flow in the canal. He requested to take necessary actions at the earliest.The problem was solved within 12 hours (9th May 2021) and Mr. Islam expressed his satisfaction by giving a 5-star rating to the app.
On 16th July 2021, Mr. Md. Rashel Hossain from Gulshan (Zone 3, Ward 19) complained, under Roads category, of a missing manhole cover on the pavement, that may cause a serious accident at any time. DNCC accepted his request overnight and allocated its resources to work on the issue, solving it within 36 hours. Mr. Hossain was satisfied with the work done and gave the app a 5-star rating.
On July 26, another citizen, Daniel Jewel posted and shared a similar concern in the Citizen Journalism Group on Facebook after noticing a hole in the road at night. When he came to know about the app from the facebook group, he captured a picture, uploaded that on the app along with the location to inform DNCC which was then resolved overnight. Jewel mentioned in his post that he submitted a total of six complaints in three categories till now and witnessed all of them to be resolved in every case, emphasizing that this app really works.
|Total complaints received under the Category||Roads||Mosquito||Garbage||Street Light||Public Toilet||Drainage||Illegal Installations||Waterlogging||Total|
|Complaints in process||44||3||5||43||3||13||66||0||177|
Figure 1: An overview of total complaints received and resolved (10 January to 24 June 2021)
Through data collection and analysis from the app, the citizens are also enabling DNCC to easily and efficiently identify the sector as well as the geographical areas that need the most attention and resources. This can ultimately guide a more effective budget formation and allocation of resources. As seen from Figure 1, DNCC has received the highest number of complaints under Streetlight issues, amongst all the categories.
The locals and netizens believe the local administration has built a true inclusive and holistic solution focused and action oriented platform that eliminates all bureaucracy and long lead time. A system that is of the people, by the people, for the people.
In today’s world of social media, the increase in posts about Shobar Dhaka app in the Citizen Journalism Bangladesh group and how swiftly and diligently the concerns were addressed, along with spontaneous interviews with group members on their experience of using the app, volunteer teams in the group voicing their concerns with the process and generating overall buzz on how it helped their cause has led to mass awareness. Positive word of mouth through real-life videos and reviews and open discussion and conversations on social media platforms are making people feel closer to the government than ever before. This new sense of community and empowerment has inspired other city councils like Rajshahi, Sylhet, and Mymensingh to devise such a platform.
There is no doubt that this amalgamation of the public and the provider of public services have resulted in the citizens becoming the torchbearers of the much desired digital transformation in the country.
Manik Mahmud is the Head of Social Innovation Cluster of a2i, the Bangladesh government’s flagship digital transformation program, jointly implemented by the ICT Ministry and Cabinet Office with technical support from UNDP.
Co-authored by Ashfaq Zaman, the Advisor-Communication of a2i.