Contribution to BDP’s Official GPIV Report

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I was contacted by BDP directorate to provide input to a draft of the above mentioned report which I had not seen. The report had a long paragraph on e-governance activities which was apparently drawn from a submission our team made to DGG directorate a few weeks back. The content is the draft was not that great so I submitted the following instead:

Since 2009, the diffusion of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has made them available to most if not all developing countries. Social networks and in particular mobiles technologies are now available to billion of people and via rapid innovation changing the way in which development assistance is provided in general and on how governments and citizens interact in the public sphere. This has reinforced UNDP’s e-governance approach which is citizen-centric and builds on access to information and innovative delivery to under-served communities. And the Global Programme has provided catalytic support for harnessing such innovations in programme countries. In Madagascar, 44,000 youth two rural communities submitted their views via text message on humans right, citizenship and employment to make their voices heard in policy-making processes. In Uzbekistan, one-stop shop centers provided 40 basic services, including birth registration and payment of utility bills, that reached over 200,000 people in the first year of operations. In Costa Rica, the Social Security Agency is benefiting from UNDP’s expertise on ICTs and e-governance and asked for support for modernizing the institution via innovation and new technologies. By the same token, UNDP’s work in this area is also acknowledged by the international private sector as companies such as IBM and Microsoft has provided grants to support government institutions and building local e-skills respectively, while others such as Motorola provided grants to UNDP for mobile innovation for development in poor countries. Since 2010, the sub-practice has also been engaged with both the Broadband Commission spearheaded by ITU and UNESCO, and the Open Government Partnership launched by the Obama administration and nowadays co-chaired by the UK and Indonesia. Finally, the sub-practice produced a flagship report on Mobile Technologies and Innovation which is available in several languages, has been downloaded by users in almost 100 countries and is now a standard reference among practitioners.

I was then asked by BDP to provide input on how do we actually provide policy and programme support to COs. I submitted the text below.

1. Role of GPIV. It is clear to me that while GPIV does not really fund any on the ground programmes (as it used to until 1999 more or less), it does provide the expertise, policy environment, strategic framework, knowledge infostructure (sic), and response capacity to support new or innovative initiatives on the ground while triggering at the same time applied policy development based on the result s and impact of such innovative programmes. So it is necessary catalyst that supports and maintains the so-called virtuous policy cycle (policy/research, programming, implementation, evaluation and assessment and then back to policy, and so on and so forth). In the medium run, the idea is that innovative programming is mainstream into UNDP’s “programming cycle”; and this is critical if BDP is to be seen as effective in advancing UNDP’s applied policy work and supporting country programming in doing so. The policy cycle alone is not enough.

2. Scope of programmes. Between 2009 and last year we supported at least 50 programmes on the ground with both funding and policy advise. Although not all of them were really innovative at least half of them can be classified as such. Please bear in mind that unlike many other areas of UNDP’s work, ICT and e-governance are a moving target as innovation takes place at almost the speed of light and for may it is difficult to keep up. At any rate, the potential for delivering new solutions to old or traditional development gaps is enormous. I was involved in one way or another with the three programmes mentioned in the text I sent you. But how does this actually work?

3. Levels on engagement. This depends on two factors basically: country demand and country office capacity. In my field there is usually an important gap between the two. While many countries are eager to start doing stuff on ICT for development or e-governance, many COs cannot properly respond to such demands. I think this gap is particularly wide in this area. In any event, requests for support are usually channeled via RSCs or directly to me (here reputation and knowing UNDP CO senior staff plays a role). If the CO is really serious about responding to the local demand, then an advisory mission takes place, etc. The rest is history to a point. When we engage with a CO we ensure that a) there is continuous follow-up throughout before and after a mission. Technology also enables and facilitates this; b) CO capacity is enhanced in the medium term by either helping staff or by directly identifying local experts or champions to the CO who can help move the programme forward. This is critical. 3) Knowledge sharing takes places among CO staff, BDP experts and local champions and stakeholders. Most CO demand three basic things: 1) comparative knowledge: what are the experience in other countries and what has worked and what not, etc.; 2) documentation: draft ToRs, prodocs, RFs and AWPs; and 3) local experts who can help drive the process during design, implementation and M&E. All this in a nutshell, needless to say

4. Example – Costa Rica. The national social security agency (CCSS) which provide services to 4 million people (or 95% of the population) came to UNDP for three reasons: 1) UNDP reputation in the country; 2). Knowledge about an ICTD programme we co-designed and funded in the country and which started in 2009. The project is ending in June this year; and 3) knowledge about UNDP’s global expertise on the subject. Formal request to the CO was channelled to us via Panama. A first mission was organized and the counterpart agree to undertake a diagnostic study to develop a strategic plan to modernize the institutions by introducing new ICTs and innovation. DGG assembled a team of experts, one international and one national (this is very important) to carry out the work under out substantive oversight. The draft report was finalized two months later and I edited the final version in consultation with the team and the CO. The report was then presented to the board of directors of CCSS. The CO paid for my trip to make the presentation alongside the national consultant and the recommendations were approved. We are now waiting for CCSS to allocate resources and start the implementation phase. In the meanwhile, the CO is not thinking of getting into the cost-sharing business (as it was not allowed before) and this might then be the first project it might undertake under such modality.

5. A glimpse of the future. ICTs continue to evolve at rapid pace offering people and stakeholder new opportunities to have voice in governance process, access public services and information, and interact more effectively among themselves and with governments -local or national. Nowadays we are witnessing another change where the demand side of the governance equation is rapidly advancing while governments and development agendas seem to be struggling to catch up. We are also witnessing a dramatic change in the innovation arena as nowadays, and unlike the recent past, innovation is not only a monopoly of developed countries but has also taken root in developing countries – Kenya being one among many. By the same token, e-government agendas are growing old and instead we are witnessing a shift to ICT for governance (ITC4G) where the main objective is to ensure people’s demands are effectively addressed by governments who must be capable of effectively responding. While stakeholders and people are capitalizing on 21st century technologies and communication channels, governments are still struggling with 20th century issues using institutional arrangements that have not changed much in the last 100 hundred years. This does certainly do not need to be case. After all ICTs are a transformational enabler that can also be utilized for this purposed is it is harness strategically.

Cheers, Raúl

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