Leveraging technology to move towards proactive service delivery
Suditi Bansal
June 15, 2020

Most state governments in India comprise a minimum of 30 departments with distinct responsibilities. These departments, the equivalent of ministries at the central level, are responsible for key functions such as education, health, transport, finance, agriculture among others. An important element of their mandate is delivering welfare benefits to protect and promote the economic and social well-being of citizens through different schemes. These include insurance, pension, subsidies, scholarships, etc. Additionally, these departments also provide services such as issuing licenses for various purposes, no-objection certificates or accepting requests for utility services (water, electricity etc.).

Even though critical, in most states, these schemes and services are not delivered to citizens in a streamlined manner. For example, if a citizen wants to apply for pension, it is upon her to ascertain the process of applying for pension, the documents to carry for proving eligibility, the office to visit for application submission, etc. After finally submitting an application she has to keep following up with the concerned departments to ascertain its status and escalate complaints, if any. And this entire process differs across schemes, services, departments and districts within a state. What remains common though is how complex it is for a citizen to navigate the entire system. This widespread variation in scheme and service delivery, wastes citizens’ time, puts them through unnecessary hardship and enforces no accountability on service-providing entities to be efficient.

Now imagine a scenario where service delivery was proactive. That is, say as soon as a labourer turns 60, the relevant pension service gets triggered automatically and the beneficiary starts receiving the pension amount in her bank account, with minimal or no intervention by the citizen to avail the service. Such a model of service delivery would ensure that citizens receive the services due to them without any hassles.

While ideal, for a state government to go from a situation where scheme and service delivery is not streamlined at all to where it is completely proactive, requires significant planning. Needless to say, this can only be achieved in phases.

How would this happen?

In 2017, the Government of Haryana began the journey towards streamlining service delivery and eventually transitioning from a reactive to a proactive model. Drawing on our experience working with the state government, we have identified three core capabilities that a state needs to build to streamline service delivery.

Since lakhs of citizens apply for schemes and services every month, the service delivery mechanism needs to be able to handle and process data at scale on an almost real-time basis. Therefore, technology is a key lever of change to operationalize and leverage these core capabilities.

Standardised and easy way to apply for services

Having an easy and uniform way to apply for services across departments can significantly reduce the time and effort a citizen has to put in to figure out the process of availing different services and applying to them.

This can be achieved by developing a unified IT platform with standardised application forms for services across departments. The enrollment of all citizens into any service can happen through this platform.

A single platform for all services makes it feasible for any person equipped with basic Web browsing skills to use the platform to enroll herself or others into different services. This cuts out the role of middlemen who are better versed with the application process--such as which website to use for which service, which documents to attach, which form to fill etc--and would take advantage of this information asymmetry. The use of a single platform with all relevant information ensures that service-specific knowledge is no more a precondition to enroll someone in a service.

In Haryana, this was done by creating an online integrated platform called Antyodaya Saral, which has brought more than 500 schemes and services across 39 departments to one portal. All services on Saral are also being offered through 115 Saral Kendras (physical touchpoints) and more than 8000 Common Service Centres in the state.

Complete visibility about the status of the application

After applying for a service, a citizen should be able to track the status of her application with ease. With such visibility, the citizen can hold the government accountable for poor service delivery practices such as not processing an application on time, rejecting an application for invalid reasons etc.

This visibility can be brought about by mapping each step of backend processing of the application on an online system. As the application clears a particular step of the process, the status of the application changes. Changes in status of the application can be communicated to the citizen through various channels.

In Saral, this has been done by mapping the backend workflows of all services on a single IT platform. Any change in the application status reflects on this platform and is communicated to the citizen through an SMS, a tracking website and a helpline.

Easy access to information about services

Information asymmetry is a major challenge for citizens in almost all government-related dealings. It is therefore important for the government to ensure easy access to service-related information (such as eligibility criteria, timelines, documents required) to all citizens.

This can be achieved by making a state-level standardised repository of information about all the services on an online system. The contents of this repository can be maintained by concerned departments and leveraged by all individuals.

Saral does this by maintaining a knowledge management system that can be accessed by citizens, helpline operators, department officials to avail any information about a service.

Moving towards proactive service delivery

By developing these three capabilities, a state would be in a position to deliver schemes and services in a streamlined manner. This is an important prerequisite before it makes the transition to proactive service delivery. Why is this so?

In a proactive service delivery model a state should be equipped to--identify eligible beneficiaries for a service, enroll them into the service with minimal or no involvement of the citizen and deliver the service efficiently within designated timelines.

At the heart of this shift towards proactive service delivery is therefore the state’s capability to access, procure, and leverage demographic and socioeconomic data of citizens. This can be done by creating a strong network of dynamic databases with relevant data attributes of citizens.

While such a network can open up endless possibilities for proactive service delivery, such developments have to be taken up with caution to safeguard data protection and privacy of citizens. The secure implementation of such networks can happen only if sophisticated technical solutions are accompanied with tight policy controls.

Haryana, having built the core capabilities required for streamlined service delivery, is now working to enhance these core capabilities and in parallel taking steps towards proactive service delivery.