Union Digital Center: Expectation and Challenges in Services Delivery to the Rural People of Bangladesh

 

by Abu Sufian Shamrat and Md. Amjad Hossain     13/2/2018

 Abstract

The major focus of this study is to assess the expectations and the challenges of Union Digital Center in providing service to the rural people of Bangladesh. Majority percent (70%) of people live in rural areas of Bangladesh. Rural local government bodies of the counties have been providing them numerous services which are time-consuming, labor intensive and not cost effective most of the cases. Sometimes, rural people need to move to the urban authorities for the faster service as well. So, with a view to decentralizing the delivery of public service and taking them to the doorsteps of underserved citizens, the government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh took an initiative to introduce Union Digital Center (UDC), previously known as Union Information and Service Centers (UISCs) with the technical assistance from UNDP and USAID. Efficient functioning of Union Digital Center can be a very effective NPM tool to the government of Bangladesh. If it is, UDC can be a strategic tool to fulfill the dream of government’s “Digital Bangladesh”. Again, to empower the people, the government took this initiative to provide service to its citizen as soon and possible via electronic means. So to find out the prospects are to be fulfilled and the challenges of UDC and to detect the factors which affect the efficiency of UDC, this study was conducted by considering the citizen’s view that is associated with UDC’s services and opinions of the government officials relating to this center were also taken into account.

Introduction

In this contemporary world like every developing country, Bangladesh government provides a wide range of services to the citizens through its’ various local level offices such as the office of district level, the office of Upazila level and the office of union level. But providing services smoothly has always been a challenging task for the government since most of the public services are time-consuming and labor-intensive for both the services recipients and the provider. This creates frequent delays in services delivery. Thus the quality of the services decreases. That propelled the government for a newer mechanism that would knock the existing challenges off. So, with a view to decentralizing the delivery of public service and taking them to the doorsteps of underserved citizens, the government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh took an initiative to introduce Union Digital Center (UDC), previously known as Union Information and Service Centers (UISCs) with the technical assistance from UNDP and USAID. Union digital center (UDC) is an NPM tool. NPM focuses on efficient service delivery and customer satisfaction. Union digital center (UDC) has the same objectives of delivering the services more efficiently than ever before. Factors affecting the efficiency can be broadly classified into two categories:

  • Demand Side Factors –Factors related to service seekers characteristics such as their understandings of the service process, the urgency of the service etc.
  • Supply Side Factors – Institutional factors that affect the efficient service delivery are an infrastructural arrangement, inter-organizational network, government budget, logistic support and skilled manpower to provide the services smoothly.

Objectives of the study

The main objective of the study is to assess the expectations and the challenges of UDCs in providing services to the rural people of Bangladesh. The Specific objectives are:

  • To assess the expectations of UDCs in ensuring efficiency and citizen satisfaction through effective service delivery.
  • To compare the efficiency of UDCs in providing services in terms of cost, time and number visit to the previous model.
  • To identify the various challenges faced by UDCs and to provide recommendations.

Literature review

An efficient public administration is an essential precondition for economic and social development. This is more crucial for Bangladesh since corruption is an outstretched obstacle in almost every public office. That eventually decreases the efficiency of the public office in case of quicker and cost-effective service. As a result, the predetermined expectations of a public office can’t be fulfilled entirely. So, Bangladesh is adopting paperless documentation system which is improving efficiency in various sectors. For instance- e-health service, e-ticket, postal and courier, paying utility bills, e-recruitment, online application for admission in colleges and universities and so on. Here everything is done electronically. As a result, the rate of corruption is getting lower, on the other hand, efficiency in providing government services getting higher especially to the rural people who are not much facilitated and underserved.

A number of studies have been reviewed throughout the world regarding community-based information centers. But only a few studies have been found about UDC which provides services to the grass root people of Bangladesh. A study named “Union Digital Centers (UDCs) in Delivering Services: Roles, Potentials and Challenges” by TIB showed what are the prescribed roles of UDCs and what are the common challenges in reaching to the grassroots people having no or a little idea of e-services.

Another study was conducted named “UDC and Impact on Improving Governance” supervised by BRAC University. There is an article published in Australian Journal of Sustainable Business and Society on “E-Governance and UDC”. Both of the studies dealt with the impacts on governance and the possible challenges of the proper functioning of UDC. As per the findings of these two studies, successful implementation of UDC is a great challenge for the developing countries since the infrastructural arrangement is poor. Moreover, citizen’s awareness is low because it takes too much time and other costs. But the service recipients mostly live in distant rural areas who need to travel these places and meet public officials for receiving public information and services such as copies of public records, welfare benefits, or receiving livelihood services on education, health and agriculture or to know market prices (Sarker, 2013; Faroqi and Siddiquee, 2011). Visits involve associated time and costs such as on food, travel, bribes, loss of day’s income for time spent elsewhere, etc. After incurring these costs and time when they eventually reach the destination they are faced with the bitter reality that prevails in the public offices such as absence of the provider, harassment in case of not paying bribes, unusual delay, low responsiveness for which they are sometimes compelled to pay additional visits and costs (Bhatnagar, 2004; 2009).

But it has a significant impact on governance/ good governance. S.S. Ahmed (2015) argued that “UDC initiatives, by using ICTs, attempt to reduce cost, optimize efficiency and effectiveness, make governments more accountable and transparent, reduce the scope for corruption, and so forth”.

UDCs are getting popularity since their launching. Citizens believe that UDC brings a positive change in the traditional way of service delivery. According to A2I Project (PMO) report (2016) “The increasing trust of citizens in UDC as a decentralized government desk has been a key driving factor behind the acceptance and popularity”. Again, there are a number of government reports on a pilot project of UDC where the way of service delivery and upcoming challenges are mentioned. But none of the study or reports focused on the efficiency of UDC. The concept of UDC is very new and innovative in case of third world countries like Bangladesh. The government launched this for the maximum utilization of local governance capacity. So this study will focus on the efficiency of UDC that could draw a new dimension in service decentralization.

Methodology

For the purpose of this research, data had been collected from primary sources of information. Service seekers will be the respondents. The selection of the data collection method is highly dependent on the objectives of the study and the nature of information needed for the study. A semi-structured questionnaire with both closed and open-ended questions was prepared. The prepared questions were based on independent variables and indicators also the dependent variable for the collection of data. This method helped to collect and analyze reliable, quantitative and primary data. Respondents were chosen randomly from 4 different districts of 3 divisions. Again, unions were chosen purposively using convenience sampling.

Again, to collect more opinion, 10 UDC operator/union secretary/chairmen were also interviewed. As per the objective of the study, survey questionnaires might not be enough to figure out the actual factors. So, to identify the supply side arrangement, an in-depth interview had also been done. But, it was not possible to interview any political leader including the Chairman or any member of the Union due to their busy schedule.

District Division Upazila UDC No. of Respondents
Khulna Khulna Rupsha Aichgati 15
Chittagong Chittagong Raujan Binajuri 15
Noakhali Chittagong Sonaimuri 9 No Deuti 15
Jhalokathi Barishal Kathalia Awrabunia 15

 

Research Findings    

Information about the UDC services and the frequency of visit

According to the user survey, 61.67% of the respondent said that they know the about UDC and it’s provided services whereas 38.33% clearly stated that they have no knowledge about Union Digital Center.

After getting the above information, the respondents had been asked how many times they come to UDC in every month. From 60 respondents, 35 of them said that they come to the union digital center based on their necessity. It may be twice or thrice in a month or could be more or less than that. And the rest of them said that they surely come to UDC once or twice in every month.

Operations of UDCs and service duration:

It was found that UDCs work 6 days in a week and more than 8 hours on each day. 77% service recipients found UDC entrepreneurs available during the working hour. When they did, they found them very friendly and cooperative also.

Required services:

According to the user survey, 66.43% said that they came to UDC for receiving or preparing their birth certificate. 16.11% of the respondents mentioned that they come to UDC for collecting their citizen certificate and another 7.22% said that they come to UDC for their passport application .other services that were received by the users are taking photo, print, and lamination (6.66%).  Only a few percentage of the user (3.58%) come for e-service information and for land records.

The number of visits and cost of the services:

The time required to provide a service is directly associated with the efficiency of the service providing organization. So, respondents were asked if they access their expected their services within their expected lime limit. Only 25% of the respondents stated that they didn’t get services on time. They informed that they had to visit more than once for a service. On the other hand, 75% of the respondents agreed that they get their desired services provided by UDC on time. This number creates a great controversy on the efficiency of the UDCs. Again, from the other findings, it was found that the underlying causes of failure in timely services are power cut, slow internet, nature of the services, and poor infrastructure, crowd of service recipients, absence of UP Chairmen and UP Secretary etc.

 

Comparison of cost, time and number of visit in availing the  different services from UDCs
Services Cost (in Taka) Time ( in Hour) Visit (in frequency)
Then Now The Now Then Now
Birth Registration 150 60 48 3 3 1
Citizen’s Certificate 70 50 36 2 3 1
Passport Application ( MRP) 300 200 120 3.5 4 1
Death Registration 160 50 24 2 3 1
Land records(e porcha) 500 200 260 48 6 1
Information Service 100 40 40 2 3 1

 

The table shows the remarkable change in between the present model of UDCs efficiency and that of previous. Now people are having all most all kinds of services in faster way with lower cost and a less number of visit.

Availing services over Telephone getting signature:

According to the findings of the survey of the service recipients, 13.33%% said that they got their required services over telephone. 16.67% reported that they didn’t get their services or couldn’t reach the operators over telephone whereas rest of the 70% said that they didn’t try for the services over telephone.

Here, the respondents were asked on whether they faced any problem/obstruction during the period when they require the chairman’s signature. Around 72% of them said that they faced problem in getting signature from chairman or secretary on Union Digital Center. Respondents who stated that they face problems pointed out that they face most problem when the chairman is absent in his office. And another 28% mentioned that they do not face any kind of problem while getting the signature of the chairman or the Union Secretary.

Promotional activities of UDC:            

According to the survey of the user, 86% said that they have no idea about any kind of marketing or advertisement of UDC regarding their services. But another 14% contradicted to this response and said that they know about the UDC through the marketing of government. Sources they came to know about UDCs are manly from relatives and friends (40.55%), from local leaders (34.68%), print and electronic media (12.23%), poster and billboard (10%), websites and others (2.54%).

Types of obstacles:

It was our one of the key findings to identify what sorts of problems the service seekers mainly face while accessing the services from the digital center. According to the survey, 36% of respondents faced obstacles in availing the services. Among them 44% said that they actually don’t know where to go for exact services. It could be either for the imperfect information sharing from the authority or by their lack of awareness. Another 28% of the respondent said that the absence of operator and less co-operation of the authority often create obstacles for them to get services from Union Digital Center. Although from the interview of the operators and the union secretary of the union it was found that sometimes there is too crowed to control in a single hand. Thus, sometimes they are unable to talk everybody at a time.

Levels of satisfaction on UDC services

According to the user survey, service recipients’ satisfaction on UDC services is fairly high.

Overall 76.67% of service seekers were quite satisfied with the UDC services and with the other relevant issues. Most of the service recipients (76.67%) were satisfied with required time in receiving services and least satisfied with the roles of the local leaders and with the promotional activities UDCs.

Major Challenges of UDCs:

There are some challenges associated with UDCs in providing smooth services to the rural people. The major challenges are following:

  • Language problem of the service seekers poses a major threat of the smooth operation of UDCs. Villagers are little acquainted with the new ‘terms’ related to the services.
  • Inadequate infrastructural facility is another great threat for UDCs. Most of the UDCs are not digitalized enough and not well equipped with enough chair and tables etc.
  • There is a shortage of enough technological efficiency among some entrepreneurs to ensure quality services.
  • There is a lack of promotional activities on the extent of services at local level is notable.
  • A section of local public representatives are not aware enough about their own roles and are reluctant in taking initiatives to make people know about UDCs.
  • There is no defined UDC management committee. Again, The roles of Entrepreneurs, Union Chairman, Union Secretary are not well prescribed.

.

Key findings:

After the analysis of the data and the interview it can be said that the UDC is efficient in most of the cases in providing services although timely service is a great challenge of it. Considering the other factors, it can be stated that, UDC is trying to best services to its level best. People are having better services and many additional facilities from the center. The entire findings can be summarized as followings:-

  • Most of the service seekers are happy with the services and financial rate of transactions.
  • Still there is a lack of promotional activities to aware the people of the services of the UDC.
  • Frequent power cut and slow internet are the great challenges for UDC to be successful. Infrastructural facilities are yet to be up to the mark which is also a great threat to be efficient.
  • Lack of the commitments of the local political leaders can slow down the service providing process.

 

Conclusion and Recommendations

ICT is one of the most important issues of the present government. With a view to achieving the goal to ‘Digital Bangladesh’ UDC could be a trump card for the government. To empower the citizen, ICT has emerged the most successful and effective strategic intervention. The gap prevailed earlier in providing a service manually has decreased significantly due to UDC. The present scenario of the rural Bangladesh has changes tremendously in case of accessing government services. Rural people are having faster services and being empowered with necessary livelihood information such as agriculture, health, education land, job etc. even the people who are unable to read and write are able to access the e-services with the help of the UDC operator. But, there are some sorts of challenges too. If the existing challenges can be met up with necessary steps, the UDC can surely bring a positive change in rural life.

The following measures can ensure UDC’s efficiency if they are taken appropriately:

  • Uninterrupted Power Supply: uninterrupted power supply is one of the major challenges of UDCs. Since load shedding is very frequent in the rural area, service providing faces disturbance. In that case, uninterrupted power supply must be ensured.
  • High Speed Internet Connection with minimum cost: The present internet speed is very low. Using only GPRS modem can slow down the speed of the service. Thus, one of the main objectives of providing faster services is being hampered. Therefore, 3G service or WIFI modem or broadband connection can be the best solution for providing quick eservices among the rural people. Again, to make the center more efficient cost of the internet connection must be at the minimum level.

 

  • Promotional Activities: Most of the people in the grassroots level are not well aware about the functions and the services of UDC. As a result, the main purposes can’t be achieved. So, promotional activities are needed to be taken to make the people aware. In this regard, local media, teachers, Govt. officials, local political leaders can play a vital role.
  • Development of Infrastructural facilities: The present infrastructural facilities including electricity, internet connection, and waiting room with adequate furniture are not up to the mark. People coming for services face many difficulties due to the shortage of infrastructural facility. So, the development of infrastructural development must be taken seriously.
  • Role of Political Leaders: Sometimes people can’t get their services on time due to the absence of union parisad chairman. Again making the people aware of the services of UDCs, the role of political leader is a must.
  • Incentive packages for the officials: sometimes officials need to stay at UDCs for a longer period of time. So there should have some sorts of incentives packages. It could be a motivational factor for the officials.
  • Removing language problems: The local people have a very little idea about the new ‘terms’ of information and internet. Because of this language problem, they can’t access all the services. In that case, content of the services should be in native language and locally relevant.

 

Bibliography

Bhatnagar, S. (2004), E-Government: From Vision to Implementation- A Practical Guide with Case Studies, New Delhi: SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd.

Bhatnagar, S. (2009), ‘A Framework and Methodology for Impact Assessment’, in Unlocking Government Potential: Concepts, Cases and Practical Insights, New Delhi: Sage Publications

F.M. Gofran (2015), An Assessment of E-governance: Case of union digital centers (UDC) in Bangladesh, Australian Journal of Sustainable Business and Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, March

Faroqi, M. G. and Siddiquee, N. A. (2011), ‘Limping into the Information Age; Challenges of E- Government in Bangladesh’, Journal of Comparative Asian Development, 10(1): 33-61

GoB (2009), Digital Bangladesh Concept Note. Access to Information Programme, Dhaka: Prime Minister Office

SAROAR AHMED SALEHEEN (2015), Public Service Delivery- Role of Union Digital Center (UDC) and Impact on Improving Governance and Development: A Case Study of Narayanganj District, Bangladesh, Dhaka: BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) BRAC University

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1 Comment

  • saroar_saleheen@yahoo.com'
    SAROAR AHMED SALEHEEN
    April 26, 2018, 7:46 am

    In your article, my thesis titled “Public Service Delivery-role of UDC and impact on improving governance and development: a case study of Narayanganj district” used as reference but my name was written wrongly. So the authors are requested to write my name correctly.
    Thank you.
    Regards
    SAROAR AHMED SALEHEEN
    saroar_saleheen@yahoo.com

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