From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 3- Designing technology with public in mind
Despite the push for the adoption of digital technologies, large segments of Indians still can’t access or haven’t learned to trust digital artefacts.
Issue of exclusion
- Recognising the power of technology to drive inclusion at a massive scale, the state is doubling down on technology to reach more citizens and serve them better.
- However, often the paradigm of technology for such services is built around the “elite” citizen, who is comfortable with technology.
- Often, this imagined citizen is male, urban, upper class.
- Large segments of Indians still can’t access or haven’t learned to trust digital artefacts.
- Many among marginalised groups struggle to access digital civic platforms, and instead rely on trusted human intermediaries.
Suggestions to make digital space truly public
1) Design with the citizen
- Encouraging human-centric design, and mandating user-assessments prior to roll out of GovTech platforms should be a key priority.
- This is a shift from the default “build first and then disseminate” approach.
- For example, formative research and human-centric design was informative in the creation of the first UPI payments app, BHIM.
- BHIM’s simple interface and onboarding, use of relatable iconography and multi-language capabilities played an important role in early adoption of UPI among non “digital natives”.
- Similarly, as the “Human Account” project demonstrated, it is possible to start with users in designing pro-poor fintech products, like the “Postman Savings” product which India Post Payments Bank designed for the rural poor.
2) Harness trusted human interface to serve those who are not comfortable with technology
- Local intermediaries, such as formal and informal community leaders and civil society organisations, can play a key role in bridging the digital divide.
- Working with existing networks (for example ASHAs) or carefully setting them up (such as the Andhra Pradesh Ward Secretariat programme), where pre-existing trust, community knowledge, and embeddedness can play a significant role, should be prioritised.
3) Institutionalise an anchor entity that brings together innovators, policy makers and researchers
- Such an entity will help to push the frontier on citizen-centricity in GovTech.
- Such a platform — like the Citizen Lab in Denmark — can play a role in generating formative research.
- Embedding this research in practice by partnering with the government as well as market innovators, and working with civil society organisations to enhance access to GovTech.
As India makes rapid strides in its digitalisation journey, it is timely to invoke Gandhiji’s talisman and ensure that GovTech can serve its highest and greatest purpose, that is, serving those who are last in line.