While government-to-citizen (G2C) services are getting rebuilt with the help of information technology, a lack of trust and regulatory uncertainty remain two strong hindrances to fully realising the benefits of technology. Newer technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to solve some of these issues by automating trust in citizen service delivery.
The budget speech of the finance minister of Bangladesh for the fiscal year of 2019-20 has emphasised the importance of blockchain. In fact, in his speech, the finance minister mentioned the government’s plan to start experimental use of blockchain technology, which “is becoming an inseparable and secure medium of global information exchanges”, in the coming year.
This is indeed a significant step forward. Such a statement in the budget speech demonstrates the government’s eagerness to keep pace with global technological advancements. Quite a few governments around the world have started experimenting with and implementing blockchain technology to deliver citizen services effectively. In countries like India, state and central government bodies have been working to adopt blockchain technology for the last couple of years. One state government in India has already started using blockchain technology to deliver citizen services effectively. With the government of Bangladesh laying emphasis on this technology, the country has also begun to work towards realising its potential.
Blockchain is set to disrupt both industries and citizen services alike. For one, it can automate the building of much-needed trust between the government and citizens. Also, it can increase the speed of service delivery to citizens. For any government, it can become a powerful tool to manage all kinds of registries, identities, and service delivery chains.
Blockchain was first applied in the financial services industry. Today, blockchain technology is considered disruptive and impactful across industries. In PwC’s Global Blockchain Survey 2018, 600 executives from 15 countries were asked about their work with blockchain technology. About 84 percent said that their organisations had at least some involvement with this technology.
The use of blockchain can not only establish trust but also automate it by combining the Internet of things (IoT) and AI. Trust is automatically built into such a system. The system repeatedly yields the desired outcome without any manual intervention. IoT helps gather data from various sources through sensors, while AI helps in generating meaningful insights and in better decision making.
Automating trust is one of the five emerging themes that have been identified by PwC as the next set of emerging themes based on eight emerging technologies. The emerging technologies are maturing fast, and they need to be deployed simultaneously to solve some of the larger problems of society. Automation of trust while delivering citizen services is one such solution which will be driven by blockchain and a few other new technologies.
Worldwide, governmental institutions face an issue with building and sustaining trust with citizens due to the perceived lack of transparency in delivering services. Lack of trust arises since a large number of intermediaries get involved across major activities of service delivery, with significant human intervention. Human intervention and centralised processes result in disparate systems, with power being concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, leading to a lack of trust in the processes and systems.
These issues have long created the need for technology that can track transactions at a granular level like any online system, and such transactions, once recorded, should not be alterable by any entities. Blockchain addresses this need. It has emerged as the ideal tool for governmental institutions to solve long-standing problems across public sector organisations.
Blockchain has increasingly received attention as a means to ensure regulatory monitoring, compliance and reporting for greater transparency in existing regulatory procedures. The areas of implementation include public healthcare, digitalised identity, benefits distribution, bills and payments, legislation records, legal enforcements, taxation, and peer-to-peer electricity trading.
Multiple state governments in India have been working on the evaluation and implementation of blockchain technology with varied objectives. Many of these government bodies have been trying to digitise their land and property records management system using blockchain technology. In such solutions, every land-related transaction, including ownership transfers and pledging, gets recorded in a tamper-proof blockchain ledger, thereby offering transparency and efficiency in record keeping.
Many of the bodies are also working on developing solutions for electronic human records. The final goal of such a solution is the integration of multiple blockchain-based systems managed by multiple departments that issue and store certificates related to a human event, such as birth, death, education, marriage and subsidy eligibility. The underlying philosophy is that a human life consists of multiple sequential and non-sequential certificates that are linkable and verifiable through an integrated system of immutable ledgers. Blockchain technology can be used by governments to build robust systems and improve trust in the overall process.
Additionally, some government bodies are working on developing solutions for crowdfunding for public projects and other systems.
Blockchain is a promising technology that can revolutionise governance in Bangladesh in the digital age. While various research reports have suggested the huge growth potential of blockchain, it is important to recognise that this technology is not a panacea. It is an effective and versatile instrument in the hands of the government to implement better and effective service delivery to each citizen of the country. The government of Bangladesh has taken a step in the right direction by deciding to start experimenting with blockchain technology in the coming year.
The writer is a partner at PwC. The views expressed here are personal.