Show the Thing 2: Bangladesh a2i - Digital Strategy Design Lab (DSDL)

This is part of a series of blog posts for Show the Thing. Hosted by Public Digital and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, Show the Thing brings together government digital teams from around the world. This month, we heard from experts in Bangladesh’s Aspire to Innovate (a2i) team on how to scale a centralised digital public service.

The Digital Strategy Design Lab model has driven Bangladesh’s digital revolution. A little over a decade ago, Bangladesh began its digital journey with limited connectivity and capability. Today, a2i’s Digital Service Accelerator (DSA) has applied DSDL to 34 ministries and over 150 organisations.

They have also extended their expertise globally by providing technical and design support to eight other nations. This has included developing and implementing digital service systems in Fiji and the Philippines, with more in the pipeline.

Chief e-Governance Strategist, Forhad Zahid Shaikh, and Digital Service Design Expert, Yiafee Khan, explained how the remarkable transformation has taken place.

Scaling a centralised digital service

DSDL centralises digital public services. It streamlines processes, reduces costs, and boosts digital literacy. Its objectives include:

  • Coordinating digitalisation efforts.

  • Building ownership through hands-on involvement in design.

  • Increasing governmental capacity for digital service delivery.

Since 2017, DSDL has been through several iterations and its rollout continues at pace. It has catalysed the design and delivery of 1844 services and 255 digitised systems. The savings have been significant:

  • 81% reduction in time spent using digital compared to manual services.

  • 67% reduction in resources.

  • 65% reduction in cost.

  • 90% reduction in visits (i.e., how many times a user has to ‘visit’ the service to complete their end-to-end journey).

Seven months’ work in seven days

DSDL uses tried and tested methods to meet its aim of delivering ‘seven months’ work in seven days’. To achieve this, preparation is critical. a2i designs customised processes and exercises, and builds in participant engagement before workshops. This can include:

  • Sensitisation meetings - to familiarise participants with DSDL concepts and align expectations.

  • Leadership engagement - to understand priorities and establish where to start.

  • Needs analysis - to identify specific DSDL requirements (e.g. software development)

  • Template iteration - to customise DSDL content to the context of the organisation.

Workshops are efficient. In simple terms, a DSDL workshop gets the right people in the right place using the right approach. These include:

  • Expert facilitators - a2i will send experts to lead activities and brief participants of the expected outcomes.

  • Relevant participants - Participants have strong domain knowledge, experience, and digital capability.

  • Focused breakout groups - Forming breakout groups encourages collaborative work towards focused goals. Groups will include 4-5 domain experts, 1-2 ICT experts, and 1 facilitator.

  • Designated leader - Each group has a Lead Planner who guides and assigns responsibilities.

DSDL workshops take place in a residential setting for between 4-7 days. The intention is to create a focused and immersive experience where participants can engage in DSDL activities without the distraction of day-to-day responsibilities.

Approach and activities

  • A holistic approach - DSDL transforms organisations in five areas: culture, leadership, capacity, architecture, and vision.

  • A varied programme - The programme incorporates a mix of timetabled activities. This includes presentations, Q & A’s and mapping. A2i’s focus is on hands-on activities, building a deep understanding through practical application.

  • Exceptionalities - DSDL adheres to several key principles which include advocating a simple Step by Step Methodical Approach to produce a thorough A-Z Plan.

  • A comprehensive toolkit - a2i uses a suite of 38 analysis and planning tools to achieve strong outcomes. These include Service Efficiency Analysis, and Budget and Procurement Planning.

  • A digitisation masterplan - the masterplan is a key outcome which acts as the basis for implementing future digital activities.

DSDL in action: Rural Development & Cooperative Division (RDCD)

In 2019, a2i started an extensive and ongoing transformation at the RDCD. Using DSDL, it built a digital delivery platform, the Integrated Service Delivery Platform (ISDP), covering a range of systems and services.

One area that has seen the benefits of DSDL methods is the application process for cooperative loans. These loans promote development in rural areas. Previously a multi-step manual process, digitalisation led to a single end-to-end process, completed within a day and saving on most costs.

A2i has replicated the success across 4,816 offices of 10 RDCD organisations covering 185 services, benefitting 1.1 million people. Estimated savings across RDCD services include a 73% time and 50% cost reduction.

An emerging digital tiger

A2i has faced significant challenges in delivering and scaling change. This has included a lack of digital infrastructure, access to technology and low digital literacy. They have also had to overcome traditional mindsets, fears over job displacement and the conflicting politics of collaborating across government.

Despite the challenges, the government and related institutions have widely adopted DSDL. It is recognised as the most effective and popularly practised model to increase service digitisation and digital capacity across government.

It is an authentic example of how a considered, innovative approach can spearhead a digital revolution. Bangladesh’s progress has been recognised on the world stage, whilst the DSDL initiative was recently awarded the ‘Bangladesh Innovation Award 2023’. More important still are the lives improved by Bangladesh’s digital transformation.

Thank you

A final thank you to Yiafee and Forhad for sharing their pride and enthusiasm for this amazing work. Thanks as well to Emily and David for being such genial hosts, and to all who attended and participated in Show the Thing.

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