Show the Thing 9: Madagascar - Public Services One-Stop Counter

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 Madagascar's Digital Governance Unit (DGU). They discussed the journey towards delivering inclusive public service for citizens.

Madagascar - the world’s third biggest island - has a population of 30 million with relatively low urbanisation and limited internet connectivity. This presents a significant challenge to providing access to consistent and inclusive public services.

The team responsible for meeting these challenges is the Digital Governance Unit (DGU) / Unité de Gouvernance Digitale who work within the Ministry of Digital Development, Digital Transformation, Posts and Telecommunications / Ministre du Développement Numérique, de la Transformation Digitale, des Postes et des Télécommunications. The DGU is responsible for managing digital projects across the Madagascan Government’s ministries and digitising public services in Madagascar.

During our 9th session of Show the Thing, we were joined by Dimbinirina (Dimby) Razafindramanana (Product Designer) who leads the team, and his colleague Mikael Andriamiajarisoa (Product Owner) who walked us through the service. They outlined a resourceful and pragmatic approach to delivering public services focusing on Mahatoky - a collaboration with Paositra Malagassy, the national post office.

The ‘Big Island’s’ big challenges

Some 90% of Madagascans live in rural areas which makes it difficult to promote digital public services. Accessing existing services is often impractical and time-consuming. Vital actions, like registering the birth of a child often requires lengthy travel to civil offices, which aren’t always conveniently located. 

This isn’t helped by inadequate and a cumbersome transport infrastructure. As a result, processes to obtain government-issued documents like passports, civil registrations or land titles are likely to take a much longer time than is necessary.

Over the course of this series, we have often focused on the online aspect of digital transformation. In Madagascar this is a less holistic solution, as online channels exclude 80% of the population. Instead, an inclusive digital service was designed to focus on the realities of the country's context. This meant building an integrated multi-channel portal for public services (Torolalana), which includes a robust in-person process (Mahatoky).

Welcome page - Torolalana
Welcome page - Torolalana

Torolalana and Mahatoky

Torolalana offers a three-channel access to services:

  • A digital channel (for those with internet access)

  • A telephone-based channel (call centre and text message)

  • A physical channel (Mahatoky)

This multi-channel approach acknowledges that the technology alone is not sufficient as a solution. Given the contextual challenges, there’s a need for the digital solution to provide a way for citizens and residents to engage with government in-person.

Mahatoky does so, and the team innovatively secured the involvement of the post office to ensure the potential to scale this offering to hard-to-reach regions. Throughout this series, we have heard examples of how governments are building on existing infrastructure and demonstrating an iterative, agile approach to new services. Madagascar is no exception. They chose to partner with the post office for several reasons:

  • Prevalence: The postal service operates across the country through 270 offices. Every village and settlement has a postal worker.

  • Trust: Postal workers are trusted and important members of the community and represent a recognisable service.

  • Infrastructure: In relative terms, the post office had modern infrastructure which could support the service.

  • Qualified staff: Post office employees had the existing skills and access to upskilling to support the diversification of job roles.

Building in-house capacity and capability

Whilst the DGU were initially inexperienced in public sector transformation, they received support and guidance to boost their existing skills. The DGU team now has a range of multidisciplinary digital skills including product design, project management, policy and governance and content design.

By adopting and applying best agile working practices in public administration, they were able to quickly orientate and support wholesale transformation of a nation’s digital development.

Piloting and Mahatoky demo

Mahatoky is an agent-operated helpdesk, located in post offices where citizens can interact with trained agents to access public services and better understand the help available to them.

To date, this service has been piloted in 4 post offices, supports 400 processes and holds 206 citizen accounts. There has been particular usage in areas like transport and public safety.

Scaling Mahatoky

The success, challenges and opportunities identified by the pilot will inform the next steps of the programme as Madagascar seeks to scale this service. Deployment at a national level is the overriding goal, which will require integrating an entirely offline version (using control units connected to networks), as well as developing the range of services and prioritising and adding transactional services to the informative services currently offered.

There is significant work to be done to realise the aspirations, but Madagascar has made impactful progress on its digital transformation roadmap. It has established a multi-channel, inclusive approach to public services, whilst proving the concepts practically through piloting and building the capacity and capability of their people and internal processes.

Thank you

We would like to express our gratitude to Dimby and Mikael in particular for their time and work in sharing their excellent progress. 

The Show the Thing team felt that the session provided an extremely valuable - and unique - insight into designing digital services for everyday citizens in a complex landscape.

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