Imagine going to your local government office and the official you are talking to uses hand-written forms to record information – no matter what the importance or complexity of the task at hand.
This is the situation in many local government offices in Uzbekistan. Not only is this process slow and painstaking – making the analysis and publishing of information extremely difficult – but it also draws focus and energy away from other, more important tasks. Filling in numerous forms by hand often causes challenges in ensuring quality and reliability of data. Also, because paper-based practices restrict use of modern electronic data-aggregating software, local authorities may see a limited picture of the current state of affairs.
To address this situation, the project I manage is helping to introduce an e‐document management system throughout district, city and regional Khokimiyats (the local executive bodies in Uzbekistan) in Djizak and Namangan. A total of 27 regional government offices!
In order to get a better understanding of the disparate needs in such a large number of Khokimiyats we spent quite a lot of effort to analyse user needs and their skill level. We have procured the necessary equipment and committed to train more than 200 employees on how to use the new e-document flow system with individual digital signatures.
Despite all this background work, anyone who worked on a technology project knows that the biggest barriers are often cultural. Focusing on addressing this “soft” side is essential. During the start-up phase of the project, we faced a challenge when one of the civil servants was not willing to use the new e-document flow management system in the department he manages. The civil servant was justifying his unwillingness with the fact that since the system was not common practice yet, using it would increase (rather than decrease) the volume of work when he exchanged documents with other regions.
What to do? How to deal with what was a justified concern?
What we did: We conducted a special session, where we addressed his questions and were able to explain the bigger picture; We showed him how not only the speed, but also the quality of his decision making would improve thanks to the new system. Moreover, we were able to inform him about a Government decision supporting a gradual move to the use of a single secured e-mailing and e-document flow system between and within central and local government offices.
Yes, it took extra time and effort but in the end we were able to successfully introduce the system to that office. With complex IT projects like this, change happens one person at a time. It is way too easy to get carried away with technology or focus on the big picture: at the end of the day, it is the individual officials, with their decisions and behaviours, that will make or break the success of a project.
Right now we are monitoring the results of our initiative and have been very pleased to verify that the launch of the e-document system in regional government offices is helping civil servants reduce by nearly 30 percent the time they spend preparing, sending, receiving and monitoring the execution of tasks at every stage during a project cycle.
That’s 30 percent of their time they can devote to more important work. And this is not all – efficient government, it turns out, is good for the environment too. The local government offices can now use about 40 percent less paper.
If you are working on similar projects in Central Asia (or beyond), I would be very happy to compare notes and learn from your experiences.