Artificial Intelligence and E-Governance

The launch of an encompassing e-governance app Citizen’s Portal Pakistan on October 28th, 2018 was a welcoming call. The platform provides citizens with an alternative platform to file their complaints to Prime Minister’s office, which then directly relays those complaints to relevant bureaucracies either through the office of Prime Minister for capital territories or through the office of Provincial Chief Secretaries. It covers a range of various governance related complaints such as Municipal Services, Health, Transport Services, Communications, Law and Order, Human Rights, Energy Supply and Management, Disaster Management, Taxation and etc.

While this app exists in beta-version and requires additional changes such as time-bar on complaint resolution, provision of follow-up and feedback mechanism on pending complaints. Moreover, in order to bear with the volume of complaints, the government will need to ensure provision of dedicated servers and closed-networks at the provincial, down to the local district and town administrative units. Users also need to be enabled to register their complaints in languages other than English, including in Urdu and other regional languages. Furthermore, having a support staff of liaison officers liaising between Prime Minister’s office and the relevant bureaucracies will render the system efficient. Another point to note is that most of the Pakistanis at present do not have access to smart phones; therefore, introducing a parallel application for feature phones can allow government to have major outreach.

However, a major takeaway underscored by the Prime Minister in his speech at the launch of this app was that app will allow policy makers to scale the frequency of common public issues. Based on this data consequent policies can be designed to cater these issues. He also alluded; the system will enable the government and public to hold civil bureaucracy accountable. The ability to efficiently attend to and resolve public grievances will allow government to evaluate the performance of incumbents. Consequently, this will be a significant determinant in promotions and vertical mobility of bureaucrats across their future career.

Although, dealing with mass amount of data serves as lucrative opportunity, it can often be a crippling challenge. Therefore, to meet the objective of utilising this app as a platform for analysing and prioritising serious governance issues. The government must work immediately to augment the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Pakistan’s governance. One may in all justification ask “how could this be possible and what relevance will it hold?”

Firstly, AI in combination with mining big-data can provide frequency of issues being faced across different constituencies, it can also enable policy makers and incumbents to track the interventions relied on in the past and unexplored options for future. It will also help track the efficacy of certain interventions against others, including against their frequency. This will speed up the decision and problem solving mechanism for local administrations, as AI can serve as a decision making cue or device. Secondly, such an intervention will help achieve the concept of smart or co-governance. Public bureaucrats can efficiently incorporate use of artificial intelligence, just as industries are settling with the concept and practice of cobots, where humans and robots work in collaboration over assembly lines. While physical labour by robots is completely different than dealing with complex issues of governance, however, access to large volume of data, along with organising it enables AI to become a handy decision making guide for administrators and policy makers.

Thirdly, in order to incorporate these features in its existing platform, the government can expand the size of its recently launched portal service. Hiring services of graduates from leading universities in software development, along with Ministry of Information, Communication and Telecommunication (ICT) and, and government’s previous technology fund program Ignite can help meet this end. Fourthly, post-development phase of these features will require extensive capacity building of local administrators and policy makers. The ability to analyse, and utilise this data will help build shared consciousness (i.e. having consensus on organisational goals and methodologies) and synergy among officials and help reduce friction towards a new technology. Moreover, it will enable programmers to improve the AI systems itself by receiving thorough feedback from human-officials working with them. Lastly, not only will this bring a new learning curve among our officials and policy makers. It will help setup a new foundation in the country for resolving outstanding governance issues. As the old adage goes there is never a perfect time for doing something. The same goes for technology, the sooner we incorporate, the better off we will be at the governance front. The million dollar question however remains are we willing to make this quantum leap?


The writer is a consultant at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.

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