Analytics for Public Good
A Roundtable Discussion
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Monoshita Ayruani Written by Monoshita Ayruani on February 5, 2018


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The global economy is betting on a digitized future as age-old industries become vulnerable to technological disruption. Vision 2021 becomes a collective reckoning for the public and private sectors in Bangladesh as the country heads towards realizing its potential on the global stage.

However, advancements in technology has redefined what it means to have potential. 10 years from now, fertile land may no longer be enough to have a competitive advantage in agriculture as machine learning and artificial intelligence makes exponential leaps to increase farming efficiency. Our energy challenges may have very different solutions as unmanned drones become equipped to maintain power grids. Interactions in classrooms all over the country may look very different as the internet powers a brand new learning experience for future generations.

As we are entering into the era of digital transformation with limited resources we have to learn to prioritize our challenges by adopting a transparent and agile, data driven approach to bridge the gap between policy and implementation.

Thus analytics.

On January 18th, 2018, The Center for Digital Transformation arranged “Analytics by public Good” co hosted by Daily Star, a roundtable discussion with public service specialists to initiate the conversation on analytics and how measuring our efforts will help realize a Digital Bangladesh that can lead to a better quality of public service.

 

Malinda Senanayake, Founder of the Analytics Movement:

“Though it may sound like a daunting challenge, in reality, it could be as simple as solving for a single metric” explained Malinda in his keynote presentation.

“We need to implement mechanisms to monitor very simple metrics and not spend a lot of money in the process”, he argued while demonstrating that the best way to improve the academic performance of school students was by monitoring their emotional engagement in the classroom with simple pen-and-paper surveys.  http://bit.ly/2AYdqrR

 

Shadab Mahbub, Managing Director of Ether Technologies

Simplicity was indeed an underlying theme of the event as further emphasised by Shadab who presented a data driven approach powered by mobile technology to reduce credit risks and therefore interest rates to increase financial inclusion in the country.

“Fundamentally interest rates are high because the banks try to give your probability for a default rate. And so for example if you are someone who doesn’t have a job, doesn’t have a financial background, doesn’t have any credit history would naturally pay a higher rate of interest then someone who does. The problem with the financial sector or the financial industry as it stands today, is that it does not have access to the relevant information. It has access to very selective information. Since they cannot predict how likely you are to default, the resulting mechanism to calculate interest rate is not very efficient.

However, curating various behavioral factors from digital platforms and devices could enable us to build models to calculate fair interest rates which would be lower than what they are today and result in financial inclusion.”

 

Sawsan Eskander, Chief Innovation Officer of Praava Health:

Leveraging analytics gives us a strong basis for improving current public service frameworks, an opinion was seconded by Sawsan Eskander.

“People have lost faith in the system. They feel that doctors don’t spend enough time with them. There’s misdiagnoses, sometimes even with your lab reports you do the same test at two different facilities and you’ll get two different results.

We want people to know Praava as a brand where we offer quality services through our service providers. So we’re trying to shift the balance from the doctors to the patients.

We ensure this by implementing an appointment system whereby each appointment is a 12 minute slot and  a maximum of five appointments in an hour, something we measure by implementing software at every touchpoint, so we know everything is being recorded right.”

 

Jannat Adib Chowdhury, Manager, Capitalization and External Relations at Swisscontact-Katalyst:

The discipline of data & knowledge management is indeed a problem that hinders the progress of development projects with the transfer of human resources within agencies. Retaining the expertise and better knowledge management would be extremely beneficial to furthering the impact from initiatives being taken.   

 

Maj SK Abu Mahadi (rtd) :   

“Government officials can stay for up to three years in one particular ministry. So by the time the person is well versed on the subject matter that he/she is dealing with, he/she is assigned to a different role, and it hampers projects being led by that ministry. The development sector would benefit a lot from effective knowledge management to avoid such issues and analytics could play a further role to reduce the gap by focusing on key metrics.”

The integrity of data being managed by national databases is also questionable as there is a heightened risk of corrupt data being entered into the system. The initiative to host a discussion about analytics is commendable, however in order to truly improve the quality of public service, we need to bring accountability at leadership levels in pubic organizations and bring transparency to the entire system.

 

Parveen S. Huda, Project Manager at BRAC University:

Structural failures in regards to maintaining data at a national level was a concern shared by Parveen S. Huda as well.

We’ve done great in the development sector in terms of achieving our  Millennium Development Goals except for education. We want to do better in SDGs, but without data, it is very difficult to build an objective basis for assessing our performance.

Furthermore, maintaining these data sets is of crucial importance on a national level to avoid wastage of resources and to empower future generations to make better decisions.

Analyzing the right data would enable our youth to make the right academic and career choices based on information as opposed to subjective bias.

Rubayat Khan, JEEON:

Change doesn’t come in a day. You can’t just transplant a technology onto an existing apparatus and expect it to work. There’s always kind of just like organs don’t get rejected by the body like something that gets added and often gets rejected very very quickly. So it’s often a very slow process to sensitize people to the to the need for data. You need to be able to build an appetite for the data instead of giving them the entire visualization upfront. Give them a quick alert that solves one simple pain point for that person in a day and you have to first understand those pain points before you even go in with that solution.

So I think the bigger approach that has made us relatively successful in this space is that we took the problem driven approach to solving problems. We went in and spent months trying to understand the organization’s problems before proposing a solution to the table. And oftentimes when we proposed a solution it was kind of a godsend because they already were sensitized to the needs that they had and the problems they were facing.

Farzeen Ferdous Alam, OGGRO Ventures:

I was very excited by the prospect of remote farming technology and its applications in the dairy farming industry. However, in terms of implementing insights generated on this data, I learned that there is a gap in terms of farmers’ ability to take action based on data they are provided. Communicating the value of the data we have is a huge challenge at the grassroots level, and until and unless we have a means of overcoming this hurdle, digital analytics will not reach its full potential in the agricultural development of the country.

A.K. Osman Haruni, Senior Advisor, Food & Nutrition Security, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands:

Access to information is the biggest challenge for all. Almost 80 percent of the problems faced by our agriculture industry will be solved with existing knowledge since a lot of research has been done in these regards.

However, in order to solve these problems at scale we need to address the challenges of digital literacy and inadequate public service so that people can act on quality and reliable data.

Mir Sakib, Cramstack:

Cramstack is currently working on a project with the Boston Consulting Group with the Energy ministry and the biggest challenge is dealing with unstructured data as there was very little documentation about how engineers should record their data. This lack of uniformity among the ten subsidiaries under the ministry made the process of analyzing their project & financial data more challenging. Moving away from our current analogue system would definitely help track key metrics such as system loss.

Mainul Hasan Alin, UniCap Securities Limited:

I believe that there is a lot of value that could be created through a data marketplace where both the private and public sector could exchange their repositories and subsequently develop new revenue channels for their organizations. Simultaneously, it would save a lot of resources as we will avoid repetitive expenditures and enable cross industry knowledge transfer.

Nayeema Reza, Maya Apa:

The Maya Apa platform is anonymous and that does bring in a lot of traction for us. As we have dealt with over 500,000 queries, we are trying to implement machine learning, to recognize question patterns and automate the answers which are being provided.  By doing so, we can ensure better allocation of our medical resources, serve more queries and scale our operations in the long run.

However, the language barrier is a challenge in the technology implementation with users communicating in a combination of English, Bengali and Banglish.

You may also read about the event coverage on The Daily Star.

Recommendations:

  1. We need to make better usage of the existing data resources which are available across both public and private domains.
  2. Communicating the right insights to relevant stakeholders is an underrated issue which may hinder the value offered by data analytics.
  3. The responsibility to lead a data driven decision making framework is a collective responsibility among those engaged with providing public service.
  4. The need for digital transformation is imminent to bring transparency and ensure progress, however technological and knowledge barriers would have to be addressed through platforms such as the Center for Digital Transformation.     

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