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DIVOC is an easy to adopt digital public good that helps countries roll out national vaccination programs: Viraj Tyagi, CEO, eGov Foundation

eGov Foundation's health platform, DIVOC, is being used by the CoWIN platform to generate digital vaccine certificates. Recently, the software generated over 100 crore digital vaccine certificates. Viraj Tyagi, CEO, eGov Foundation shares that DIVOC was built with a “make in India for the world” approach, and offered under MIT open-source license for other countries to use freely. DIVOC is live in India, Sri Lanka and Philippines and will soon be adopted in Jamaica and Indonesia

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Established in 2003 by Nandan Nilekani and Srikanth Nadhamuni, eGov Foundation is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Nilekani Philanthropies, Omidyar Network India, and Tata Trusts. Over the last 18 years, the foundation has partnered with over 2600 towns and cities in 16 states across India, and more than 16 crore citizens have benefited from its platform.

What is the vision and mission strategy of eGov Foundation?

Viraj Tyagi, CEO, eGov Foundation

We exist to improve the ease of living for citizens. Our focus areas are urban, health, sanitation and public finance management. Our mission is to make sure that everyone can access services from their local governments with ease and transparency.

We do this through our core offering DIGIT (Digital Infrastructure for Governance, Impact and Transformation), which is a digital public good. In other words, it is an open, interoperable free-to-use platform that offers solutions for citizens, first mile employees, administrators, commercial players and policy makers. It is made available to the federal government, states and cities for them to create programs and solutions for their contexts, in keeping with the federal structure of urban governance in India. DIGIT is also offered to commercial players, so that they can leverage it to build solutions and deliver programs working with governments. In run-time this translates into states, cities and commercials players using the building blocks from DIGIT to tailor solutions and programs that meet their needs and innovating on top of it to solve emerging problems. This also means the diversity of solutions grows as contributions come back to the platform.

This platform has allowed people to receive services without having to visit a government office. Through mobile apps, whatsapp and online portals, they can remotely access services such as vaccine certification, marriage registration, birth and death registration, property tax assessment and payment, and grievance reporting. Citizens who are not online can visit service centers and access the eGov technology while receiving assistance from government employees. We help do this following the highest standards of data privacy and security.

What does this mean in practice? Consider Reena Kaur [name changed to protect privacy], a 27-year-old resident of the city of Jalandhar in the state of Punjab. Jalandhar is a large city, with a population of close to a million; Reena lives in one of its smaller outlying neighbourhoods, where she runs a little food stall – selling snacks along the road near her home – and aspires to start her own restaurant. She needs a trade license – a permit – for her business; these are issued by the Jalandhar government.

This is where Reena’s troubles start. The nearest local government office is about 20 km (12 miles) away, making filing service requests or paying dues at least a half-day affair. She is hesitant to approach this office, and not just because it involves half a day of work lost and multiple trips as documentation is unclear but also she finds it intimidating. Now with the mSeva mobile app she can apply for the trade licence on her phone in a few easy steps and also track the progress and follow up the official assigned to her case. She can pay her Water Tax dues through UPI based apps like Phone Pe & PayTM. And get her receipts on the phone.

An overflowing drain is a frequent irritant for her customers and a health hazard. Now she can get such problems solved through DIGIT whatsapp chatbot. All she had to do is take a picture and simply send it over whatsapp. The complaint is registered, functionary assigned and updates are provided. In addition she gets to do a start rate after the complaint is resolved. “The government is on my Whatsapp list”, she says – a proximity and warmth that was unimaginable before.

Now that we have a presence in all 2200 cities and towns in India, our vision is to go international. We want to catalyze achievement of Sustainable Development Goals and enhance ease of living for all in the Global South. We want to do this by Co-Creating Digital Public Goods and enabling societal transformations in 30 countries by 2030.

How does eGov work? eGov works with the state and central governments. We bring the government, civil society players and market players together and solve pressing governance challenges. We work with all the three actors: the government at various levels — central, state-level and local governments — the private sector players, from big players to small start-ups and social NGOs to see how the problem of delivering services can be resolved at the population scale in an easy and accessible manner through co-creation. The thing that ties all these actors together is our free, open source platform which serves as the foundation technology over which locally-specific solutions are designed.

Can you share with us a few recent milestones that you are particularly proud about?
eGov’s health platform, DIVOC, is being used by the CoWIN platform to generate digital vaccine certificates. Last week, our software generated over 100 crore digital vaccine certificates.

Recently, ICMR’s launched a new Covid-19 report portal where anyone can easily access their RT-PCR test reports using just their mobile number which was also powered by DIVOC. Now everyone can carry and show their test reports on their mobile phones just like vaccine certificates.

In August, DIGIT became the national platform for Urban governance. We signed an MoU with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs under which any city or state that wants to digitise its municipal services, can use DIGIT as a default platform to work on.

DIGIT is the technology behind the e-chhawani portal launched by the defence ministry in February. It provides online civic services to over 20 lakh residents of 62 cantonment boards across India.

Last year, we built a national e-pass system that went live in less than 48 hours and allowed for the movement of 2.5 lakh Indians during the lockdown.

In 2018, we were able to digitise over 55 services for over 100 cities and towns in just 90 days for Punjab. It is also the first state where we have used Whatsapp chatbot for grievance redressal. Over 50,000 people in Punjab’s 167 cities are now getting civic issues resolved by just sending a ‘Hi’ to their local bodies on Whatsapp.

The Andhra Pradesh government recently rolled out the ‘Ward Secretariat’ program for door-step delivery of 24 urban services to those who can’t access government services online or at municipal offices. This program too was powered by DIGIT and helped municipalities reach 3.2 crore citizens in the state.

As the developer of DIVOC, which is a key part of CoWIN, do you foresee more countries adopting the same for their national vaccination programs?
Absolutely. In fact, it is already happening. DIVOC is live in India, Sri Lanka and Philippines. It will soon be adopted in Jamaica and Indonesia.

The reason for its quick adoption has been because it is a platform that’s in line with global standards set by the World Health Organisation. It is an easy to adopt digital public good that helps countries roll out national vaccination programs by allowing for vaccine management, registration and appointment scheduling, certificate issuance, and feedback from citizens. DIVOC was built with a “make in India for the world” approach, and offered under MIT open-source license for other countries to use freely.

How has the pandemic given an impetus to digitisation of citizen services in the country, and how do you see your foundation playing a significant role?
Pandemic necessitated physical distancing and lockdowns. It became hard for people to access government services through traditional channels where they go to a counter to get services. Parellely, a lot of citizens started using digital services for food delivery, groceries, or even ration. From a service point of view, the pandemic opened up the need and possibility of using digital services for citizens and for service delivery arms of the government.

What it also meant is that there’s a need to simplify service delivery channels. Rather than trying to get people to download mobile apps or log onto a website, we at eGov thought why don’t we meet the people where they are. We worked on creating whatsapp chatbots for services they would otherwise have to go to a website to access. 50 crore Indians use Whatsapp, so this helps more people access services in ways they are already comfortable with.

Are there any interesting tech trends that have emerged in the last one year?
Given that the response to Covid had to be at the population scale and at speed, one of the trends we are seeing is the use of digital public goods that are population scale platforms. They are the need of the hour and when the ecosystem comes together, it can be built at a faster speed. For example DIVOC was built in just weeks. It was deployed in January and in a span of 10 months, it has generated 100 crore vaccination certificates. Now other countries have started using it.

Multiple stakeholders, ranging from private companies, governments, non-profits, civil society organisations need to coordinate with each other to exploit the full potential of a digital public good. This is why shared data registries and services are becoming increasingly important. They have to be built in a way that they can be scaled to a population scale easily.

The ability to compose applications on top of the foundational technology of digital public goods is another interesting trend we have seen.

Given that the amount and sensitivity of data is huge, privacy and security related issues are also taking primacy.

Another interesting trend to highlight is the use of pervasive technologies like whatsapp or chatbots because they have a large reach.

What is the nature of your partnership with various states for providing better citizen services?
We sign non-financial MoUs with all governments. We offer them a range of services including

Implementation support – we design programs for rollout, training to implementation partners, share best practices from other states, and support bug fixes in our core platform.
Governance – we design a governance framework for the program and a program monitoring framework.
Advisory – We advise and support the state in defining the selection criteria and evaluation of the partners and advise them in the design and building of its own PMU.

Please share your pipeline of upcoming important projects in different states.
In Odisha, we are excited about working on a large societal problem like sanitation in partnership with the state government. The pilot of the sanitation platform, called DISHHA, will be launched in a couple of weeks. The platform will be rolled out in the next few months.

In Punjab, our iFIX platform that improves movement of money and fiscal information within government departments, is going live in the Anadpur Sahib district in November. This will enable better functioning of drinking water schemes in 100 villages.

DIVOC, as I pointed out earlier, is going to be rolled out in Indonesia and Jamaica soon.

What are your views regarding the need for constant innovation and adoption of emerging technologies in e-governance?
One thing those of us who work in the technology space tend to forget is that not everything needs a technological fix. And if at all a problem is being solved using a digital solution, it might not work or reach everyone. It is important that the technology we build is leveraged in a way that it is accessible to not just those who own a smartphone but also to those who are not online.

Finally, we strongly believe that innovation should not be about reinventing the wheel. Which is why at eGov we follow an ecosystem approach of solving pressing social problems. If there exist private players like PWC, or Deloitte who can implement programs, then we should get them to do it. If there exist civil society organisations like Reap Benefit, we will leverage their skills and position in the community to reach citizens.

Any other significant factor you wish to highlight?
Digital technology is not so much about “digitising and automating” as it is about humans: improving quality of life and removing barriers to access.

For this to happen, creating trust is very important. In our experience in working in the area of service delivery by cities, we find that citizens’ default position is low trust. The good news is that when government service delivery manifests a new currency of social trust through digital solutions— visibility of status, alerts at key stages, knowing who is accountable, ways to escalate the complaint, ways to rate or give feedback — the confidence of citizens starts to grow. Over time, the trust deficit is reversed, and citizen participation increases.

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