I often find myself frustrated with the many things not working in my country. If you are like me, I often I feel sorry for myself and my people when we get to witness how citizens access government services in other countries. It is crushing that most Filipinos have gotten used to the inefficiencies, bureaucratic red tape, time consuming, and undignified way we experience public services that it becomes our perceived norm. It seems we cannot anymore imagine deserving any better .
To imagine we deserve better has always been the fuel and inspiration of KindMind, a social design laboratory thoughtfully shaping kinder futures for all, where people and place are valued, given dignity and care. To facilitate the reframing and redesigning of basic public services has always been high on our agenda.
It has been an honour to contribute and become part of something that can be transformative and strategic at a national level. Often these transformative stories do not get to mainstream or popular social media. If lucky, we get to read about general media releases of finished work and outputs but miss out on the beautiful story and journey behind it.
I am happy to share these pockets of hope from what I have personally experienced together with the details that humanize the journey to a breakthrough.
The recent updates from UNDP Philippines on the Bangsamoro web portal training and digital center launch in Lanao del Sur are huge milestones. It goes to show that if it can be done with the two marginalized municipalities of Lanao del Sur, scaling the transformation throughout BARMM and the whole country is indeed possible.
One of the many efforts to transform the Bangsamoro region is the LeAPS program (Leveraging e-Governance through Accelerated Provision of Services) (LeAPS), with UNDP PH and the MILG (Ministry of Interior and Local Government) of BARMM as key proponents. It is the strategic agenda of LeAPS to transform the provision and experience of accessing basic government services, thus, increasing much needed trust in BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) governance.
Co-design with the Marginalized and Extreme Users
Rewind to 2020, it was a brave step to pilot the work of digital transformation of public services NOT with the archetypal ‘low hanging fruit’ and ‘easy wins’, and couple this with the logistical difficulty of facilitating multi-stakeholder co-creation during the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic. Together with UNDP PH and the MILG, I led the KindMind team in facilitating the Digital Service Design Lab (DSDL) under the LeAPS program which intentionally enables and champions service design among civic servants from Lanao Del Sur municipalities, Butig and Piagapo, 6th and 4th class municipalities respectively. These municipalities are not only considered resource-poor in terms of municipal income and the experience of regular power shortages, they also had a long history of being in the center of armed conflict, particularly Butig, until the recent installation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) where seeds of transformation have been felt growing.
To pilot with the least likely municipalities may be a tough call, but it is a very good frame to test the program model if it can walk the talk of designing better service experiences from the perspective of extreme users. If it can work with marginalized municipalities and individuals, it can more likely work with the majority.
Transformation is holistic capacity development of people, recognizing that transformed minds and hearts create shifts in behavior and action
Unlike most digital transformation initiatives, the Service Design Lab was not fixated on just the technology platform that accompanies the transformation. Instead, it understands that deep transformation journey needs to first resonate with each individual’s values and sense of meaning (scaling deep) before it can scale out to various people groups, communities, organizations, and/or regions, causing a shift in organizational culture that is ready to receive and confidently maneuver the technology.
The Service Design Lab from the onset facilitated a holistic capacity development of people, recognizing that transformed minds and hearts creates shifts in behavior and action — it yields champions from within who can make sure the transformation is sustained and meaningful.
A core value of the service design lab was for civic servants to deeply understand their extreme users, these are receivers of the service who are marginalized in trying to access and benefit from basic public services, beyond just understanding the needs and behavior of the mainstream in the bell curve of users.
Imagine, a disabled lola who cannot read and write, will need to look for a relative or neighbor to help her get a Seniors Citizen ID. Imagine a struggling micro-business owner single mom with an infant who urgently needs to renew her small store business permit, will have to close shop for a day, lose precious income for the day, travel for hours with a baby to commence her business permit application and come back another day to complete the process. Imagine, a fisherman living in a geographically remote island who needs to avail a fishing vehicle franchise will need to travel for days (land and sea). Imagine, a man with an amputated leg needs to request for his birth certificate for a job application, will have climb a flight of stairs and walk to another office in the next building (in rain or heat) to get his application reviewed and approved.
From where you and I are sitting, there are indeed many things we take for granted. While there are many nuances that differentiate the context of BARMM from imperial Manila or the different regions in the country, there are also many points we share as a common ground, all of us being Filipino.
The outcomes and output of the Service Design Lab has delivered beyond the drafting of redesigned service blueprints that will save service receivers time, money, and number of visits. Frontline civic servants and administrators were given the time away from their usual work to connect deeply with their service receivers and colleagues in government who handle the service processes. This facilitated a surfacing of difficult and sad experiences that they did not realize were happening on regular basis.
Civic servants who went through the service design lab mentioned how it felt like blinders were removed and they can witness eyes wide open. The process catalyzed the beginning work of a cognitive and affective transformation that opened up to a greater appreciation of the technology, tools, and systems they can leverage on to design better service experiences.
Transformation is a journey, we must provide inclusive and kind scaffolds and infrastructure that will bring us closer to the desired change
Fast forward to the present, from a paper blueprint, the municipalities of Butig and Piagapo now have a BARMM digital portal where their LGU frontline services can be accessed. Since the approach of LeAPS is systemic, a web portal also comes with a physical Digital Center to accompany the journey of digital transformation, a one-stop space designed to be simple and accessible, for those who could not transact from their own location or need assistance with digital.
The Digital Center aims to streamline administrative processes, reduce red tape, and enhance transparency in service delivery. Quoting the Digital Development Team of the UNDP and MILG,
Residents of Piagapo and the surrounding areas now have the convenience of accessing key government services online, such as business registration, certificate of live birth, and many more to come. The digitized platform is designed to be user-friendly, ensuring that even individuals with limited digital literacy can navigate and utilize the services effectively.
One of the significant challenges faced during the implementation of this initiative was the low internet connectivity, which relied solely on satellite-based access. However, through meticulous planning and technical expertise, the team overcame these challenges by optimizing the digital platform to operate seamlessly even with weak internet connections. This achievement underscores the resilience and commitment of the team to deliver effective solutions for the community’s benefit.
To date, around 12 LGUs, 11 Ministries, Members of the Parliament, and representation from civil society organizations Bangsamoro Women’s Commission and the Moropreneurs are civic service design champions in BARMM. The LeAPS-DSDL program has quite a journey to make still in engaging and getting the commitment of all municipalities and government ministries under the BARMM region. Yet again, looking from where the region is coming from, this is indeed a bright signal of hope that boldly shows transformative multi-stakeholder partnerships and co-leadership that yield felt impact among Filipino citizens.
This is the true spirit and work of civic service design — to bring humanity to the digital process and to bring dignity to the service experience.