By Abdul Rehman
Since the advent of better and more accurate digital data gathering tools globally, policy professionals in many private business spheres have changed the methodology of formulating future policies for the benefit of their firms and providing better services to their customers. However, the public sphere’s policy formulation mechanism has not yet been modified to the extent where digital data can be analyzed to drive effective policymaking processes and their implementation.
The soar of social media and internet usage in Pakistan and across the world presented an opportunity to the experts to collect data from the consumers and use that data to meet various advertisement and targeting goals. Such big data and modern analytic tools provided an opportunity for businesses to make decisions based on the data they received. This data is digitally accrued and includes names, emails, locations, demographic information, individual interests, and potential customers’ ultimate preferences. The dilemma of digitalization in Pakistan is revealed by Inclusive Internet Index 2020, by placing the nation at 76th rank among 100 countries in the world with only 22% of the population having internet access (Pakistan Arrests Students for Demanding Internet Before Online Exams, The Diplomat, July 2020).
Digital data is the oil of the 21st century.
Nations are now shifting towards the digital working environment in public offices and setting up separate departments that can process the digitally collected data and provide meaningful insights to the concerning public servants—Pakistan, whereas still lags in these regards. We see clerical staff typing on typewriters, bookkeeping on paperbacks, and many applications and complaints being registered physically. The situation does not even change bottom-up, where the higher officials make policies and assess the performance based on a few men’s perceptions and opinions.
The world has already transformed; digital data collection tools (Online Surveys, Virtual interest trackers, and Questionnaires), online computing, and cloud services are some of the innovations that carved out ways to transform businesses. In a country like Pakistan, which has staggering deficits in the public sector, a transformation is needed more than ever to ensure better policymaking and connect its people to the world’s modern facilities. This will result in better services for its citizen’s well-structured performance accountability of the public servants.
Evidence of how digitalization can provide an opportunity towards effective policy formulation and timely response, specifically in the public policy arena, has proved itself in the pandemic’s hard times where everyone stuck at home. The government had to use digital means to conduct virtual meetings and assess the Coronavirus situation by monitoring the registered cases by healthcare institutions across the nation. The government analyzed the problem and enforced lockdowns (Smart Lockdowns), closed the economy, and shutdown many institutions based on the trajectory of COVID-19 cases. All this could not be possible if the government would rely on the outdated means of data gathering and making policies based on what they see fit.
These data-driven policies, which the government adopted during the pandemic, need to be followed in every sector of public affairs. These changes cannot be brought about by practicing current habits; however, employing tech geeks in public sectors who can produce new ways to collect the data from the general public and institutions must be established to digitalize the archival records of years into the digital database. Civil servants must be provided with modern-day techniques through refresher courses and building a sound digitally connected system of affairs where the general public can directly interact with the governmental bodies, giving rise to a collaborative and general approach towards policymaking.
Recently, we have seen a few initiatives like ‘RAAST Digital Payment’, the positive side of this is that the government of Pakistan is finally investing in digital platforms, but how far behind are we in this race can be traced by the success of ‘PayPal’. Thus, such transformations are not possible in a day or two, but once we are on the right track to this digital transformation, we can ultimately reach the desired goals. Citizens are better at embracing technology, and hence to keep up with that, the government also needs massive transformation. The world is now transcending towards a collaborative approach in solving the issues. However, you can never expect a fair collaboration from the people when 78% of the country’s population does not have a functioning internet connection facility. The digital divide among the nation attracted a big spotlight during the pandemic as everyday operations shifted to the virtual platforms. This is high time when the government must build sustainable infrastructures that ensure stable connectivity across the nation. Internet availability is the baseline step towards a digitalized country. To keep up and move forward in this competitive world today, we must undertake viable developments on the federal and provincial levels to ensure a better world for tomorrow.