Digital Bangladesh: Are Citizens Willing to Take Up Digital Services?

How far have we come since the declaration of “Digital Bangladesh” 13 years ago? Shabnaz Zubaid shares her experiences from a recent visit to some of the remote villages of Bangladesh to observe the pattern of uptake of public digital services by the citizens.

Photo by Shabnaz Zubaid

Since the declaration of Digital Bangladesh, one of the aims of the Government of Bangladesh was to create an e-government—introducing digital public services. Digitization was expected to help expedite the process and reduce the cost of availing public services by cutting down intermediaries and reducing the number of visits to the offices providing the services. If the e-platforms and e-services could be utilized to their full capacity, this would make the lives of the citizens better.

To observe the pattern of uptake of public digital services by the citizens, I travelled to some remote villages of Bangladesh.

“এদিক ওদিক কইতে শুনি কি কি দেয় সেবা সুবিধা ডিজিটাল না কি! এইত্তা পাই ও না, বুযি ও না। এইগ্লা বড়লোকের জিনিস। আমরা খায়ে পইরে বাঁচি।” —said a 60-year-old named Rabeya in a remote village in Tangail during my field visit for the Digital Services Access Survey of BIGD.

Even though most of the households in the village had access to digital devices, the usage of the digital platforms and services were low. Even after almost 13 years of digitalization, many people are still unaware of how they can benefit from it. Despite their access to digital devices, majority of the people are unable to avail the benefits of the internet and government services simply because these are still new concepts to them.

An untold fear of using digital devices exists, especially in the rural parts of Bangladesh. People still seem to struggle with the process of digitalization and believe that this so-called “developed nation’s process” is not for the rural population yet. This thought was more prominent among the older population. The reason, according to them, is that they do not know that services are provided digitally.

Also, they find it complicated to fill out the forms and carry out the digital processes by themselves. Rather they prefer getting it done via other people who are trained to do it. Moreover, the older population seems to use technology only when it is mandatory.

In contrast to the statement made by Rabeya, a young man from the same village, Rabbi, has been using smartphones for over six years and has wi-fi access at home. He possesses all the skills required to access government services. He can find specific information online using Google, register for vaccination for himself and his father, check results online using the registration number, and has a bKash account in his father’s name. He can also avail all the services of bKash, can purchase online, and can communicate with his brother who lives abroad. He also uses YouTube to watch cricket matches, Bangla dramas etc. His family and neighbours can rely on him to avail any kind of service. According to him, he was able to do all these because he was curious and was intrigued by how much the country has progressed technologically. He wanted to learn which services require what kind of skills so that he could help his community take up the services and reduce their hassle. He wants to spread awareness among the people so that they shift to digital services because they save time and cost.

I also found that even after possessing the skills required to access government services, many people choose to not avail the services digitally. In our survey, we are digging deeper to find the causes of the gap between the two groups—who are willing and not willing to take the services. It can help us answer why, after making the process of availing services, a proportion of people are reluctant to take up digital public services. The survey will help us better understand the challenges faced by different demographic groups in taking advantage of digital services and find ways of increasing uptake.

Shabnaz Zubaid is a Research Associate at BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University.

Read more about BIGD’s nationally representative Digital Services Access Survey.