Digitizing Public Service Delivery Through Union Digital Centres

Union Digital Centres (UDCs) are information and public service delivery outlets created by the Government of Bangladesh (GoB), operating in all union councils across the country. They provide various digital services to citizens for free or at a relatively low cost. Studying three of the services UDCs provide, we found that UDCs offer great value for money. But scaling up this applaudable initiative requires addressing some of the barriers that lie in its implementation.

Researchers: Iffat Zahan

Timeline: 2018-2019

Status: Completed

Contact: Iffat Zahan


Like many developing countries, in Bangladesh, public service providing offices are located at district and sub-district levels. For people living in rural areas, accessing information and receiving services from these offices can be time-consuming and labour intensive. To take public service delivery to people’s doorstep, the government has established over 4,000 UDCs. They ensure that marginalized people such as rural women, the elderly, and people with disabilities can access vital information and services. Although having fast and affordable access to services has great potential to improve citizens’ lives, it is important to ensure that the effectiveness of UDCs is worth the investment. Hence, an overall evaluation of UDC’s services and understanding its barriers towards scale-up would provide valuable information for future policy reformation.


The aim of this study was to assess the benefits of UDCs against the cost and identify its barriers to quality scale-up.


To evaluate the benefits of UDCs, we prepared a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) using cost-benefit analysis (CBA) for the three selected UDC services—birth registration, exam registration, and the yet to be launched social safety net programs (SSNPs). In this method, we estimated the time, cost, and visits (TCV) saved by the citizens for each of the three selected services. In addition, to identify implementation challenges, we performed a political economy analysis (PEA) of the UDCs. We collected the data for benefits from official Access to Information (a2i) documents and cost data from the Annual Development Programme (ADP) of Bangladesh. Seven UDCs were selected randomly from seven unions of Munshiganj and Savar Upazila for primary data collection. We also conducted 26 key informant interviews (KIIs) with entrepreneurs, Union Parishad (UP) Chairmen, UP Secretaries, a2i officials, and service recipients.

Findings and Recommendations

In our findings, every BDT 1 spent on issuing a birth registration through UDCs produced a benefit of around BDT 2. Exam registration service also has nearly double the return for each BDT 1 spent. As for the SSNPs, based on the pilot results, we predict that if the service gets full coverage, SSNPs will generate around BDT 3 benefit for each BDT 1 invested. Despite such huge benefits, when studied in the context of its political economy, UDCs reveal several challenges that need to be addressed. For instance, UPs exercise significant power over UDCs through entrepreneurs when they are not supposed to. Most of these entrepreneurs are hired by UPs through personal networks and misuse their monopoly. Moreover, the monitoring mechanism of UDCs is deeply flawed and inadequate. Most of the UDCs neither have a pricing list at the premises nor keep proper records of beneficiaries. Furthermore, the participation of female entrepreneurs at some UDCs is disappointing. They either let their male counterparts lead or they drop out after getting married or giving birth to a child.

These barriers can be overcome by making the services provided by UPs and the services by UDCs distinct so that UP representatives do not influence the functions of UDCs. Entrepreneurs, including females, should be hired in a more transparent system and trained properly. Effective monitoring and accountability mechanism should be established to ensure that the entrepreneurs comply with the plan and pricing of a2i and maintain proper records. And finally, various public and private services such as passport and visa processing, courier, land-related services, etc. should be gradually introduced at UDCs, since there is a growing demand for them among the local people.