When applying for state aid or other services without the means or knowledge to do it online due to the digital gap, it usually takes a day or waiting in queues and filling out paperwork. Communities have thought and offered a grassroot solution: store owners helping their peers to get online procedures done in their business, in exchange for a small fee. It is a simple innovation, yet effective when it comes to decentralize public services, foster digital inclusion, and strengthen local markets
As poverty increased rampantly due to pandemic, the digital gap hampered the urgent access of millions of citizens to online public services and state aid. Many could neither request their Universal Childcare Allowance (AUH), their new-borns' birth certificates, or even their own IDs. As a result, those living in remote areas, women, indigenous populations, individuals with disabilities, immigrants, and the elderly were not only exposed to a sanitary risk during COVID-19 peaks, but also had to spend more resources to complete these procedures in the municipality center.
We found that local stores can facilitate the adoption of new technologies at the neighborhood level and help achieve decentralization of procedures outside of state offices while promoting their own growth. For example, María owns a grocery store in a low-income neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Her neighbors do not have the means or knowledge for doing online public procedures or errands by themselves. They know and trust each other, so she lends them her computer and helps them in exchange for an affordable fee.
The grassroot solution we present is an innovation which had been thought of and offered by locals who suffered from this problem, which we identified through a mapping. The main objective, digitalisation (understood in this project as increasing the number of transactions done through the web), has a positive influence that benefits all stakeholders for a more effective governance, which will be addressed in the following sections.
We had already implemented a three-month pilot program in Concepción del Uruguay, Entre Ríos, in 2020. Shop owners took part voluntarily, and we developed a narrative, a concept and a brand for the action “Red Con Vos” (With you Network) to engage all the relevant stakeholders. We also distributed different materials with the identity of the project within the shops participating in the actions (bags, wallets, mousepads, pens), and each shop now has a distinctive logo and a poster with the services offered to the neighbors. The Network’s performance was evaluated in the 3 dimensions of analysis: digital inclusion, decentralization of procedures, and strengthening of community markets; besides, the impact of incentives such as demand-side subsidies and incentives for store owners was measured too.
Thanks to a grant from the United Nations Development Program, we are now escalating it in northern Argentina, in a province where 39.6% of its population is under the poverty line, alongside the municipal and the national government. The action has been coordinated in regular meetings with each local government along with the team of the UNDP and consultants in charge of the fieldwork. All the pilots rely on the collaboration of store owners which participated voluntarily in the project. As it was mentioned, we develop a narrative and a brand for the action with specific promotional materials that were delivered to the participants.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
We accelerate our knowledge about complex problems hampering development with a specific source of evidence: grassroots innovations -solutions that are already in place and people unfold in their daily life- from low-income neighborhoods, like this one we scaled in two local governments. It has been mapped in many places throughout Argentina and appears to be a cost-effective approach to the digital gap; recognised by UNDP as a bottom-up smart solution.
It is innovative because it takes advantage of the positive effect of peers and acquaintances at a local level to encourage people to do more things online. Many lack the necessary devices, but others simply do not dare to do it themselves; thus, we rely on social capital networks at the local level to promote digital inclusion. This solution has a threefold impact: beyond enabling digital inclusion, it also boosts sales for local stores and saves neighbors’ time and money by allowing them to do their errands closer to their houses.
What is the current status of your innovation?
As of this date of submission in 2022, this project has been implemented twice: the first one in 2021, and we have just launched the second edition, which is expected to be escalated until July 2023, and afterward, it will be evaluated. With this information, we will aim to help other local governments and other partners use these lessons.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Sabrina, owns a store of school supplies in a community market in a low income neighborhood, she helps her neighbors with their online errands. She inspired us and, in 2021, we partnered with the Municipality of Concepción del Uruguay to scale a pilot creating a network of nearby stores that support digitalization. In 2022, along with the Undersecretariat Administrative Innovation (National Cabinet of Ministers) we got a 60,000 USD fund to scale this action in Fray Mamerto Esquiú, Catamarca.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
- Officers of the administrative innovation office of the federal government learned about a project that broadens the reach of the state, while addressing uneven access to the Internet.
- Local bureaucrats benefit because more neighbors fulfill public procedures online, avoiding crowded offices.
- Citizens save money and time by doing paperwork near their homes.
- Small business owners are encouraged to have pcs and internet access, they play a new role in their communities, and get more sales.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
We used OLS regressions, descriptive statistics, continuous assessment via surveys to evaluate the three groups of the pilot program.
The Network customers’ profile was people with high school diploma (54.2%), female (58.8%), 25-54 years old (65.7%). Most lacked means or knowledge to carry out these procedures online by themselves.
Clients travelled a total of 293.7 km less and saved up to 637 hours. The closer a Network store wasto their home, the greater the savings.
Online procedures increased significantly, as well as the demand of goods and services sold by the store owners.
From our current implementation in northern Argentina, we hope to have escalated to 25-40 nearby stores by December, with owners fully trained and ready to deploy the program. By July 2023, we expect to have reported better performance: increased ownership by the stakeholders; differential outcomes in terms of gender, socioeconomic status, and age; and a series of public policy recommendations.
Challenges and Failures
The main challenge has been the incentives for store owners to help us track the performance of the action. We We tried to foster this variable within demand (coupons and discounts) and supply (some stores got printers); and we unfold strategies to cope with them not completing the surveys, such as signing a written agreement to do so, a weekly follow-up done by the promoters and a paper form that each client could complete with personal data.
Despite these efforts, the difference in the number of procedures carried out by each experimental group made it impossible for us to compare them so we could assess the magnitude of the method used and determine whether the stimuli provided attracted a greater number of customers.
In this new edition, we have devised a different strategy. We are going to give store owners cash for data. This means they will get an additional amount of money for each form they fill after each neighbor uses their digital services.
Conditions for Success
The first condition is the full collaboration of the local government where the action is implemented. Human resources, that means both technicians and local professionals, and their expertise, is a key factor that mainly depends on the funding. Our Co_Lab’s focal point has dedicated many hours daily for the success of the project.
Store owners who take part in the project are mainly motivated by personal values for helping others, but they also need engagement factors.
Moreover, having an identity and a narrative is also crucial. Although stores are eligible if they already have a computer and Internet access, an unexpected result was that some shops felt encouraged to get both to be part of the Network, meaning that this action also promoted the digital inclusion of the store owners as well.
The project has already been replicated in different districts. There are handbooks and tutorials already available. Its implementation has a very low cost. Since it implements a solution already found at neighborhood level, it is highly likely to be adopted by the local population. It is also very sustainable since it relies on the existing infrastructure of local stores. It is aligned with clearly stated hypotheses and methodology, and it opens strong collaboration opportunities and high potential for scaling. The project has no risk.
The insights we found shed light on the fact that there is a need for policies that promote decentralization of procedures and errands both from public and private services. This would result in higher levels of autonomy for those who cannot perform these tasks on their own in person. Based on differentiated outcomes in terms of age, gender, and socio-economic levels, we now know that it is necessary to adapt the strategies to foster digitalization for each specific group.
Another important learning is that policymaking can begin upon an existent innovation. This solution is already used in a very uneven and non-systematic fashion and has a lot of potential. It is cost-effective: it requires a low investment to start with, it is sustainable because it does not require a long-term follow up, and, due to its familiarity, neighbors may be more likely to adopt and use them.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
23 January 2023