Services Guide is a response to the scattered and inefficient information on public services available, developed as an open data digital catalogue, that together with an artificial intelligence software provides personalised information to the user while collecting data about citizen’s needs at the same time.
In 2016 in Alagoas, Brazil, government administrations of dozens of state agencies provided hundreds of different services to Alagoas’ citizens, and all information regarding bureaucracy, documents needed for different processes, addresses, operating times and others were dispersed in an unstandardized manner through distinct websites or not even available online. The result was long lines, inefficiency, a frustrated population and high administrative costs. In consonance with the current administration agenda, which prioritizes modernization and digitalization of public management, the Secretary of Planning, Management and Patrimony of the State of Alagoas (SEPLAG-AL) launched, in 2018, Services Guide: a digital catalogue that centralizes all information regarding public services offered by the State Government, coupled with Jaque, a virtual clerk based on artificial intelligence.
Digitalization and transparency is a global trend on public management. In fact, Brazil is putting forward its own legislation regarding access to information as a citizens right. However, transparency is more than just open data, it has to create conditions that makes information easy to access and to use. Thus, more than just complying with the law, we wanted to go further by providing a digital catalogue with a virtual clerk based on AI. Technically, Services Guide is a three-layered system that manages and standardizes information. The first layer is a website that centralizes all information where citizens can easily access. The second layer takes care of content management, where public agencies submit the information regarding their services. The third layer is an open API, where Jaque gets the information to provide its virtual clerk services.
Services Guide provides a step-by-step explanation for each service provided by each public agency. It contains information such as the length of processes, documents needed, location and operation time of agencies, availability of services and so on. If stakeholders are not sure how or what to search, they can simply ask Jaque. The software was designed to better serve and create a bridge between the population and the public administration. In order to catalogue all the data needed to build Services Guide, SEPLAG bet on an innovative approach and offered training to every agency on how to submit their information into a content management system, guaranteeing autonomy and empowering each agency to keep their information updated. SEPLAG even created a specific tool for monitoring and analysing the information submitted by each agency in terms of quality, quantity and updates. Inside each of the agencies, SEPLAG assigned communication and transparency assessors that served as a link between SEPLAG and their own agencies, which were essential for a productive communication.
Services Guide has three main beneficiaries: first, Alagoa’s citizens, whose lives will be facilitated by being able to get the information they need regarding public services in a user-friendly single digital platform. They will also have Jaque, the 24-7 virtual clerk, at their disposal. Second, public agencies that offer services now have an updated, standardized and unified catalogue of what they provide, easing the demands for information and releasing them from the burden of not being able to fully comprise with the new federal laws. Third, strategic public agencies, that now can use the open data as a reliable source of information to formulate better policies.
The future of Services Guide and Jaque is promising. We envision to improve this service to a complete digital platform of citizenship, where more and more services will be able to be fully executed online, simplifying the processes and saving both time and money. As Jaque gets more efficient through machine learning, we plan to expand it to other websites and even social media, making her an ever-present avatar of the public service, guiding the user along the bureaucratic and tortuous ways of the public administration. Furthermore, by analysing the data collected by Services Guide and Jaque, we can map citizen’s main needs and develop specific policies and campaigns to address it. Mapping can be done not only quantitatively but also geo-referenced, allowing SEPLAG to better understand possible regional inequalities of Alagoas.
We believe Services Guide and Jaque are the beginning of a much wider project, that will change the way public service is offered in the state of Alagoas. Digitalizing services and building virtual platforms are a great way to guarantee sustainability and to institutionalize changes, especially in the ever-changing environment of public administration.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Services Guide is a cross-sector partnership between all public agencies of Alagoas, that worked together under the management of SEPLAG to deliver the project. It's also a collaborative partnership with the private sector, developed after networking done at a hackathon, to deliver an artificial intelligence that acts as a virtual customer service of the public sector.
The idea of Jaque as an avatar of the government, acting not only as a symbol, but actually communicating with the civil society and executing public functions.
The whole project being an integrated platform between civil society and government, based upon an Application Programming Interface (API) that feeds government open data to an automatized A.I, enabling further study and analysis of this data to be used for strategic policy making.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The project is simultaneously on different stages, being them development of proposals, implementation and evaluation. The Services Guide was implemented on December 2016, and went through four “waves” of regular growth, as it depended on the work of a large number of public agencies. On May 2018 its final version was officially implemented and, since them, there was a solid growth on the months that followed. On the other hand, the artificial intelligence part of the project, Jaque, was implemented on May 2018, having been developed under Proof of Concept, as a partnership with Ilha Soft, a local app development company that has projects in partnership with the federal government and UNICEF. The proposals for the development of Jaque is now under open bidding.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The project was intersectoral, combining efforts from the government of Alagoas and Ilha Soft, a private IT company. SEPLAG led the project by idealizing the platform and its main features, assigning one hundred and eighty public serves out of the sixty-four agencies involved to head the project internally, and training each agency on how to submit their information into a content management system. Ilha Soft, under a proof of concept agreement, develop the virtual clerk based on AI.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The main beneficiaries are the civil society, which now has a digital catalogue on public services to consult, which reflects on a cheaper, faster and more efficient process. The public agencies of Alagoas, which now can provide information about their service on an user-friendly digital platform; and Ilha Soft and the private sector, which had (and still have) the opportunity to develop an innovative project with on a state scale and with great potential for social impact.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The Services Guide offered an environment for the amplification of the transparency policies being undertaken by the government, and optimized the search on public services, making it easier for the civil society to access information they need. The catalogue is currently comprised of 1.546 services and 1.236 service units, made available in a standardized and simplified manner, involving more than 60 public agencies, becoming one of the biggest platforms on information on public service of the country. During May 2018, the number of informations given was 110.000, an increase of almost 1.000% in relation to the month of May 2017. From January 2017 to August 2018, more than 210.000 users accessed more than 760.000 informations, 636.000 of them being only during the year 2018, and 125.000 of them only on August 2018, with 143.671 users from May 2018 to August 2018, which shows the exponential growth of the project. All numeric results were measured using Google Analytics.
Challenges and Failures
The main difficulties were gathering executive support of the public agencies, especially on the initial stage of the project; dealing with commissioned positions turnover - which hurts continuity -, and not being able to assign a large workforce to work solely on the project; creating a good communication channel with all of the public agencies; not having enough investment to expand Jaque, as it was developed under PoC, and having to deal with the technical instabilities of the software with a small team; and lastly, managing to give visibility to the Services Guide. To respond to some of these problems, SEPLAG worked hard to structure good communication with the other public agencies, by assigning communication and transparency assessors in each agency, who were responsible for preparing and submitting the information, which was essential for productivity. It also worked hard to improve the search engine optimization ranking, successfully putting it on the top five of search tools.
Conditions for Success
The main conditions are related mostly to policies, leadership and human resources. In regards to policies, the administration agenda to modernize the public service and the consequent openness to innovation at SEPLAG are considered vital factors for the feasibility of the project. Also, having to comply with federal laws and decrees is a major incentive, given the urgent nature of this obligation. In this sense, SEPLAG managed to sanction the Services Guide as a state decree, which gave it the official stamp it needed. Moreover, a strong and creative leadership, that is able to promote productive dialogue between different agencies, structure cross-sector partnership and assign the right people for the job is essential. Finally, human resources is what impels the project forward in the operational field. The assigning of a communication assessor and a transparency assessor in each agency served as a link connecting both sides and was fundamental for the delivery of information.
It’s important to stress that especially in third-world countries, public administration is often bureaucratic, stressful and inefficient, putting the citizen in a situation of exclusion and misinformation. This type of project puts the citizen almost on the same level of the public serves in terms of access to information, giving them power to demand, question and critically evaluate services, which beforehand they wouldn’t be able to. Services Guide is, therefore, a powerful tool for the transparency of the public service. In this sense, it can be used as an inspiration or a direct reference to other states and countries, as it can be easily replicated anywhere, the methodology is accessible, and it can be expanded to other platforms, such as social media, or even adapted to other functions in different sectors. It’s part of a global trend of shifting the traditional government-citizen relationship, which holds unforeseen potential.
The project struggled a lot in its initial stage to gather executive support, and basically grew as a bottom-up project, building its ground on the technical foundations and from there attracting the interest of the decision-makers. Initially, many public agencies were reluctant with the project, given its complexity and the responsibility that lies behind it, fearing that a great level of transparency and exposure could be harmful. Indeed, we feel like this lack of support has delayed - even hurt -, the possible technological advancement of the project, due to lack of support from agencies that have technological know-how but aren’t willing to work closely together. With this, we learned a lot about how the lack of strategic support is harmful to a project, and the great level of importance of negotiation designed to be mutually beneficial.
However, we learned a lot more about finding ways to go around it. The first important point is that SEPLAG, the creator of the project, gave up on its central role in order to build a horizontal relationship with the other agencies and make the whole of the public administration the real protagonist. This was a fundamental attitude to overcome the lack of strategic support, as it helped with the adherence of the first agencies on the initial (and most troublesome) stage. Secondly, adjusting the project to be done in four “waves”, organizing it in a way that the biggest public agencies (like the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Health) would be on different parts, and the most difficult and complex agencies would be in the end, guaranteed a more mature team to deal with them. Finally, since the beginning, training and monitoring were part of the structure of the project, as well open data and open government, which gave the consistency and the tools the project needed to be tracked, expanded and solidified.
The Services Guide won the “VIII Award for Innovative Actions of the State of Alagoas”, in the category of “Modernization of Management”. It was also one of the selected cases to the presented on the “III Week of Innovation” promoted by the National Public Admnistration School (ENAP). Also, Ilha Soft is part of the UNICEF Innovation Fund portfolio, because of the “push” technology that’s behind Jaque, which is “a platform for creating omnichannel chatbots”. Earlier this year, on June, they were invited to go to NY to present their projects at UNICEF, where they had the opportunity to talk about Jaque - which received lots of praises. There, they had their investment renewed for another year.
- Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
8 November 2016