This component aims to provide government services using mobile telephony to increase their efficiency and effectiveness. The following sub-components will be taken under this component:

  1. Enabling Mobile Government
  2. Innovations Grant Program

1.Enabling Mobile Government

MCIT will initiate this activity to support the mainstreaming of mobile applications across Government for public service delivery and for program management. The reach of mobile telephony—more than half of Afghan households have at least one mobile telephone among its members—creates a widely available platform for public service delivery and Government program management. The nationwide use of mobile telephones creates new opportunities for the Government to reach and communicate with its citizens. Experiences from other conflict and post-conflict countries suggest that the time is right for Afghanistan to begin thinking about mGov and its associated applications.

These mGov applications will offer an opportunity for “anytime, anywhere” service delivery in social sectors in support of the range of programs implemented by various ministries (e.g. in health, education, agriculture, rural development). These mGov applications will also support management of geographically distributed staff and resources across the country, improving monitoring and evaluation, and strengthening delivery systems.

In order to support mGov, the Government is interested in creating the SDP (Standard Development Platform), a technical architecture to permit rapid and low-cost development, testing, deployment, provisioning, and maintenance of various mGov applications. The objective of developing the SDP is to create government-wide shared infrastructure and services to enable the rapid and inexpensive development and deployment of mGov services. The mGov SDP is an integral component of the ICT Sector Development Project’s objective to support the mainstreaming of mobile applications across Government.

Apart from setting up the SDP, the ICT sector development project will also fund three related activities: (1) Creation of an Expert Group—consisting of members with wide ranging experience and knowledge of ICT innovations and mobile applications—that will work with ministries and agencies to identify possible mGov services;  (2) Set up and operation of an Innovation Support Program that will reward innovation in mobile applications and support the development and rapid deployment of applications that address specific challenges identified by the Government; and  (3) Set up and support to an Incubator with a possible focus on supporting early-stage firms that work in the area of mobile applications. While these activities are separate from the set up of the SDP, they will be closely linked to it.

In order to support mGov in Afghanistan, the Government is interested in setting up an SDP that will provide the necessary hardware and software tools for rapid and low-cost development, testing, deployment, provisioning, and maintenance of various mGov applications.

The SDP will support mainstreaming of mGov applications across Afghanistan. First, the SDP will offer common platforms and services that can be used across Government to reduce duplication of mGov systems in various ministries or agencies that might otherwise develop stand-alone systems. Such duplication would lead to duplication of infrastructure and services, fragment demand, raise costs to use m-apps and waste resources, and increase coordination costs with multiple mobile networks. The SDP will thus reduce the costs of mGov applications setup and use.

Enabling mGov in a coordinated manner across Government through the SDP will reduce the total cost of operation of mGov services by providing a common pool of resources, aggregating demand for communication and IT services, and providing a platform for various ministries and agencies to test, rapidly deploy, and easily maintain mGov services across the country.

Furthermore, the SDP will also support rapid design, development, testing, deployment, and maintenance of mGov applications. Because the SDP will be readily available for any interested Government user to access and use, it will speed up the “time-to-market” for all mGov applications. This also reduces the costs of mGov applications. In a related benefit, the Platform will create opportunities for the nascent local IT industry to grow through the development of mGov applications over the SDP and, possibly, use the SDP for their own service provision for a fee.

The SDP should:

  • Serve as the technical architecture to support mGov applications across the Government in Afghanistan. It should include resources such as hardware and software needed to provide mGov applications, and the communication services to connect with users through the telephone networks (e.g. text messages, voice minutes, data services).
  • Be a shared infrastructure set up and operated in Kabul and be available for use to any Government ministry, department, agency, or program to provide mGov applications on a for fee-basis. It should allow any Government ministry, department, or agency to design, test, and deploy many applications rapidly and at a lower cost than if they had to each deploy their own mGov architectures. Private non-profit, firms incubated through the ICT Sector Development Project, and civil society organizations may also be permitted to use the SDP in the future.
  • Support the delivery of voice and data services and content in a network- and device-independent manner, reaching the largest number of potential users across Afghanistan. The Platform should offer unified connectivity with Afghanistan’s telephone networks (primarily wireless but also wireline) and possibly Internet service providers (ISPs), enabling unified content delivery to users on various mobile networks.
  • Allow efficient management of government-related numbers and short codes, IVRs, SMS, and easier development of mobile applications through shared tools (e.g. for surveys, data collection, hotline management).
  • Include some commonly used tools to enable the simplified development and deployment of m-apps (e.g. survey tools, peer-to-peer communication tools).
  • Have capabilities for secure service provision, controlled access, modularity, scalability, addition and subtraction of services, and testing that do not disturb the overall functioning of the SDP. The SDP should also allow metered access to enable charging of the users for the services demanded and used.
  • Connect with existing IT systems (e.g. databases, MIS) of the various users, and have transparent interfaces to permit connection with users’ IT systems in the future.
  • Be managed by a qualified and experienced Firm, hosted by MCIT using existing infrastructure such as the national data center and other databases and registries, and could be structured as a PPP arrangement to ensure long term sustainability.

A block diagram, which indicates the position of the SDP as a means to simplify and unify provision of mGov applications between various ministries and users is provided below.

2.Innovation Grants Program

World Bank through this component will support an innovation grants program to (a) encourage various Government ministries and agencies to identify specific challenges that can be addressed through the use of mobile applications, and (b) have a competitive process to award the best ideas grants (up to US$100K, for instance) to support creation and deployment.

The IS (Innovation Support) Program will take the form of a grants competition that will fund the most innovative tools that address specific development ‘innovation challenges’ in priority areas identified by various ministries and agencies of the Government. The IS Program will fund the best ideas that address these innovation challenges.

The IS Program is envisaged to consist of two phases. In Phase 1, which could last for about two years, the focus will be on providing grants to address innovation challenges. The scope of Phase 1 will be wide to include the largest number of thematic areas and sectors (e.g. health, education, rural development, agriculture, livelihoods, and urban development). Phase 2, which could last another two years, could either focus on providing larger size grants to scale m-Government applications that have been successful, or could reduce the scope to cover only a specific theme or sector.

Through Phases 1 and 2, the IS Program will also support the growth of the local IT industry through competitive processes that encourage participation of competent local IT firms, individuals, or non-government organizations that respond to the innovation challenges and to scale m-Government applications. The IS Program will also encourage cooperation among partners across disciplines to develop effective and comprehensive solutions to the innovation challenges.

The Program could be designed to include one or many types of awards, e.g. exposition award, market stimulation, point solution, etc. and various means of structuring the competitions (hybrid, multistage, exhibitions).  For example, one possibility is for the Program to include two streams of awards: one addresses a large group of stakeholders and constituents and mainly aims to educate participants and generate excitement about the field, while the other stream seeks to reward those who design innovative solutions to specific problems.

The budget to support all activities will be about US$5 million over the period of the Program. This includes the costs of program administration, the grants itself, and possible second stage activities. The design of the Program should minimize administrative costs. The program as a whole could be implemented in collaboration with appropriate local stakeholders such as the National ICT Alliance of Afghanistan (NICTAA), the National ICT Council of the Government, and other industry, civil society, or educational institutions and agencies.

Program management

Given that the IS Program requires competitive selection of winners based on innovation challenges, and the management of a significant fund (up to US$5 million), it is essential that the Program should have a transparent, well defined, efficient, and effective program management structure.

In order to secure buy-in, visibility, and high-level political support, the program management should include a mechanism to have representatives from MCIT and from the Ministries of Finance, Economy, and other members of the National ICT Council of Afghanistan. This could be in the form of an Executive Board that has broad strategic oversight and guidance functions, but whose members are not directly involved in the definition of innovation challenges or in their selection, or in the day-to-day program management.

Program management functions including day-to-day management, the selection of the winners in cooperation with the Expert Group, and fund management should be with a qualified IS Program Manager (ISPM). The ISPM will handle the grants competition and related auditing, financial management, and competitive selection. Overall fiduciary management of the IS Program will remain with the Project Management Office of the ICT Sector Development Project, which will be following World Bank procedures in its work. An operations manual that establishes the operational procedures will guide the ISPM and detailed principles that govern program implementation.

Phase 1 activity: Grant competition

The Committee will issue calls for proposals—about every six months—over a period of at least two years. The Committee will evaluate proposals and identify winners through a competitive selection process. Winners will receive seed funding in the form of a one-time grant to implement their proposal.

The following provides an indicative workflow of how the Program could work during this Phase:

  1. Any interested social or economic ministry or agency of the Government will work with the Expert Group to define an innovation challenge to address some specific public service delivery or program management problem;
  2. The Expert Group will forward the innovation challenge to the ISPM. The ISPM will release the call for proposals to address the innovation challenge, run a competitive selection process, and select the winner of the innovation challenge along with the Expert Group;
  3. The winner—an individual, a consortium, a company or a non-governmental organization—will implement the solution. The proposed solutions could include new, planned, or in-pilot-stage solutions and could use as possible and needed, the shared infrastructure and services set up through the larger project;
  4. The Expert Group and ISPM will work with the winners and concerned ministries to create the enabling environment for the implementation of the solutions;
  5. The ISPM will evaluate the performance of the solution on a regular basis and provides support—in conjunction with the Expert Group—to the winner to support their work.

The ISPM will also be expected to manage some mechanisms to enable discussions and exchanges among potential innovators, technical experts, non-government organizations, academic institutions, public and private sector agencies, and the public that encourage discussions about possible ideas and innovations. The participations in this discussion should focus on Afghanistan, although it might be possible that the overall mechanism is part of a global effort.

The ISPM’s working and approach should consider the potential for political, financial, coordination, and security risks to disrupt implementation of winning proposals. The ISPM should ensure that appropriate risk mitigation measures are in place to reduce or counter these risks.

Phase 2 activities: Scale up of successful activities, focused activities

Following the completion of Phase 1 activities, the ISPM should design a follow up phase that will either scale up activities that were successful in Phase 1 or that will focus the scope of the Program to cover a selection of themes or sectors. Phase 2 activities could also include targeted investments in delivery mechanisms, the development of public-private partnership models, mainstreaming of some successful program management technique, application of ICT focused on some specific theme (e.g. maternal health, primary education, developing labor markets).

The ISPM should design proposals for Phase 2, and MCIT, the Executive Board, or some combination of strategic actors could take the decision on the way forward. The World Bank task team will also provide support and clearance for the design of Phase 2 activities when it takes place (in the second half of year two of the Program).