By Ahmad Jenzarli
I was expecting a run-of-the-mill desk job where I would be conducting research about the public administration in Lebanon. Instead, the Youth4Governance program turned out to be one of the most enriching experiences of my life.
The program’s focus was to better understand the scale of neglect within the public sector, and find solutions for more effective public and crisis management. A key element of this was a three-part perception study, and surveying was naturally the first skill I acquired during the internship.
Hitting the streets from Beirut to Baalbek to gather different people’s opinions on this matter, we conducted 1,531 surveys in total, of which 429 were with civil servants and 37 were with employees of Lebanon’s prime state oversight body, the Central Inspection.
That’s a lot of data. Left untouched, it would offer limited insights at best, and be liable to misinterpretation at worst. The process of fixing or removing incorrectly formatted and incomplete data was therefore essential.
I was responsible for cleaning, coding and analyzing the survey data we got back from all 1,531 respondents on their perceptions of Lebanon’s first e-governance platform, IMPACT.
With this done, it was then possible to begin the analytical phase. This involved cross-referencing the data from the three surveys to bring out a comparative edge, and breaking the responses down into ‘bitesize’ chunks that are more easily understood.
For that to happen, I had to organize my ideas, find correlations between different questions and conceptualize appealing visuals. Here, choosing the right font color and size, and emphasizing eye-opening numbers and key words was a simple but effective way to make the data ‘pop.’ You can also never underestimate the value of using clear and simple words to explain the findings.
What really stood out to me was the number of respondents who had heard of IMPACT. We live in a society that has high levels of poverty and where many people have had only the most basic education. And yet, despite these factors, there is clearly an embryonic digital culture in Lebanon that needs to be nurtured, with 67% of surveyed residents saying that they had heard of IMPACT, and 76% of those saying they had used it. Usage of IMPACT does, however, fall as distance from urban areas increases, so to avoid the risk of a digital divide, investment in digital infrastructure must also include remote areas.
These findings and others were presented to many high-ranking officials, such as the head of Central Inspection, as well as some ministers in the then caretaker government. On a very boring night, I was browsing Instagram and, to my surprise, found a slide I had prepared posted on the Youth4Governance page. I was later informed that the report I worked on was presented to members of the British Embassy, including the ambassador, as part of discussions on the role of digital transformation in facilitating greater oversight of the government. Knowing that my efforts had contributed to this debate and could be used to leverage greater international support for such tools was hugely satisfying.
Even without anyone specifically praising me, I felt that I had accomplished something big; with that happening, in one way or another, my career and a life pushing for real, tangible change in Lebanon was launched.