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Digitization: A tool towards an interconnected and secure public sector

For decades, the Lebanese have widely mocked the country’s public administration for its inefficiency, haphazard archiving systems, and lack of internal coordination and cooperation. But this summer, a group of 20 software developers on the Youth4Governance internship program set out to address the bureaucratic spaghetti of systems and processes that have made even the most basic of administrative tasks unbearably slow and frustrating, and have rendered the country among the world’s most corrupt.

Working one line of code at a time, and across several different projects, their aim was to promote digitization and oversight as a way to build an interconnected, efficient, secure and transparent state that is ultimately better able to respond to the varied needs of all citizens and residents.

The developers started by attending several training courses related to design patterns, database transactions, blockchain and more, in addition to sessions that sought to enhance their knowledge about how to nurture change within Lebanon’s ossified and cumbersome political/institutional framework. After the initial training and induction, the developers then broke out into teams.

One team focused on adapting an Estonian ecosystem called X-Road to the Lebanese context, aiming to connect public administrations via a national data exchange infrastructure. This is sorely needed as, at present, public administrations have no way of interfacing with each other digitally. This results in citizens having to shuttle between institutions to get various forms and documents, waiting for hours on end and losing productive hours. The developers worked on tailoring the software to fit the setup-of Lebanon’s public institutions, with a view to creating a “one stop shop” interface where citizens can request and receive their official documents within minutes.  

Another team was responsible for starting the development of an AI driven drone that can autonomously carry out customized tasks at the request of various public sector actors. Security agencies, for instance, might use such a drone to assist with search and rescue operations. The Civil Defense could use it to assist with forest fire threat modeling and firefighting. Hospitals could use it to dispatch blood and medical supplies to accident scenes.

A third team of developers worked on creating a form builder for public administrations. At present, public institutions are either using paper-based forms or online tools similar to Google Forms. The first is inefficient and outdated, and forms can be lost easily, while the latter has negative security implications.  A bespoke form builder for the Lebanese public administration would allow the state to securely gather required information from various stakeholders via a digital interface, saving time, reducing costs associated with printing and archiving, and improving the overall user experience and accessibility.

Another team of developers worked on a database encryption project, which aims to ensure the safety and privacy of citizens’ data by encrypting personal information and transforming it into a code that can be deciphered only by the software, and by employees with access. Currently, sensitive citizens’ data is stored in public buildings in files, often stacked ceiling high, that could be easily accessed by unauthorized people. Proper database encryption would put an end to this, preventing unauthorized persons from reading any sensitive database that may fall into their hands.

A final team of developers worked on a project that would see blockchain-based digital signatures rolled out across the public administration. This software would allow the creation of a signature that is unchangeable, ensuring greater transparency and airtight data protection. This software could be used to support aid distribution in Lebanon, as it mitigates fraud risk when verifying eligible households to be included in a social register. Surveyors conducting household visits, for example, would be required to sign a digital form to confirm whether a household meets the enrollment criteria or not, and a secure, unalterable database would record the surveyor’s name and the eligibility assessment they made.

These technologies are the start of the digitization process in Lebanon; they are even a step forward toward building a bridge between concepts and actual progress of the public sector in Lebanon. Their implementation will lead to an interconnected, efficient, paperless, and secure state.