IT Policy Consultation kicks off
Most of us are usually quite skeptical about any government consultation and even when we do make the effort to attend such a meeting, we do so out of a sense of obligation expecting very little from the activity.
Hence, as we boarded the plane for Lahore at 8 am on September 1 to attend the IT Policy kick-off meeting we did so with reservation. Some of our colleagues had vehemently shrugged off any suggestion of making the trip saying it would be a total waste of time.
On the flight with me were Barrister Zahid Jamil, Awab Alvi (better known as Teeth Maestro), Faizan Khan of Intel Corporation, Faisal Anwar of UBL and Tabasum Abbasi from the Sindh IT Department. We knew Shahzad Ahmed of BytesforAll would be flying in from Islamabad for the meeting and that some of our colleagues from Lahore – Imran Zia (Chairman of P@SHA), Hasan Rizvi (CEO of Five Rivers Technologies), Fouad Bajwa (FOSS Mullah) and Dr. Sarmad Hussain from FAST – would be joining us. Hence there was every reason to believe that an attempt would be made to make things happen.
As we walked into Crystal Ballroom A at the PC, we came face-to-face with our worst fears as we saw the seating arrangements for the event. There was a stage with 6 chairs, a second tier of seating and then the third tier of round tables with chairs for those we assume were perceived as commoners.
Imran Zia and I were asked to join the VIPs on the stage. We politely refused the invitation on the grounds that this was supposedly a consultative process and we were there as equal stakeholders with the rest of the participants. That didn’t stop the speeches from happening of course. I don’t know if I can blame them really – some people only know one way of doing things and for them to imagine that a meeting can take place without the normal bureaucratic hooplah is just not possible. So we listened quietly like well-behaved little boys and girls and even applauded on cue.
To expect such behaviour to last long would be unnatural so it was not surprising that when we were asked to break up into Working Groups, we rebelled – politely of course 😉 We suggested that it would be best to break for tea/coffee at that stage while the seating arrangement was converted into what would at least seem to be more consultative stakeholder seating. This suggestion was met with shock, confusion and a wee bit of resistance until the Federal IT Secretary, who is a cool and reasonable dude, said “so be it”.
While everyone else had tea, coffee and cookies, a bunch of us zealots converged to one of the round tables and, as you can see, gleefully put together a revised agenda for the meeting. Yup this is the guilty group. Then why is it that only I was accused of “hijacking” the meeting? 😦 That’s right – innocent little me!
Anyway, to get back to the story. When the meeting restarted we asked the IT Secretary if we could propose a revised agenda. He looked as if he was in two minds whether to agree to anything that this bunch proposed. But as I said before, he is a reasonable man and perhaps he could see that though we didn’t look it, we were a well-meaning bunch 🙂 Yup, lo and behold, he said yes!
So up went the 5 slides we had put together. I won’t take you through all the gruesome details – maybe I will do another post for that. Suffice it to say that what we proposed was that instead of developing the policy in silos, we should first decide on the vision and overarching principles which each of the focus groups would abide by. What do I mean? Well, wouldn’t it be sensible to first decide that whatever each group proposed should be for example technology neutral, gender-sensitive and should keep in mind things like Accessibility and Transparency amongst other things. Should we also not decide who the various stakeholders would be, who would have ownership, whether the groups would be issue-based or sectoral? You know, important stuff like that. And what about funding? Where would that come from? This time everyone – from business representatives to civil society types – had all travelled to the venue at their own expense. Considering that they were giving free consulting time, shouldn’t their costs be picked up by the government?
Should we also not have baseline data to start with? And shouldn’t a Gap Analysis be conducted before we jump into working groups and recommendations? Policies are not made overnight, is what we tried to emphasize upon. I think the message did seep in that we were trying to help ensure that the exercise was not a futile one.
You know what was truly a great experience – the fact that our group of rebels constituted IT practitioners, enntrepreneurs, civil society representatives, a banker, a lawyer, a dentist, academics and a researcher. And we were all on the same wavelength and working towards one common objective. Isn’t that something to celebrate?
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