The last few months have seen the launch of a slew of digital initiatives from the government. First, we have seen the pilot run of Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) in five cities
. Second, the Heavy Industries Ministry has announced creation of a digital platform
moving away from the current paper-based subsidy claims mechanism for data sharing and tracking value addition by automobile manufacturers. Third, Niti Ayog has issued a detailed report titled, India’s Booming Gig and Platform Economy Perspectives and Recommendations on the Future of Work
. All these initiatives have a key underlying theme, ie, the creation of “Public Digital Platforms”. However, whilst the government is doing its role in the creation of these ecosystems, there is another equally important imperative for us as citizens and users of these platforms—that of “value co-creation”. A key factor affecting the adoption of platforms and citizen participation in the “value co-creation” activities is “trust” in these platforms. One of us is researching the trust in platforms and the other is researching value co-creation in the context of organisational practices. Through this article, we are attempting to join the two perspectives—trust in platforms and value co-creation in the context of organisational practices—for public digital platforms.
A key factor affecting the adoption of platforms and citizen participation in the “value co-creation” activities is “trust” in these platforms.
A Marketplace for Public Services
The OECD Digital Governance Framework
lays down six pillars of a fully digital government a) Digital by design b) Data-driven public sector c) Government as a platform d) Open by default e) User-driven f) Proactiveness. In particular, the pillar on “Government as a Platform” focuses on achieving transformation at scale. Instead of undertaking transformation on a service-by-service basis, this model facilitates creation of a supporting ecosystem that lets government service delivery teams focus on the unique needs of the users of the service i.e., citizens. Further, this encourages different models of public service delivery with those outside government and provides new ways of creating a relationship between citizens and state.
In this context, the focus is on solving underlying challenges in public-facing government service through the use of digital technologies. The public digital platform, becomes a marketplace for different sectors public and private to deliver services that are enabled by a holistic approach to data sharing, a trusted consent model (e.g., Aadhar based) for dealing with citizen data, open standards for inter platform operations, and various mechanisms for quality assurance. These foundational elements also enable multiple platform participants to contribute to the provision of public services by taking different approaches to solve a given problem. This also provides citizens of the country freedom to choose a platform that works best for them. None of this can be successful without the active involvement of citizens of the country.
The Value Co-Creation Imperative
Building on the above and taking the view that platforms facilitate delivery of services, the context here is in digital platforms assisting everyday practices in various domains (e.g., traveling, healthcare, agriculture). In this case, the platform should support user activities or processes, regardless of whether the customer is an individual, a household, or a business organisation.
Continuing further, research in marketing over the past two decades has distinguished between two types of values that users and customers derive. Buying a consumable good is a “value in exchange”, wherein, a consumer gives money and gets the physical goods and that’s the end of the relationship. In comparison, availing services in a services setting is “value in use”, wherein, the consumer derives value only through a set of interactions with the platform. Late Prof. C. K. Prahalad and his co-researcher Prof. Venkat Ramaswamy researched on this aspect of value and called it “value co-creation”
. Co-creation happens when various interactions are facilitated by interactive system-environments (e.g., interactive platforms). For example, when citizens of the country link their Aadhaar number to their bank account or Aadhaar is linked with their driver’s license, we enable the creation of value in availing a whole range of digital services such as direct benefits transfer (DBT) or DigiLocker (digital document delivery). Co-creation is the process by which mutual value is expanded together, where value to participating individuals is a function of their experiences, both their engagement experiences on the platform, and the productive and meaningful human experiences that result. The role of government in this case is that of a co-creative enterprise, wherein, instead of taking an approach of ‘‘build it and they (citizens) will come,’’ the approach is ‘‘build it with them, and they (citizens) are already there.’’
Trust in Public Digital Platforms
We believe one of the key factors affecting value co-creation is inherent “trust” in digital platforms. This is particularly important when the platform owner is the government and various participants are citizens of the country itself. Recent research indicates a wide variation across the world
as far as trust in digital platforms is concerned. According to this research, the environment (mechanisms used to build trust in digital), experience (how users experience the digital environment), attitudes (how users feel about digital environment) and behaviour (how engaged the users are with digital) play a role in whether users trust the digital platforms or do not. The success of public digital platforms such as the Universal Payment Interface (UPI) and CoWin is down to all these factors coming together. For example, digital payments, today, have become second nature; and, now, the launch of the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC)
is taking this to next level through use of innovative technologies like blockchain.
The recent launch of consultation paper on ONDC
along with a set of questions is a classic example of engaging the citizens of India and is another step towards gaining trust in public digital platforms. A close look at the questions posed by ONDC gives various stakeholders of ONDC (i.e., participants, providers, buyers, suppliers) an opportunity to contribute towards the definition of platform features itself. For example, how can ONDC be enhanced to make the search and discovery on the platform fair for all its stakeholders? What disclosures, other than prices/ fees/charges, would be necessary to be made to the buyer? What, if any, are the risks of allowing intermediaries (reconciliation service providers, settlement agencies) to participate in the payments process? What mechanisms can ONDC and Network Participants put in place to avoid issues from being escalated to disputes in the first place?All these initiatives and issues are well thought of. They indicate the seriousness of the platform owner (i.e., government) in building a truly trusted “Public Digital Platform”.
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