In June I traveled to the West Bank to investigate aspects of Palestinian readiness for local electronic governance (e-gov) systems. As part of an attempt to explore potential improvements in municipal service delivery and citizen engagement, I conducted citizen interviews to help us better understand how Palestinians receive and share information using technology, and how they interact with local municipalities.

“You’re doing this on the first day of Ramadan? Everyone is fasting and grumpy! I was going to tell you to leave me alone, but you are a guest and have a kind face so I will answer your questions!”

That was the joking response I got from a fabric store owner in Ramallah when I asked whether he had a few minutes to spare to help me with my research.

Over the course of a week, I traveled to three cities and interviewed 81 Palestinian citizens from 15 different municipalities and all walks of life. We call this type of rapid, dirty data collection Digital Insights—a set of meaningful insights that allow our project teams to quickly make user-centric and data-driven decisions about appropriate ICT interventions. We’ve performed this research in Jordan, Honduras, Indonesia, and now Palestine.

Overarching questions I hoped to explore included:

  • What kinds of mobile technologies do Palestinians regularly use?

  • How do Palestinians receive and share information?

  • What kinds of interactions do Palestinians regularly have with their municipalities?

  • Is there a demand for e-gov services among citizens?

The key insights from the data are summarized below:

Note: The interviews conducted do not represent a statistically significant sampling of Palestinian citizens. The purpose of DAI’s Digital Insights is to gain qualitative, directional insights about how target populations use technology and generate actionable data quickly.

What is the Data Telling Us?

The insights taken from the data tell us unequivocally that Palestinians are tech savvy and well connected to information flows. They are active online and on social media, and rely on platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp for more than entertainment—they use these platforms for regular communication and to receive and send information, including local news. Palestinians across all demographics appear to be relying on web-based mobile technology to engage with one another. This is a trend likely to increase once 3G connectivity becomes available in Palestine in the coming months.

The Disconnect: Municipal Services

While citizens are using the web to communicate and engage one another directly on a daily basis, their interactions with municipalities appear to be very different. The vast majority of those who had recently visited their municipality in person had done so to complete repetitive tasks such as paying utility bills or taxes. This suggests a high potential for increased efficiency and improved user experience through electronic services, not least for the large numbers of diaspora Palestinians with property or businesses in the West Bank. Less than one-third of interviewees had ever visited their municipality’s website, and none of them mentioned having used an online service. The extent of remote, electronic engagement tends to be limited to website visits for general information acquisition and stops short of actually utilizing municipal services or establishing direct contact with municipal officials.

The data also suggests that citizens are well prepared for and enthusiastic about the prospect of being able to engage with their municipalities remotely via the web and mobile platforms, yet local municipalities are failing to take advantage of the public’s demand for such services to engage more effectively and efficiently with their constituents.