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Lessons on Development from the Immigration Queue

Tanya Gupta's picture

For those who work and live in Washington DC, flying into Dulles airport at the end of a long journey only to be greeted by long queues at immigration is never easy.  One hears a lot of complaints about immigration processes and it is human nature to talk about it when the government does something wrong rather than when things go right.  Global Entry - an initiative of the US Government (Customs and Border Protection) - a neat way to avoid the long line - is getting it exactly right.  I recently signed up for the Global Entry Program that allows travelers returning to the US, a quick entry back through fewer checks at immigration.  In my case, I got through immigration at Washington Dulles in 15 minutes from landing to a taxi!

The Global Entry Program is a great example of using technology to spur innovation and efficiency in the public sector in the following ways:

CBP’s client segmentation and risk management: CBP classified travelers based on risk.  The passengers with lower risk, that is travelers that do not have a criminal record, travel violations, and a clean record (a background check is done for each applicant) do not need the same strict security measures that the general traveler has to put up with.  Realistically, risk cannot be eliminated altogether. Managing risk on the other hand can allow trusted travelers through with minimal processing.  

Development organizations could use some of these principles in their own work.  While there is some differentiation between the different groups of countries these organizations work with (for example Low Income Countries, Middle Income Countries etc.) the client segmentation is not extensive.  Other questions these organizations could be asking are:  Which governments are easiest to deal with?  Which governments have more efficient processes? (We can look at the “doing business” reports as a source)  Which have higher transparency and governance scores?  Can we streamline our own requirements for such countries?  Should development institutions require expensive environmental impact assessments from clients with good records? Can the assessments be made more flexible?

Development organizations should take risks.  However risks (vs potential benefits) should be measured and there should be an informed risk taking process rather than risk for the sake of risk.  Common standards across different development organizations can allow minimization of risk.

CBPs’ return on investment: The return in a public sector entity does not have to be economic. In this case, the “return” was lowered processing time.  The “investment” in this case was the purchase of the Kiosks that allow automated immigration processes.  The CBP FY 2014 Budget shows that $8 million supported the acquisition of 60 kiosks at airports and at 8 high volume pedestrian crossings. These 8 high volume sites process approximately 73 percent of the total 40 million annual pedestrian crossings. In their statement, CBP said that this investment would allow CBP to better facilitate legitimate travelers and focus on higher-risk passengers and cargo (source).

Development organizations could also use the concept of ROI in development.  In which sectors, using which tools and techniques have we had maximum impact ? How can we prioritize the high ROI initiatives, making the processing for these initiatives fast and easy?

CBP Focus on client satisfaction: CBP has zoomed right in to the biggest complaint of travelers today -- long lines at immigration and solved the problem for those that are considered safe. The Global Entry program satisfies clients and improves efficiency at the same time. The Global Entry efficiency consists of reducing time in immigration to 40 seconds through automation. 

For development organizations, client feedback should be critical.  How can those in development get feedback from clients (both explicit and implicit) at every step of the way?  How can development organizations improve their service orientation? There are established tools for measuring process efficiency that could be used.  Can development organizations measure the efficiency of each process and try to improve the same?  Of course, focus should be on the most critical processes in the first instance. 

In the absence of a bottom line, leveraging technology for gains in efficiency and innovation can be both trickier and more rewarding in the public sector and in the development arena (as compared to the private sector).  However by focusing on mission critical and measurable elements such as client segmentation and risk management, defining an ROI, and targeting client satisfaction, we can optimize both efficiency and innovation at the same time.

Photo Credits: Wayan Wota and U.S. Customs and Borders
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