Be Agile(r)

Last week, ICTworks published a July 2016 blog post from Brian Sokol of Abt Associates that advocates for a leaner, more agile approach to the Principles for Digital Development. Finding the Goldilocks “juuuust right” middle ground between the two sets of principles is key. As the Digital Impact Alliance works together with the digital development community on guidance to implement and integrate the Principles, it is exactly this kind of advice that will help us all identify best practice and curate valuable lessons learned.

In February of this year, the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) became steward of the Digital Principles. Our work focuses on the practical steps required to turn the Digital Principles from language incorporated into grants to actual practice.  Over the next few months, we will ramp up activities to promote and advocate for adoption of the Digital Principles in a few ways:

  • Active proponents: A number of implementing organizations and donors are already championing the Digital Principles; they have been endorsed by over 60 organizations and many are considering how to incorporate the Principles into procurement. We’d like to increase the organizations committed to and our champions that already endorse the Digital Principles, learning from what is/is not working, and share broadly.
  • Community engagement: In order to be more active and help facilitate dialogue and learning where we can, DIAL is hiring a Community Associate to encourage and foster debate.
  • Tools and resources: Taking the rich information collected in the “From Principle to Practice: Implementing the Principles for Digital Development” report, DIAL will create a series of hands-on, guided tools and resources that ground the current guidance in practical examples of how to use them in your organization. The first resource will be an implementer toolkit that will provide actionable guides, templates and other tools to integrate the Digital Principles across a project life cycle. Working together with NetHope and frog design, we will gather input and incorporate inputs from the digital development community to make sure that what is created is actionable, realistic and useful. DIAL is hiring a Manager to guide the creation and dissemination of these tools and resources, amongst other responsibilities.
  • Learning: Brian’s post about the Agile Manifesto is exactly the type of analogue that we are trying to learn from. How do communities learn? How do they adapt and iterate in a leaner way? How do you take a set of principles and make them actionable go-dos? We want to learn from both the non-profit and private sectors about the most effective ways integrate principles so that they are no longer the “Digital Principles” but rather… business as usual. For example, we are seeing donors and funders such as the Gates Foundation, USAID and Sida consider how digital tools can be used in grants to promote performance management and learning on the ground as well as how they can be used in adaptive management, creating active feedback loops within their institutions.

Making the Digital Principles actionable does not mean slowing down innovation and invention because of a focus on scale and sustainability. Being thoughtful about project design does not equal inertia. Rather, I would argue that the Principles promote innovation because they are grounded in a contextual understanding of what people are doing now, with the tools that are currently available to them. How can we improve, leverage and accelerate that utilization through the uses of technology? Rather than “checking instincts,” the Digital Principles place a weight on context, learning and leveraging to guide program design, deployment and funding.

We agree with the path forward that Brian advocates:

  • User focus: Our toolkits will go directly to our target audiences and ask what they need to help them do their jobs better. We want to be additive, meet people where they are with the information they need.
  • Collaboration: Everything we do will be in collaboration with partners. We will respond to the needs of the community.
  • Iteration: DIAL has been given a green light to test and iterate rapidly, taking risks along the way – staying agile and lean.

Your feedback and understanding about how you and your organization access information and use tools related to the Digital Principles will be immensely helpful. Please submit your thoughts and examples through our survey and we look forward to more collaboration and dialogue with this community.

Carolyn Florey works to make digital development programs more effective, impactful and sustainable. Carolyn joined the Digital Impact Alliance in March 2016 as the Director of Collective Impact. In this role, she helps coalesce the development community around scaling and increasing the impact and cost effectiveness of digital development investments. Prior to joining the Digital Impact Alliance, Carolyn was the mHealth Senior Manager at the United Nations Foundation. Carolyn holds an M.A. in International Development and International Economics from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. in International Relations and Spanish from Tufts University.