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Cross-Post: DFID endorses the Principles for Digital Development, How the Principles lead to better designed development programmes

4 mins read

DFID is delighted to become the 100th organisation to endorse the Principles for Digital Development! They are good practice guidelines for doing development in a digital world that are regarded by the public and private sector as the global standard.

At DFID we use digital technologies so we can have a bigger, faster and more cost-effective impact on poverty reduction (you can find out more by reading our new Digital Strategy 2018–20). Our aid programmes reach marginalised people using web-based and mobile technologies. Examples include:

  • providing digital financial services to people without bank accounts
  • providing SMS information services to rural health workers who don’t have internet access
  • enabling smallholder farmers in remote areas to sell their produce online
  • giving girl ambassadors the tools to collect accurate insights about girls’ lives.

Why are we endorsing the Principles?

The Principles set out clearly the standards that we expect in our programme delivery. Since 2015 DFID has required our programme partners to put the Digital Principles into practice when building new web-based and mobile solutions. This is stated in our Invitations to Tender.

We have an internal digital spend advice and approval process where we require our programme teams and their partners to explain how they will address each of the Principles in the design, build and implementation of projects. This entails:

  • designing with the user and understanding the existing ecosystem
  • designing for context, for scale and for sustainability
  • being data driven
  • using open source software and open standards
  • re-using and improving existing tools
  • addressing privacy and security
  • being collaborative.

What benefits do the Principles bring?

Donor governments, NGOs and partners in the public and private sector are now working together to achieve these standards. When we visit DFID-funded programmes, the Principles provide a common language for great discussions with our partners. The staff we meet tell us what’s worked well and what have been the most challenging Principles to implement.

Seeing the benefits of embedding the Principles in working practices has helped us with our decision to endorse them. It also means that the community of practitioners who support the Principles can produce guidance to help others put the Principles into practice.

These are examples from DFID-funded programmes:

Design with the user and design for scale

Ubongo Learning creates interactive educational entertainment for children in Tanzania and Kenya. Akili and Me helps young children develop pre-literacy and English language skills through fun learning. The development of Akili and Me follows theDigital Principles, in particular ‘design with the user’.

Through extensive user feedback, the producers discovered that their original design appealed to adults but was confusing and complex for their actual audience of pre-school children. Episodes were rewritten and the animations adapted and then tested again. Following a more positive response from the children and parents, Ubongo launched the full 26-episode season.

As a result of designing for scale, around 2.1 million Tanzanian unique viewers are now tuning in each month to daily TV broadcasts and weekly radio broadcasts. Exposure to Akili and Me has significantly improved drawing skills, shape knowledge, number recognition, counting, and English skills — see

Ubongo receives grants for its work from the Human Development Innovation Fund (HDIF) which is funded by DFID. HDIF has done a great deal to help its grantees to embed the Digital Principles.

Reuse and improve

UK Aid Direct is a fund that supports small and medium sized civil society organisations to achieve sustained poverty reduction. The online platform is designed to engage with civil society, improve capacity and facilitate learning between grantees.

Rather than building a new platform from scratch, our partner (Mannion Daniels) redeveloped their tried and tested SMILE grant management system to meet the needs of UK Aid Direct applicants. The eligibility checker is a quick and easy way for the applicant organisation to check they meet the fund’s criteria before completing a concept note. This saves time for the applicant and streamlines processes for the fund managers.

Be data driven and use open data

The Land Enhancing Governance for Economic Development (LEGEND) programme is designed to improve land governance and rights, promote responsible investment in land, introduce new technology for land registration, improve transparency of land transactions and provide assistance to DFID’s land tenure registration programmes.

As part of this work, LEGEND funds the Land Portal, a data-sharing and learning platform which draws together reliable and trustworthy land governance evidence. The Land Portal creates and disseminates land governance data and information through linked and open data technologies. Every piece of information available on the Land Portal is enriched according to open data standards and principles. This means that users can search and find the information more easily and machines can read and understand the information.

How can your organisation follow the Principles?

If you visit the Digital Principles website, you’ll find a clear explanation of what each Principle means, together with ‘core tenets’ and resources to help you put them into practice. All the advice you’ll find there has been created by the digital development community and is curated by the Digital Impact Alliance. It’s important to refer to the Principles at each stage of design and implementation of digital technologies and be willing to adapt your project as a result of user feedback.

Now that DFID has endorsed the Principles, we hope it will encourage more of our partners and suppliers to endorse them too.


We would welcome comments and feedback here.

Follow the DFID Digital Team on Twitter @DFID_Digital.

Visit the DFID website to find out what UK Aid funding achieves.

The original post can be found on Innovate DFID’s Medium account here