This article first appeared on the World Economic Forum. View the original publication here.
2023 was pivotal for global digital development. One of the indications of this new development has been the change in the language around digital. For the first time ever, countries reached consensus on a definition of digital public infrastructure (DPI).
Words such as transparency, rights-based and ecosystems became even more articulated in the discussions, marking a significant departure from the often tech-led parlance.
DPI, as defined by the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration, “is a set of shared digital systems that are secure and interoperable, built on open technologies, to deliver equitable access to public and/or private services at a societal scale.”
Referenced as the infrastructure of the digital era, these systems are often likened to physical infrastructure. With its open nature, DPI is about moving away from the siloed approach to digital innovation or the winner-takes-all approach that has driven digitalization for the last two decades.
Much of 2022-2023 has been about defining and reaching consensus on what constitutes digital public infrastructure. Its principles and key tenets have been outlined at high-level policy forums, such as G20 and the UN General Assembly.
DPI, as defined by the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration, “is a set of shared digital systems that are secure and interoperable, built on open technologies, to deliver equitable access to public and/or private services at a societal scale."
As the global community progresses into 2024 towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), DPI will continue to present significant opportunities for actors, particularly within local ecosystems.
We anticipate a shift from purely funding commitments to more comprehensive digital transformation support from global development organizations, especially for countries in the Global South.
We are already observing international development organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme, philanthropies like the Gates Foundation, as well as think tanks like Carnegie India and Digital Impact Alliance establishing specialized teams and/or programmes focused on DPI.
Against this backdrop, we predict three key trends for DPI in 2024:
- Governments, international development organizations, and civil society organizations will concentrate on developing national DPI strategies
- Emphasis will be placed on measuring the proliferation and impact of DPI
- More diverse voices will help to further mainstream the DPI agenda
National digital strategies, roadmaps and blueprints
In 2024, countries will move beyond exploring and understanding DPI to actively plan their digital transformation with DPI as an accelerator. This shift will underscore the need of developing a holistic national digital strategy, with DPI at its core, to ensure effective digital integration.
Countries will require assistance in evaluating their existing digital infrastructure and identifying additional elements that might be needed. Reforms around governance and institutions will be essential to ensure effective coordination and inclusiveness through a whole-of-society approach.
However, simply replicating these successful models from one country does not guarantee similar outcomes elsewhere. Therefore, each country must assess its unique needs, technological capabilities, and societal structures to develop a DPI blueprint that resonates with people as the ultimate beneficiaries.
In 2024, we anticipate a surge of activity from international development actors in relation to the drafting of national digital strategies with DPI.
Measuring the impact of digital public infrastructure
As we forge ahead into 2024, the critical question for DPI is not just about its design and adoption, but also about its real impact.
We foresee 2024 to be the year when several DPI initiatives will focus on more rigorously evaluating impact: monitoring metrics such as user adoption rates, efficiency improvements in service delivery, extent of protections and guardrails, as well as the economic impact for governments, international development organizations will be established to gauge the success of various DPI initiatives.
In addition, actors will focus on assessments and benchmarks that will help identify specific challenges and areas where DPI might not be delivering as expected. Whilst principles such as openness, interoperability, and balanced state interference have rendered DPI an attractive approach, without careful considerations they could also become potential pitfalls.
Issues like monopolization and the risk of exclusion could turn these strengths into weaknesses if they are not properly addressed. As DPI deployment scales globally with initiatives such as the 50 in 5 Campaign, there will be a need for regular assessment of the progress in DPI adoption.
There have been some attempts in the DPI community to measure and quantify the impact of DPIs, but further assessment that can provide a more comprehensive overview is required.
This includes tracking digital transformation projects more meticulously, identifying and quantifying unique aspects of DPI as distinct from conventional digital implementation, and articulating DPI implication for people, and achieving the SDGs.
More diverse voices to further mainstream DPI
Building on the work undertaken in 2023, we anticipate 2024 will be a year of more consultative policy processes for DPI. Questions on deployment, inclusion and harms will be at the centre of global dialogues.
For instance, the UN is stewarding the development of a universal DPI safeguards framework that will address principles, methods, and practices through multi-stakeholder and expert-led conversations.
This global process, concluding in the Summit of the Future in September, involves research, working groups, consultations, piloting the framework in five countries, and integrating with the Global Digital Compact.
With Brazil, a leader in DPI adoption, chairing this year’s G20, we anticipate a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including government bodies, think-tanks, and experts from Africa, South America and other regions, to offer their insights and further the discourse on DPI.
Finally, civil society is poised to play a larger role in defining and championing inclusive digital transformation too. The inclusion of diverse voices is crucial for guidance on complex questions related to DPI deployment.
This involves clarifying what DPI actually means for regions with low connectivity, as well as which additional safeguards the international community needs to take when DPI falls in the hands of bad actors.
Digital transformation also comes with certain risks, including the centralization of data, the potential for surveillance and the monopolization of systems. Consequently, much effort will be required to strengthen the international community’s commitment to good governance and transparency, especially in countries with low state capacity.
Moving beyond India’s G20 DPI consensus into 2024, the path ahead is both challenging and exciting. DPI has the potential to not only reshape economies but also societies to be more equitable.
This journey represents more than technological advancement; it is a movement towards a world that is more inclusive and meaningfully connected.
Whilst we predict these three broad trends for DPI, we believe that it will remain a field of continuous innovation, ideation and investment. This triad will shape the multifaceted nature of digital public infrastructure’s growth and influence.