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Guest Blog: From Pen to Principle: The Evolution of the Digital Principles Community

Over the past decade, the digital development field has rapidly matured as small-scale pilots have paved the way for coordinated and scaled systems. But success for digital tools and initiatives has not come by accident. Practitioners have dedicated the time to thorough context analysis and planning, and careful monitoring to ensure that they are deploying tools that are appropriate and adaptive. These best practices, and the real-world experience, of digital development practitioners is captured in the new Principles for Digital Development website.

The new website was launched in October 2017 with the goal of providing digital development professionals with resources and guidance to plan, design and deploy successful initiatives. The final content is the result of over a year of engagement with the global digital development community and a drafting process that was rooted in three digital principles: designing with the user, reusing existing resources and being collaborative.

While the drafting process was led by the Digital Health team at PATH, the content embodies a wide range of initiatives, resources and insights gathered from multiple sectors. DIAL and PATH engaged stakeholders in the Global North, including original “founding” organizations, and organizations in the Global South that engaged with the Digital Principles for the first time. This interaction with stakeholders included four separate workshops and over 50 interviews to understand what gaps existed in the previous Principles content and what was preventing organizations from endorsing. The most consistent feedback received was that the Digital Principles were great in theory, but as written were difficult to put into action and were so prescriptive at times that they came across as mandates rather than guidance.

Reflecting this feedback, we created:

  • Actionable implementation guidance for the nine Digital Principles divided into four overarching phases of a typical digital development project lifecycle: Planning and Analysis; Design and Development; Deployment and Implementation; and Monitoring and Evaluation, which was written as cross-cutting guidance
  • Five new how-to guides covering topics identified as common challenges faced by digital development practitioners
  • Six new case studies covering digital initiatives implemented by endorsers of the Digital Principles

To create content that addressed practitioner input and embodied the Digital Principles we led a process that included:

  • Developing User Personas: To identify the target audience for the Digital Principles website, PATH worked with to DIAL to create user personas, or realistic representations of the key audience segments. The target users were identified as field-based program managers and technical specialists, in addition to Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) advisors and program directors based at the global headquarters of international NGOs. The content is also designed to be used by ICT4D specialists and evangelists at donor organizations. We interviewed people representative of our user personas to deepen our understanding of what content would be useful for their day-to-day challenges and needs.
  • Gathering Existing Resources: The Digital Principles guidance and how-to guides draw heavily on existing reports, toolkits and blog posts that were identified by the team drafting the content and submitted by the community. We know there are resources that we have not yet referenced and that new relevant tools will be developed, so please submit additional resources through the Digital Principles Forum.
  • User Review: A peer review board and the general public reviewed drafts of the guidance for the nine Digital Principles and the five how-to guides. The content was available through Google Docs and reviewers were able to suggest content edits and additions, and other resources to include. Through this review process we received responses from approximately 50 digital practitioners representing a range of organizations, sectors and countries.
  • Creating Living Content: The current content represents more than five rounds of user feedback and review, but is in no way assumed to be final. Any feedback and resources received through the Digital Principles Forum will be considered for incorporation into the website. Endorsing organizations also are encouraged to use the case study template to draft their own case studies that showcase how their initiatives have incorporated the Digital Principles and the lessons that have been learned along the way. Case studies can be submitted to for inclusion on the website.

Organizations interested in joining the conversation around the Digital Principles will have the opportunity at upcoming events including a Practicing the Principles for Digital Development event in Indonesia in February, where DIAL will be showcasing the new content and seeking more engagement and feedback from the community.

Jacqui Deelstra has ten years of experience in project management and communications. Her work has focused on youth, education and health, and the impact of information and communication technology in these sectors. She joined PATH in 2017 as a Communications Associate on the Digital Health team. Previously, she was a Technology for Development Associate at Creative Associates International. She holds a master’s degree in International Affairs from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

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