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Institutionalizing Digital Transformation: Acting on the Recommendations of the High-Level Panel for Digital Cooperation

The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) at the United Nations Foundation warmly welcomes the High-Level Panel’s recent report, The Age of Digital Interdependence. This memorandum sets out how DIAL is actively pursuing, and keen to collaborate on, the Panel’s recommendations supporting increased global digital cooperation, building an inclusive digital economy and society; institutional and human capacity; and supporting human rights and agency. DIAL welcomes close collaboration with all actors responding to the Panel’s call, and with Digital Square, CGAP, and others has invested in more than 40 common digital public goods[1] that the Panel and its stakeholders can leverage immediately to accelerate needed digital transformation.

DIAL’s remit is directly in line with the issues and recommendations highlighted in the report. DIAL was founded in 2016 by four visionary donors (the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and the United Nations Foundation. Its express purpose is to bridge stakeholders and sectors to align the global development sector around the most efficient and effective digital public goods.

DIAL provided input to the Panel during the development of its recommendations, and continues to be a partner and advocate for realizing them. Below, we outline DIAL’s current and planned programs, products, and services to support the five recommendations, in particular:

  • In our role as a convener of the digital ecosystem and as an investor in digital public goods, we will bring actors together in the Fall of 2019 to underline our commitment to continued coordinated action.
  • The Secretary General and the global community of the United Nations can readily leverage two resources: our framework for digital public goods to achieve the SDGs, developed with the ITU; and DIAL’s product registry[2], now out in public beta, which maps existing solutions to those building blocks.
Building an inclusive digital economy

Identifying and supporting digital public goods: DIAL has in-house capacity and multi-stakeholder relationships to build the evidence base and good practice guidelines, and facilitate dialogue for health and financial inclusion in the global development sector. DIAL and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) worked to identify foundational digital building blocks (e.g., identity, messaging) that are common across SDG use cases (e.g., health, agriculture). The resulting SDG Digital Investment Framework (ICT4SDGs) supports policy makers’ understanding of what technology is needed to achieve digital transformations and the cross-cutting nature of digital public goods that already exist. Building on these use cases, DIAL now has an existing public beta of a digital public goods registry that makes it easy to find and choose from existing technology platforms that are deployed across developing countries. Supporting many of these existing platforms, DIAL’s Open Source Center in partnership with PATH’s Digital Square project directly provide business, community and technical support to more than 40 leading open source digital products and services reaching low-resource communities in more than 50 countries. DIAL’s Open Source Center will spin out as an independent entity to house and support digital public goods for use by countries and civil society, to launch in 2022.   As the Panel and its stakeholders have highlighted, there is a need for better evidence of the link between a digital public goods approach, and efficiency and effectiveness. DIAL plans to work with partners to convene a dialogue to build good practice guidance on metrics to prove digital inclusiveness, efficiency, and effectiveness for achieving the SDGs.  
Building institutional and human capacity

Stewarding the Principles for Digital Development and developing digital public goods training materials: In 2016, DIAL assumed stewardship of the Principles for Digital Development. These nine living guidelines codify good practice in designing, building, using and mining data from digital public goods. Developed by the community for the digital ecosystem, 180 organizations and countries are currently committed to adhering to the Principles in their digital development efforts. Under DIAL’s stewardship, the donors (e.g., the Gates Foundation, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) supporting digital development have endorsed the Principles and some (e.g., DFID, USAID) are incorporating them explicitly into their procurement practices. DIAL has concentrated its investment by developing common training materials and tools for donors, countries, and implementing partners to use as they apply the Digital Principles in their programs and projects. These materials can be leveraged by governments, civil society and the private sector to help develop broad-based institutional and human capacity and deliver training.  
Protecting human rights, human agency and privacy in a digital age

Supporting a new focus on data empowerment of the individual and developing routine and responsible data practices: The global community grapples daily with balancing the promise of using big data to address the most pressing SDG questions with the potential harms that may arise from the misuse of big data. The use of digital data sources, while now a routine, commercially profitable business in the developed world, is still a novelty in the developing world. Additionally, there are few truly scalable technology solutions on the market. Bringing together a few visionary governments, global systems integrators, mobile network operators and global partners (e.g., GSMA, UN Global Pulse), the community is close to developing a routine set of algorithms, pricing models, best practices and routine data sharing agreements that can be widely used. At the heart of this effort is a new vision for digital data empowerment. This vision considers it imperative that technology stacks allow informed consent and choice for data use at the heart of their development informed by inspiring models being pioneered in the India stack. Our replicable, responsible data use models actually support data minimization through effective analytics of interoperable datasets. Working with colleagues at Future State, DIAL will advocate for country to country peer learning models to develop new digital empowerment models.
  Evidence and digital cooperation

DIAL will follow up its 2018 global baseline study of the Digital Development Ecosystem with a repeat study in 2020. We will support coordinated ecosystem assessments and the development of a global evidence base for digital practice in low-income countries. We continue to support digital cooperation through mechanisms such as the ‘Digital Donors Anonymous’ network – a peer-learning network for donors investing in digital, facilitated by DIAL. Alongside the 25 organizations in Digital Donors Anonymous, we will compile and share a taxonomy of related initiatives. Additionally, DIAL’s SDG Digital Investment Framework and Digital Product Registry will be valuable resources to highlight gaps in technology needs.  
How to engage the DIAL team?

Contacts: Laura Walker McDonald, Senior Director for Insights & Impact; Breese McIlvaine, Senior Manager, Partnerships Follow our work: @dial_community Find resources, learn more and sign up for our newsletter:dial.global

[1] We define Digital Public Goods broadly, to include protects, including open source, and private sector tools; the policy and regulation that helps or hinders them; the pricing and investment structures that create and maintain them; and the talent and capacity behind them – the people.

[2] http://registry.dial.community/

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