Making Better Use of Technology to Meet the SDGs

UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) and the ITU (the UN’s information and computing technology agency) have joined forces and launched a program of work aimed at using technology to help the world meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—a set of 17 goals and 169 targets for global development.

Given the breadth of the SDGs, there are pretty much unlimited opportunities to apply technology, but we (DIAL and the ITU) want to take a structured approach to identifying the priority opportunities—areas where technology can have the greatest impact.

Specifically, we are undertaking a research and analysis effort to:

  • Gather representative impact focused Use Cases across the SDGs and sectors
  • Identify technology-addressable needs across use cases
  • Extract common functional components and underlying foundational services that support the creation and implementation of technologies to support the use cases
  • Map components to existing appropriate technologies, highlighting gaps
  • Prioritize the resulting opportunities for further platform and product development to roll all the way up to meeting the needs across use cases and sectors

Which is a fancy way of saying that we want to pull together a researched, thoughtful framework and functional architecture that highlights the most valuable places to develop and deploy appropriate technology platforms to support the SDGs.

Of course we have no intention of doing this alone. The process will be open. We are eager to engage participants across sectors.

In that spirit, we kicked off work in Geneva on March 10 by inviting more than 40 representatives of tech companies, design firms, universities, UN agencies, foundations, and implementers that work across various sectors to collectively design the research and analysis process.

This creative and experienced group did a great job of tearing apart and rebuilding the plan, pushes us to act more iteratively and inclusively.

For me the most fun part of the two day workshop were the presentations by the tech and design firms who provided concrete examples of how they define requirements and build tech for customers in low and middle income countries.

The detailed explanation by Christian Merz of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation of how his team produced a similar analysis for the agriculture sector provided a solid base for a redesign process for the program overall and was a great reminder that we will be able to build off of and incorporate great work that has already been produced. This is the true joy of an open process!

Next up, we will review an initial set of use cases from a few sectors (health, agriculture, education) and produce a first analysis—posted publicly, for all to critique, improve. From there we will iterate several times, incorporating feedback on the analysis itself and additional use cases from new contributors and sectors. In each iteration the analysis—and resulting architecture of common components—will become more robust and comprehensive.

Jeff Wishnie is the senior director of platforms and services at the Digital Impact Alliance. In this position, Jeff works to increase the pace of innovation of digital platforms and services for the underserved. He brings 10 years of technology-for-development implementation experience and most recently was the senior director of program technology for Mercy Corps — an international humanitarian and development agency operating in 40+ countries.