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Moving Past Pilots: Entering the Next Phase of Digital Development

3 mins read

Today, we mark the end of the 8th annual ICT4D conference which gathered over 700 implementers, donors, country representatives, the private sector and implementers for four days.  While the focus of the conference fostered a rich discussion on how ICT4D can enable us all to reach the Sustainable Development Goals more effectively, there was another underlying trend which we felt our community should reflect upon.

As recently as two years ago, a conference such as this one would have spent significant time discussing “pilotitis” whereas this one was solely focused on how data and technology can be optimized for our program delivery methods.  The question is no longer “should we use digital tools in development” but rather “how do roll out digital development tools more rapidly and cost effectively.”  While subtle, this marks a huge shift in our community focus and the beginning of making digital technology mainstream in all global development efforts.

As we reach this inflection point, our challenge becomes how do we do digital development “better, faster, and more cheaply” than before and institutionalize these tools as part of common practice. This will require, as this week highlighted, extending our focus well beyond the technology and focusing as well on the business model, program management, and human capacity needs that we must all invest in together to achieve the SDGs.  Now is an exciting time to make progress as the SDGs challenge us all to increase our programmatic effectiveness implementing digital tools, our collaborations developing them, and our partnerships promoting them to benefit millions of people around the world.

To better support efforts to reach the SDGs, the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) and NetHope announced a partnership on Tuesday to develop common, public goods that can guide the practical implementation of digital development tools grounded in the Principles for Digital Development, transforming what today are great heuristics into practical guidance that organizations can use internally to guide programmatic decision making. Working closely with the broad ICT4D community of implementers – nonprofits and the private sector,  DIAL and NetHope are seeking input from the community on what toolkits, training and education materials can be developed that will simplify the application of the Principles to international development projects and improve outcomes for millions around the world.

Keeping Principle One, “Design with the user in mind,” the team ran formal and informal sessions this week with implementers, countries, and the private sector to determine where there were existing materials that could be built upon and where there were significant gaps that still needed to be filled.  This initial outreach will be supplemented over the coming months with in-person and remote sessions, gaining input from those in the field on what practical guidance is required to execute more effectively, regardless of sector or country.  Then, working with the community and education specialists, we will convert these into an on-going set of materials that can be easily accessed to build a long term resource open to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Please join us in this effort!  We ask that organizations that have developed internal materials for the principles contribute these so that we can build upon existing best practices and we can feature and broadcast your expertise to the community.  Similarly, we call upon the community to contribute to the conversation through this brief survey:

For more information on the Digital Impact Alliance, visit or contact   For more information on NetHope, visit or contact