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Putting digital principles into practice in our aid programmes

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Digital for Development, Other, Technology

At the recent DFID supplier conference, I announced that DFID now expects our partners and suppliers to adhere to the Principles for Digital Development. I want to explain why we are supporting these global principles and what benefits we expect them to bring.

The 9 digital principles are a set of guidelines that have been agreed as a result of consultation with donors and NGOs including USAID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, several UN agencies and the World Bank.  They are based on and closely match the UK government design principles.

The digital development sector is full of unintended replication, failed pilots and low levels of collaboration. This negatively impacts not only other poorly-planned initiatives, but it also complicates things for the better ones. This can be confusing for beneficiaries and governments who are expected to make sense of the hundreds of tools that end up on offer.

The Principles for Digital Development are:

  1. Design with the user
  2. Understand the existing ecosystem
  3. Design for scale
  4. Build for sustainability
  5. Be data driven
  6. Use open standards, open data, open source & open innovation
  7. Reuse & improve
  8. Address privacy & security
  9. Be collaborative

We’re seeing some great examples of innovative delivery using digital techniques. In education for example, we’re funding a smartphone-based monitoring tool in Bangladesh to investigate changes in the lives of beneficiaries. It involves taking a snapshot survey at household level every month, administered by NGO field staff. We can now be far more targeted in what we fund and support.

I have blogged previously about the importance of designing with the user. So here I want to focus on principle 7 – reuse and improve. This means looking to see examples of digital delivery that have been effective and replicating them, if appropriate. Using open source software to build web or data platforms and then sharing the code, for example, means these resources can be freely reused and improved by other organisations. Then DFID (and the UK taxpayer) get good value for money by only paying once for the design and build which others can then adapt for a different context.

So what are we doing to embed the digital principles? First of all, inside DFID we are learning lessons about which digital interventions work well, or not as well as expected, so we can adapt our programmes accordingly and get results faster. We’ll blog about this soon. Second, in any new procurement, we’ll require our partners and suppliers to set out how they will adhere to the relevant principles.

Each of the principles is explained in detail on the Principles for Digital Development website, illustrated by some useful case studies.

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