On September 18, on the margins of the 2020 UN General Assembly, New America – a Washington, D.C.-based think tank – hosted an online event to launch a #DigitalDecade. The #DigitalDecade is a commitment to build open source technology solutions that will improve the function of government in countries worldwide.
The Digital Public Goods Alliance was thrilled to see energy and thoughtful discussion around the vital role digital public goods play in strengthening institutions as well as the importance of joint commitments and innovative partnerships in this field. These changes must leverage open source software, open standards, shared funding models, and new multilateral architecture to help governments deploy next-generation technologies to power their institutions.
All four DPG Alliance co-founders participated in the event, represented by Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway, Minister David Sengeh of Sierra Leone, Sunita Grote from UNICEF, and Tanuj Bhojwani from iSPIRT. Several other stakeholders who are working closely with the Alliance also participated. Collectively, they represent years of expertise in funding open source technologies for the public sector including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Omidyar Network.
A recording of the event is available here.
The event was very well-organized with highly relevant speakers and fresh insights on many topics related to the importance and promotion of digital public goods. We would like to highlight some of the remarks that we found particularly relevant for the Alliance’s work:
- New America called for using digital public goods to help build the next generation of digital government platforms and for more public sector technologies being released as open source. Representatives of platforms MOSIP and Mojaloop echoed this commitment to open source.
- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation observed that donors have a critical role to play in ensuring the deployment of DPGs protects human rights, and that now is the time to marshall our collective resources. The Rockefeller Foundation supported this, emphasizing how philanthropic capital can be particularly relevant for bridging gaps between public and private funding.
- Taiwanese Minister Audrey Tang recommended building the public’s trust by being fast, fair and fun and letting humour win over rumour.
- Stakeholders like the Omidyar Network who have already taken action as thought leaders and early investors in open source digital public infrastructure, highlighted the need for arriving at a shared understanding of what digital public infrastructure means.
- The Linux Foundation pointed out that the majority of code that the private sector and governments build on is open source, and that what is needed is for governments to understand what the right type of open source software is.
- Rohini Nilekani emphasized societal platform thinking, and the need to design technologies for the inclusion of all.
- Ried Hoffmann of LinkedIn made recommendations for how to collaborate better with the private sector, and in particular how governments can take the lead by pushing for more open source in public procurement.
- Finally, the importance of countries being in the driver’s seat to ensure technologies are locally relevant was highlighted by DPG Alliance co-founders Sierra Leone, iSPIRT and UNICEF. This was also reflected in the Open Government Partnership’s reference to co-creation as a method.
A key take-away is the timeliness and relevance of the DPG Alliance’s work over the last year to establish a minimum open standard for digital public goods. Through the formulation of a set of precise criteria – widely consulted on and already endorsed by expert stakeholders across sectors including research, advocacy and technology – this minimum standard will ensure a focus on key safeguards, better coordination and less fragmentation as more stakeholders are looking to source, invest in, and implement digital public goods. We encourage you to assess and endorse the standard, or provide any suggestions for improvements through this GitHub repository.
Second, is the value add that the DPG Alliance’s convening of communities of practice (CoPs) can bring. The CoP for financial inclusion stands out as particularly relevant following Friday’s discussion, as it seeks to identify digital public goods with the potential for implementation as part of a country’s digital public infrastructure (DPI). Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg highlighted the importance of systems for digital identity, civil registration and digital payments in her speech on Norway’s strong support for digital public goods as a co-founder of the DPG Alliance.
Next Steps: Digital Public Infrastructure
DPI are technologies that tend to be “horizontals” – they are the rails that other solutions run on top of – and their implementation enables many other solutions and business models to flourish. In its Financial Inclusion CoP, the Digital Public Goods Alliance is seeking to identify the relatively few technologies that both comply with DPG Standard 1.0 and have the characteristics of Digital Public Infrastructure. The resulting shortlisted technologies will thereafter be assessed in more depth on indicators related to their relevance and adoptability for governments in low- and middle-income countries.
We firmly agree with Anne-Marie Slaughter of New America’s final statement to round off the event; “The efficacy has little to do with what was said here today and more to do with how we act in the months and years to come”.
From the Digital Public Goods Alliance’s end we promise to do our part to facilitate the discovery, development, use of and investment in digital public goods by uniting stakeholders around comprehensive standards, engaging experts through communities of practices, and increasing government, developer and public access through a platform of vetted digital public goods.
Only by working together can we make this happen. The Digital Public Goods Alliance is, itself an open project, and we seek engagement and support from any governments, businesses, civil society, technology providers, donors, and experts wishing to help us achieve our aim.
Learn more about the Digital Public Goods Alliance on our website.