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We Must Build a Better Future for Digital Development

By Guest Writer on February 29, 2016


My name is Adele Waugaman and over the past year I’ve served as rapporteur for a series of community discussions on the Principles for Digital Development. The Principles are now industry-accepted standards on what you need to think through in every stage of ICT4D projects.

Consider yourself on notice: If you don’t follow the Principles, you’re not doing digital development right.

Yet implementing the Principles is harder than it looks. The Principles were written using high-level language that is easy to understand at a conceptual level. When implementing the Principles, what looks straightforward conceptually quickly becomes more complex.

International development projects typically take place in challenging and non-linear environments that are characterized by a lack of supporting infrastructure, underlying civil or political tensions, and patchy regulatory environments. It is also true that technology, and the way it is used, is constantly and rapidly evolving.

But one of the largest barriers to implementation of the Principles is that the international development architecture as it currently structured isn’t entirely conducive to implementing the Principles.

Structural challenges to Principles implementation

  • Sector-specific silos, which fragment strategy, implementation, and learning.
  • Counter incentives to implementation, such as in competition among donors and implementers that reduces coordination.
  • Short funding timelines, which mean limited time to enable information gathering and sharing, or the patience to see long-term results.
  • Challenges to adaptive programming, making it difficult for implementing organizations to use real-time data for evidence-driven course corrections.
  • Biases toward international partners that may not have the mandate to invest in local capacity building.

What can you do now?
If you do just one thing, download and read the From Principle to Practice report.

Based on insights from the year of community discussion, the report breaks down each Principle individually to explain what it is, to capture common barriers to implementation, and to provide tips on how to overcome these barriers. It then looks at the Principles as a whole to assess what makes it difficult to move from Principle to practice.

The From Principle to Practice report closes with tailored recommendations for international development sector reform, including:

  • Have an institutional vision and strategy supporting the integration of digital development best practice.
  • Ensure strategy implementation is adequately supported by staff and financial resource, as well as by enabling policies and processes.
  • Commit to integrating best practice throughout business processes.

What we need to do long-term

We need greater awareness of the Principles; greater information-sharing about common barriers and ways to overcome them; and greater institutional commitment at the executive level of all organizations in the international development system, from donors, to implementers and contractors alike, on moving from Principle to practice.

More than anything, we need significant reform in the international development sector. This reform is needed not only enable organizations to walk the talk from the perspective of enabling policies, processes, time, and skills, but, critically, to create the political will and incentives necessary to do so.

The Principles report has collected a year of thinking about diverse challenges to digital development. Now it’s time to move from conversation to action. The recommendations in this report provide a blueprint for how the sector can roll up its sleeves to begin to make these needed changes.

Follow Adele on Twitter at @Tech4Dev.

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