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New USAID Digital Ecosystem Framework for International Development

By Wayan Vota on September 29, 2021

usaid digital ecosystem framework

Digital technologies are becoming more accessible and have brought the promise of enormous benefits from digitalization. These tools and services can advance freedom and transparency, generate shared prosperity, strengthen inclusion, and inspire innovation.

They also present significant risks to privacy and security through surveillance, censorship, and other forms of digital repression. It is therefore important to understand the potential opportunities and risks associated with digital technologies within a digital ecosystem.

What is a Digital Ecosystem?

USAID’s Digital Strategy explains that a digital ecosystem comprises stakeholders, systems, and an enabling environment that, together, empower people and communities to use digital technology to access services, engage with each other, and pursue economic opportunities. Building on this concept, the Agency created a framework that refines the ecosystem into a practical structure for development practitioners.

USAID’s Digital Ecosystem framework is distinct from the concept of a digital economy – and the distinction is an important one that USAID has iterated and worked to define. It is an environment, system, and culture all at once; it is the starting point for any digital interaction, and understanding it is crucial for development practitioners.

The Digital Ecosystem Framework is organized around three separate, overlapping pillars:

  • Digital Infrastructure and Adoption: the resources that make digital systems possible and how individuals and organizations access and use these resources.
  • Digital Society, Rights, and Governance: how digital technology intersects with government, civil society, and the media.
  • Digital Economy: the role digital technology plays in increasing economic opportunity and efficiency

USAID’s Digital Ecosystem framework encompasses four cross-cutting topics:

  • Inclusion: reducing disparities in access and the “digital divide”
  • Cybersecurity: protecting information against damage, unauthorized use or modification, or exploitation.
  • Emerging Technologies: encompassing artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain, 5G and other new technologies.
  • Geopolitical Positioning: the influence of authoritarian states that are actively working to shape the global digital space.

Over the course of 20 months, USAID developed the digital ecosystem framework through consultations with technical experts at USAID, including:

  • the Center for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance (DRG);
  • the Center for Economics and Market Development (EMD); and
  • within the Innovation, Technology, and Research (ITR) Hub.

The concepts were also tested, iterated, and refined through four pilot Digital Ecosystem Country Assessments (DECAs) conducted in partnership with USAID Missions in Colombia, Kenya, Serbia, and Nepal.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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One Comment to “New USAID Digital Ecosystem Framework for International Development”

  1. Usaid digital Ecosystem programme is good