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Where is DFID in Digital Development?

By Wayan Vota on September 5, 2016


Recently, DFID commissioned a review of how digital tools are being used in its programmes to benchmark DFID’s current activities and support the development of an overarching vision that could inform a future focus of its digital development efforts.

The review found a general consensus across staff and external partners that digital development presents huge opportunities for helping poor people better benefit from development interventions. However, most agreed there are also significant barriers to success and issues that need to be addressed.

Three overarching issues included:

1. Access to mobile/internet

One of the biggest barriers to success across all areas is the challenge faced by the poorest and most marginalized having access to quality and affordable Internet connection.

Access is not just about infrastructure (electricity, mobile network, internet connectivity), and affordability. It is also about digital literacy and ensuring that digital communication channels, content and delivery are relevant and understandable to the less connected, less literate users.

There are issues too which only governments can solve, around regulation, intellectual property rights, standards and international co-operation, and donors can play a significant role in bridging the gap between governments and private sector.

2. Co-ordination

While there is significant investment in digital development interventions, knowledge is not being systematically shared. This is true both across sectors and between donors and partners, despite there being an appetite to do so.

Besides the waste from redundant pilotitis, a lack of co-ordination between donors in overcrowded sectors like mHealth could be holding back sustainability and scale up.

3. Capability

The varying levels of knowledge and experience particularly amongst DFID staff, but also delivery partners, governments and regulators in exploiting the benefits offered by digital is another key barrier to success. Issues include fear of risk, entrenched attitudes and behaviours, and misinformation.

A new vision

The report does offer an interesting vision of digital development at DFID that is worth repeating in full below. As you read it, wonder if USAID has a similar digital development vision:

We have a vision of the future where we as an organisation will be well equipped to use digital technologies in our work with poor people and our digital culture is user-centred, innovative and responsive. Where we can negotiate for and promote improved conditions that will support the access to and diffusion of digital technologies worldwide and where the ecosystem will be supported and co-ordinated to enable scale up and replication of successful interventions.

We want to ensure the poorest and most marginalised people in developing countries benefit from the added value digital can bring to our aid and development work. We intend to take advantage of the power of digital to have a bigger, faster and cheaper impact on the lives of poor people – bringing solutions to scale so development products and services reach the poorest.


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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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2 Comments to “Where is DFID in Digital Development?”

  1. Amit Tandon says:

    I think it is very critical to see what is the intent behind all these interventions… See , technology is just a contemporary tool towards development and we have series of these kind of tools in the past it could be industrialisation , IT boom , Internet age today ICT. However if we can see ground realties hasnt been changed in proportion to the investment made in these new tools. So I believe there should be concious effort to look into the intent and vested interests in development f new tools 🙂

  2. Wayan – thanks for highlighting DFID’s priorities for digital in our development programmes.
    Since we carried out that review last year, we’ve continued our work on designing and writing our new digital strategy from 2016-20.
    We hope to publish it in October and will put a link to it here as we’d very much like to hear the views of this community.
    The focus will be on re-using and growing proven effective models to scale, in order to reach the most marginalised people.
    Also on consolidating learning within sectors to identify and embed best practice.
    To achieve that, we’ll continue to develop digital and ICT capability in our staff.
    And of course to continue supporting and promoting the Digital Principles with our partners.