Principles for Digital Development and What They Meanby@soldevelo-foundation
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Principles for Digital Development and What They Mean

by Zuzanna PerkowskaAugust 18th, 2019
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More than 500 experts from 100 institutions have created the Principles for Digital Development. They are showing, in what way the digital solution should be created on each stage of the development. Digital revolution touches education, health, agriculture, finances or humanitarian help. To use it fully for the betterment of the situation in the world, these technologies must be used efficiently and intelligently. Principles for digital development are here to help make software project be used better, widen its influence and lower its costs. They have been designed by an enormous community, who wants to constantly share their experiences and thoughts.

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(Technology for the developing countries)

Since the digital revolution started in the world, social impact organizations started to look for ways in which they can use digital tools for their work. First projects were pretty successful. New technologies in a large way helped in the development of such sectors like agriculture or health-care. Societies of developing countries have gained many tools, that enables them the betterment of their lives. Sharing knowledge and communication itself have become easier than ever before.

But many of the digital development projects have ended on failure. Just the fact of using the newest technologies isn’t enough for a specific project to become a success. Reality is much more complicated than that. Very often reasons for this failings were not only predictable but also preventable.

After the years of experiences and discussions, more than 500 experts from 100 different institutions have created the Principles for Digital Development.

9 rules of technological revolution:

Principles for Digital Development are 9 guidelines, which has been created to help in applying best practices and habits in creating software. Especially those ones, created with developing countries in mind. By the design, they are alive. Updated and improved with time, so they can be always up-to-date with the newest solutions and research.

They are showing, in what way the digital solution should be created on each stage of the development. From the plan, through the design, up to deployment, implementation and finally the monitoring and evaluation. They have been designed by an enormous community, who wants to constantly share their experiences and thoughts.

New technologies, like smartphones or drones, are becoming more and more important to our everyday lives. This goes also for citizens of developing countries. Digital revolution touches education, health, agriculture, finances or humanitarian help. To use it fully for the betterment of the situation in the world, these technologies must be used efficiently and intelligently. Principles for Digital Development are here to help make software project be used better, widen its influence and lower its costs.

Here are 9 Principles of Digital Development

1. Design with the User

If a digital project wants to be successful, it needs to understand the needs of its user. His characteristics, needs and challenges, that he is facing. Designing around the user starts with discussions, observations and creating directly with him. Information gathered this way leads to creating such digital tools, that are going to answer his needs best. Thanks to creating “with him” and not only “for him”, but it is also possible to create digital projects that will relate to a specific context, culture, habits and expectations of people who will use it. Creating with a user mean cooperation with him on each stage of the project. Thanks to this, designers of the tool can get constant feedback and make the best project possible.

2. Understand the Existing Ecosystem

Properly designed initiatives and digital tools are taking into consideration specific structures and needs that are existing in each country, region and society. It is necessary to dedicate time and resources for analyzing the ecosystem or context in which project will be working in. Thanks to this, that technology will be sustainable for this environment. Also, it will not repeat the solutions for the needs, that are fulfilled by other projects. Ecosystems are created by the culture, gender norms, political environment, economy, technical infrastructure or other factors, that are affecting personal capabilities for getting access and using the technology or participating in the specific initiative. Projects that are not taking into account the challenges from the ecosystem have a lesser chance for achieving its goals or for scaling up. Ecosystems are fluid, have multiple factors and are constantly changing. That is why they required a constant analysis.

3. Design for scale

Achieving the appropriate scale of the project is the goal, that became very elusive for many digital development initiatives. For example, e-health solutions identified the problem named “pilotisis” – incapacity to go beyond the pilot stage of the project. Scaling can mean different things for different contexts but at the basic level, it needs from the project to be adopted by more people than just the group from the pilot. Usually, this is connected with securing additional funding for the initiative. It is also a good idea to find partners, who could adapt the project in a different region, country or social group.

Designing for scale means thinking beyond the pilot and making choices, that will allow for the project to be widely adopted in the future. The project has to choose what is going to be useful and available (this means also financially) by the whole country or region, then just a couple of communities chosen for the pilot. Some of the solutions will work only at the pilot stage. Others, that can be scaled up, probably will need more time and resources, but they will be more useful in the future. Thanks to designing for scale, initiatives can in easier way amplify their reach to new users, regions or countries.

4. Build for Sustainability

Building for sustainability for digital development is needed to acquire support not only from users but also from founders and investors. It also allows maximizing longterm impact. Sustaining project in the right way means that work of designers and users isn’t exposed to disruptions, such as losing an investor. Project build in a sustainable way has better chances to adapt itself to the habits and everyday practises of a user. For many digital development projects being part of a non-profit organization, private institution or local government is a final step, to bring long term positive impact. For others, success means creating such a business model, that guarantee such profits, that initiative can sustain itself.

5. Be Data Driven

Any amount of data does not lead to faster development if the information isn’t used to make decisions. When the initiative is driven by the data, valuable information is getting to the right people at the right time. Data has to be used to make specific decisions and not only to produce a report or write an article.

6. Use Open Standards, Open Data, Open Source, and Open Innovation

Far too many times a limited public and international resources are spent on the new code, digital tools, data collection, innovations specific for the one sector. Usually, they are locked behind different types of licenses and their data is only available and useful just for some, very specific initiatives. An open approach to digital development can lead to better cooperation between communities of many different digital initiatives. And also minimize the duplicating of the work between them. An open approach allows using the resources for the project most efficiently. Open data, open source and open innovations help avoid a lot of costs. Thanks to using the ready-made solutions, projects don’t have to create them from a scratch. Being “open” means different things for each project. Initiatives have to take into account the privacy and security issues, practical and technical limits or even dynamics between people in the organization.

7. Reuse and Improve

Instead of starting from the scratch, initiatives that “reuse and improve” are looking for the way, that they can adapt and expand existing products, solutions and ideas. Reuse means estimate, what resources are available and how the project can use them for its goals. Improve means modifying existing tools, products and resources to make them better and increase their quality, impact and scale. For initiatives, it is necessary to start from identifying connected methods, standards, applications, digital tools, which are already proven and tested. Good sources of information are conferences, blogs, reports from evaluation and work or just communities of each project. Existing tools or approaches won’t always fit in 100% with a needs for the new project. But they can be a good place to start. Instead of starting from nothing, it is usually better to build upon an old project and improve and customize it. Thanks to this approach, projects can build better tools, that can be also used by others.

The rule “reuse and improve” is not about designing new, shining products or limiting the technology to use inside only one project. One, the single initiative will be always weaker than cooperation between many. “Reuse and improve” can drastically lower the needed time and resources for creating a new project and testing it.

8. Address Privacy & Security

Every project has to assure safety and privacy. That is why digital development initiatives should think from what sources and how they are collecting data. And also how they are keeping the information, use it and share it. Organizations have to make an effort to minimize collecting confidential information and identities of their users. Every project should also protect itself from unauthorized access and manipulations from the outside. Projects should consider the sensitivities around the data they have collected and be transparent about how data will be collected and used. Also, it is a good practice to minimize the amount of personal identifiable and sensitive information that is collected. Every initiative should create and implement security policies that protect data and uphold individuals’ privacy and dignity. Creating an end-of-life policy for post-project data management is also a good practice.

9. Be Collaborative

Being collaborative means exchanging information, insights, strategy and resources by different projects, organizations, sectors and communities. The goal for these actions is to improve efficiency and increasing impacts of each cooperating project. This principle is connecting all of the other nine in practice. People working for digital development projects have a shared vision for building a better world. That is why cooperation is needed to make this a reality. No single project or initiative can do this alone. Digital development projects can have the most impact when they are working together across geographies, focus areas and organizations and in partnership with local communities and governments. By collaborating, those working in digital development and beyond can pool their resources and expertise not only to benefit each initiative but also to strengthen the global community. Collaborating does not just happen accidentally; it requires time, planning and dedicating resources to look for and develop opportunities.