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Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL)

Advancing an inclusive digital society


February 02, 2018

Guest Blog: From Pen to Principle: The Evolution of the Digital Principles Community

By | Uncategorized

Over the past decade, the digital development field has rapidly matured as small-scale pilots have paved the way for coordinated and scaled systems. But success for digital tools and initiatives has not come by accident. Practitioners have dedicated the time to thorough context analysis and planning, and careful monitoring to ensure that they are deploying tools that are appropriate and adaptive. These best practices, and the real-world experience, of digital development practitioners is captured in the new Principles for Digital Development website.

Jacqueline Deelstra Communications Associate, Digital Health, PATH

The new website was launched in October 2017 with the goal of providing digital development professionals with resources and guidance to plan, design and deploy successful initiatives. The final content is the result of over a year of engagement with the global digital development community and a drafting process that was rooted in three digital principles: designing with the user, reusing existing resources and being collaborative.

While the drafting process was led by the Digital Health team at PATH, the content embodies a wide range of initiatives, resources and insights gathered from multiple sectors. DIAL and PATH engaged stakeholders in the Global North, including original “founding” organizations, and organizations in the Global South that engaged with the Digital Principles for the first time. This interaction with stakeholders included four separate workshops and over 50 interviews to understand what gaps existed in the previous Principles content and what was preventing organizations from endorsing. The most consistent feedback received was that the Digital Principles were great in theory, but as written were difficult to put into action and were so prescriptive at times that they came across as mandates rather than guidance.

Reflecting this feedback, we created:

  • Actionable implementation guidance for the nine Digital Principles divided into four overarching phases of a typical digital development project lifecycle: Planning and Analysis; Design and Development; Deployment and Implementation; and Monitoring and Evaluation, which was written as cross-cutting guidance
  • Five new how-to guides covering topics identified as common challenges faced by digital development practitioners
  • Six new case studies covering digital initiatives implemented by endorsers of the Digital Principles

To create content that addressed practitioner input and embodied the Digital Principles we led a process that included:

  • Developing User Personas: To identify the target audience for the Digital Principles website, PATH worked with to DIAL to create user personas, or realistic representations of the key audience segments. The target users were identified as field-based program managers and technical specialists, in addition to Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) advisors and program directors based at the global headquarters of international NGOs. The content is also designed to be used by ICT4D specialists and evangelists at donor organizations. We interviewed people representative of our user personas to deepen our understanding of what content would be useful for their day-to-day challenges and needs.
  • Gathering Existing Resources: The Digital Principles guidance and how-to guides draw heavily on existing reports, toolkits and blog posts that were identified by the team drafting the content and submitted by the community. We know there are resources that we have not yet referenced and that new relevant tools will be developed, so please submit additional resources through the Digital Principles Forum.
  • User Review: A peer review board and the general public reviewed drafts of the guidance for the nine Digital Principles and the five how-to guides. The content was available through Google Docs and reviewers were able to suggest content edits and additions, and other resources to include. Through this review process we received responses from approximately 50 digital practitioners representing a range of organizations, sectors and countries.
  • Creating Living Content: The current content represents more than five rounds of user feedback and review, but is in no way assumed to be final. Any feedback and resources received through the Digital Principles Forum will be considered for incorporation into the website. Endorsing organizations also are encouraged to use the case study template to draft their own case studies that showcase how their initiatives have incorporated the Digital Principles and the lessons that have been learned along the way. Case studies can be submitted to PrinciplesAdmin@digitalimpactalliance.org for inclusion on the website.

Organizations interested in joining the conversation around the Digital Principles will have the opportunity at upcoming events including a Practicing the Principles for Digital Development event in Indonesia in February, where DIAL will be showcasing the new content and seeking more engagement and feedback from the community.

Jacqui Deelstra has ten years of experience in project management and communications. Her work has focused on youth, education and health, and the impact of information and communication technology in these sectors. She joined PATH in 2017 as a Communications Associate on the Digital Health team. Previously, she was a Technology for Development Associate at Creative Associates International. She holds a master’s degree in International Affairs from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

January 26, 2018

Program Strategy: How to Pivot Your Digital Development Project to Scale and Sustain Beyond the “Valley of Death”

By | Uncategorized

In December 2017, DIAL released Beyond Scale – an interactive eBook that details key questions and challenges that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social enterprises face when scaling and sustaining digital development programs, especially when they approach their four to five-year mark, which some describe as the “valley of death”. The book has seven chapters, which contain key guidance, case studies, tools and templates to support implementers in assessing their digital development programs. To break down the 200+ page report, we will highlight one chapter in our blog every month to provide a little preview of what’s found in each chapter.


Beyond Scale’s Program Strategy chapter attempts to ease and guide practitioners by answering the question: “How might your program strategy around the “valley of death” need to change to enable financial sustainability, and how might this affect your organization?”

There are many reasons to necessitate a revised strategy at the four to five-year mark of your digital development project. This may include a transition of a digital program’s ownership, the end of its initial funding, or an expansion to new service offerings or geographies. Even changes in the regulatory environment, market demand or the competitive landscape may call for fresh approaches to a program’s strategy.

Recognizing a renewed strategy may be necessary as well to align internal and external stakeholders with a digital program’s new vision and direction, this chapter focuses on reviewing and refreshing the vision, goals and strategic plans of digital programs to more effectively address ecosystem change.  It also helps project managers changes in areas such as business models, human capacity and partnerships, within the digital program. Some of the key questions explored in this chapter, through which guidance is offered, include: what are the internal or external changes that will shape your digital program in its next phase and what do these changes mean for your ability to expand? How will the structure of your program and the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders need to change to reach your strategic goals? What impact will these changes have on your program, organization and partners? And what are the constraints and risks you may face as you move ahead, and what are the strategies for mitigating them?

As one example of the challenges that arise when reassessing an organization’s digital program strategy, Dr. Cathy Mawagi, CEO of mHealth Kenya, discusses the issues that arose when identifying risks preparing for change, as the organization transitioned from a donor-based to a commercial-based model.  Check out the video here.  Through this video, we learn about the approaches of Dr. Mawagi and other employees at mHealth Kenya to navigate the organization’s next steps for growth, as they changed the organizational structure and redefined roles for people and entire teams.

For CEOs like Dr. Mawagi, as well as program directors and leaders who are driving the strategic planning process and overseeing all aspects of a digital program’s operations, we learn that good strategic plans are flexible, living documents that teams work to continually update in order to reflect changes in the environment.

View the Program Strategy chapter here: DIAL_BeyondScale_Intro-Strategy

This is just a glimpse into Beyond Scale’s Program Strategy chapter.  In order to learn more about how other implementers of digital development programs may be refreshing their program strategy, as well as see more real-life examples from the field, check out the full-length eBook here.

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