When digital technology became more accessible in the developing world more than a decade ago, international development organizations began seeking new ways to include digital tools in their programming for improved outcomes. These efforts were initially quite successful: significant advancements occurred in various sectors such as health and agriculture, more communities around the globe were able to be connected, and underserved populations were reached in a way that had not been possible before. However, some digitally-enabled programs failed—and often that failure was for reasons that were both predictable and preventable.
In the late 2000s, representatives from large donor and multilateral organizations began discussing the failures of their programs and the causes for them. They realized that each faced similar challenges in scaling digital development programs and determined that a set of lessons learned would be useful in guiding other practitioners to success by avoiding these common missteps. UNICEF led this endeavor in 2009 with the launch of their Innovation Principles. The following year, 40 mHealth implementers and donors met to discuss best practices in ICT tools for international development, resulting in the publication of the Greentree Principles. Though these two documents varied in their solution recommendations, they broadly captured the same ideas. In the years following, more guidance from other organizations and governments began circulating on how to ensure success in digital development.
Despite a growing number of available resources, implementers continued to struggle with long-term and widespread success in integrating digital tools into their programming. To address this continuing problem, a group of 14 international donors and multilateral organizations met in 2012 to discuss how to synthesize existing guidance, institutionalize lessons learned in the use of digital technologies for development, and create a common vision for digital development. Drawing on nearly a decade of experience for which methods worked and which failed in applying digital tools, this group formed a list of recommendations for success – The Principles for Digital Development.
The Principles for Digital Development Working Group launched in June 2014 and gathered insights and feedback from development implementers and donor representatives on using digital technology for their programs. The Working Group was intended to interpret and define the Principles by the group most likely to be impacted by them, and those who directly influenced the way digital development was implemented. Over the course of a year, the Working Group met nine times to discuss each Principle in-depth. These conversations led to a shared understanding of what the Principles mean in practice, and the result is what you find here today.
In 2016, the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) became the steward of the Principles for Digital Development. As steward, DIAL facilitates the increased adoption of the Principles into technology-supported programs. Since being named steward, DIAL conducted a series of interviews and user feedback workshops to determine what resources were needed most urgently by the digital development community. From these sessions, DIAL found that the greatest gap lied in resources for implementers in developing countries to make the Principles more practical, actionable and tangible. Specifically, we sought to address the following needs:
- Tools and resources that clearly explain how implementers could take lessons learned from others and apply it to their own programs and products to improve organizational practices and development outcomes
- Case studies that highlight successful implementation of the Principles into existing programs across sectors and geographies
- A dynamic Principles for Digital Development website that it is more interactive, with easier-to-find information
In response to these needs, DIAL has developed new tools, resources and guidance for each Principle, including actionable guidance on how to apply the Principles at each stage of the project lifecycle, and additional resources such as how-to guides and case studies focused on the application of the Principles.
The Principles for Digital Development are not meant to be stagnant, nor compulsory. They are a set of living guidance intended to help practitioners succeed in applying digital technologies to development programs. Over time, the Principles may change as they are updated and modified to fit specific contexts and environments.
The digital development community plays a key role in ensuring the Principles are still relevant and useful. They continue to be a community-driven global good, meant to advance the role of digital technology in development and to move the needle on ending global poverty. If you would like to learn more about what other practitioners are doing to implement the Principles, or join the discussion, please join our Google group.