New and Improved Tools and Methods for Measuring through the Digital Principles

Looking back to 2015, when the first Principles for Digital Development working group was established, it’s incredible to realize the ways the community has grown: launching with a humble 54 development and donor organizations from the Global North, we now welcome over 270 endorsers spanning an array of sectors. As of June 2021, the Digital Principles community is now comprised of government agencies, NGOs, private firms, and contractors covering all sectors of the development ecosystem and all regions of the globe, making for a diverse and vibrant community that come together with the aim of leveraging responsible technology for social impact.

Diverse endorsers means that the Digital Principles have been understood and practically integrated in diverse ways. This includes USAID incorporating the Digital Principles into their 2020 Digital Strategy, to Artificial Intelligence for Development Africa improving digital innovation processes at the design phase, to funders including the Digital Principles as a critical component of their procurement policies! Over the past few years, we’ve worked with endorsers to highlight examples like these through case studies and other resources in order to fill knowledge gaps around applying best practices at an organizational level.

However, quantitative examples can only go so far. Success stories and programmatic challenges certainly bring the Digital Principles to life, but digital and international development experts now seek new tools, methods, and information on how the Digital Principles are used and measured. The singular question “what does use of the Principles look like?” has expanded into: what does good and intentional use of the Principles look like? How is good use measured? And finally: does good use of the Principles result in greater social impact?

Since its launch, the Digital Principles endorsement and awareness campaign has been at the heart of the program, so we currently have little explicit data on these questions. But hearing the community’s interest in moving from awareness to adoption, our team has made a concerted effort to develop new and relevant tools and resources to support this need and ultimately ensure our priorities and investments align with the greater ecosystem.

To that end, our team is launching and distributing three new assessment resources that will fulfill different roles in Digital Principles-focused monitoring and evaluation.

Toward the end of Q3, you can first anticipate the Organizational Self-Assessment Survey that will be sent to all points of contact at every endorsing organization. Responses to this survey will provide a quick snapshot of how organizations use and implement the Digital Principles at an input and activity level.

The two main goals of the survey are to:

  • Collect specific data on how endorsers use and integrate the Digital Principles into their everyday operations.
  • How endorsers engage and collaborate with the Digital Principles team.

Once distributed to the Digital Principles community, we hope that this data will help fill gaps in our collective knowledge on how to apply the Digital Principles, encourage deeper engagement among endorsing organizations, and identify successful examples in the community. Most importantly, this information would allow us to identify and pursue the most accessible and efficient means of engagement for our network. The questions will also serve as a template of activities that organizations can implement to journey through the different stages of engaging with the Digital Principles.

Survey responses will slate endorsers to one of three tiers, based on the different activities that they engage in:

The assessment is intended to connect the community with one another and share examples of successful adoption and integration, rather than enforce restrictive standards on individual organizations. Thus, the final scores and tiers will not be publicly shared, barring Gold-level organizations.

While this self-assessment will be beneficial for understanding the integration and implementation of the Digital Principles across all endorsers, it is only a limited framework that individual organizations can use to assess themselves. To go beyond this, the two other upcoming monitoring and evaluation resources aim to improve internal assessment and evaluation according to the Digital Principles.

The Digital Principles Indicator Library (anticipated Q4 release) is a monitoring tool that will measure inputs, activities, and outputs at a more detailed level. The third resource – but certainly not the least – our Digital Principles-Focused Evaluation (anticipated Q4 release) is a formal guide to assist organizations in taking an ongoing and retrospective look at the outcomes and effects of adherence to the Digital Principles.

The Organizational Self-Assessment Survey, Indicator Library, and Digital-Principles-Focused Evaluation, along with other existing Digital Principles tools, will aid the digital development ecosystem in more effectively measuring and evaluating their work throughout the project lifecycle.

To paraphrase a common saying, “What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get managed”. We aim to ensure the Digital Principles community are supported in their journey of incorporating digital development best practices and ultimately, measuring how they contribute to their organizations’ overall impact and value.