[CROSS-POST] How Digital Standards are helping UNDP to build inclusive digital societies

The standards provide a common language and framework for UNDP offices to use when planning and implementing digital initiatives. Photo: UNDP Turkmenistan

This article was originally published on the UNDP website on March 28, 2023.

Our newly published Digital Standards provide practical guidance for UNDP teams on the imperative pre-requisites to consider when creating digital solutions for development.

Our standards – which are built upon the Principles for Digital Development – are relevant not only to UNDP personnel but for anyone seeking best practices for how to plan and implement effective and ethical digital initiatives.

#1 Start with the need  insists on the importance of talking to your users and involving the community to understand the problem before you build your solution 

#2 Bridge the Digital Divide talks about being aware of ​​existing digital divides and barriers, in order to build inclusive digital products or services 

#3 Test early and often advises teams to map assumptions and test ideas minimize risk of failure down the line

#4 (Perhaps) Don’t build it provides guiding questions and options to consider when scoping a new project idea, to avoid “re-inventing the wheel” 

#5 Do No Harm cautions of the unforeseen negative impacts that technology can have on people and planet 

#6 Form the right team outlines the required set of skills necessary to launch a digital project and how to find those skills 

#7 Measure what matters is a reminder to avoid vanity metrics and provides tips for measuring impact which can inform continuous improvement 

#8 Follow the UNDP Data principles  insists on the importance of managing data responsibly and effectively through the data lifecycle from collection to sharing 

#9 Default to Open shows how to build in the “open” to better collaborate and reduce silos  

#10 Plan for the long-term gives guidance on how to ensure user adoption, as well as how to plan for long-term cost maintenance of your digital projects. 

What is unique about the UNDP Digital Standards is their practicality. After a brief introduction and summary of why it matters, they provide a checklist that teams can easily follow to design and implement a project. Tools and canvases were also developed which teams can refer to. And for those who want to dig deeper, each Standard comes with a list of further resources. 

A common language and framework 

The standards provide a common language and framework for UNDP offices to use when planning and implementing digital initiatives. By setting clear expectations for how digital tools and processes should be designed and used, Digital Standards can help to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of our work.

By aligning our organization around common definitions of what ‘good’ looks like from a digital perspective, UNDP can help ensure that digital solutions are used effectively, efficiently, and ethically, to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Strengthening collaboration for the SDGs

Digital standards also help to create a sense of trust and strengthen collaboration between UNDP teams and external partners & stakeholders. By sharing best practices, case studies and lessons learned, we can help each other’s efforts to use digital technologies effectively and ethically.

UNDP believes that to create a more equitable and sustainable world, it is important to have a holistic, or ‘whole of society’ approach to development. This means working  across various sectors of society – government, business, civil society, academia and individuals – to achieve this goal. With increasing interest and demand for digital initiatives, UNDP needs to have a set of clear and consistent standards to guide planning and implementation which is understandable by everyone involved.

Building organization-wide capacity 

By setting minimum expectations for digital solutions developed by UNDP, the digital standards also serve as learning objectives for our global teams. They also help to promote transparency and accountability. 

The Digital Standards are outlined and unpacked further in our UNDP staff capacity building programmed called the Digital Fitness Programme. These two assets are building the foundations for UNDP to grow by learning, adopting and adapting to new technology and digital developments. The underlying objective is to ensure that the use of digital technologies is consistent with UNDP’s goals and values. 

Evolving to meet future needs

UNDP’s Digital Standards are expected to change over time. As new technologies emerge, they will be updated to reflect latest best practices, but the key principles underlying them – transparency, accountability, inclusiveness and integrity – will remain the same. 

We are also responsive to feedback on the Standards, as part of this openness to evolution. We are keen to engage in an open and constructive dialogue between our UNDP Country Offices and stakeholders about how digital technologies can be used most effectively and responsibly to achieve the SDGs. 

From advice on “testing early and often” to “measuring what matters”, the set of 10 digital standards can be explored here. Ideas or feedback? Care to share example and insights on how Digital Standards (or principles) have worked in you organization? Contact the UNDP Digital Office at: [email protected]