Principles for Digital Development

Understand the existing ecosystem

Trust starts with a thorough understanding of the dynamic cultural, social, and economic context in which you are operating.

Digital ecosystems are defined by the culture, gender and social norms, political environment, economy, technology infrastructure and other factors that can affect an individual’s ability to access and use a technology or to participate in an initiative.

Understanding the existing ecosystem can help determine if and how we should engage, as ecosystems can have both positive and negative dynamics.

Through this understanding, initiatives should adapt in order to support, to the extent appropriate, existing technology, and local actors who are already working to tackle key challenges. This includes understanding existing government policies, national visions, sector policies/priorities/strategies, and efforts to expand foundational digital public infrastructure.

This also includes understanding existing access to devices, connectivity, affordability, digital literacy, and capacity strengthening opportunities so that initiatives are designed to accommodate or strengthen these realities. 

When initiatives do not first understand the ecosystem they are operating in, it can hinder uptake, adoption, and trust. It can also lead to unintended consequences, such as exclusion, loss of trust, or reinforcement of harmful power dynamics, and putting the safety and security of stakeholders at risk.

Digital ecosystems are fluid, multifaceted and ever-changing, requiring that digital development practitioners regularly analyze the context to check their assumptions.