Donor Organizations & the Principles for Digital Development: A Landscape Assessment and Gap Analysis


Digital, agile and open approaches play a central role in international cooperation and development. Supported by the United Nations (UN) Foundation and a number of donors, the Digital Impact Alliance is stewarding the Principles for Digital Development (Digital Principles) to ensure that digital development approaches are as effective as possible. The intended outcome of this assessment is to better understand current capacity within donor organizations and provide recommendations on how their development impact can be improved through the more effective use of technology and digital methodologies. To do this, it provides an overview of the current landscape, identifies existing gaps, and surveys current practices in digital development that are already being implemented by donor organizations. It identifies donor processes, knowledge and expertise regarding the Digital Principles. In this, it highlights successes that have been achieved to-date by donor organizations and identifies the areas of knowledge and practice that still need to be addressed or can be improved upon. In addition to exploring ideas and views about the Digital Principles, the study also considers how they can be embedded and effectively operationalized. It points to further research and resources so that stakeholders can easily access relevant materials, as well as to continue to engage with the Digital Principles as new areas emerge. Finally, the study seeks to inform the development of future resources and tools that are useful, practical, user friendly and effective for donor organizations. Alongside this, there are four goals that guide the study:

Goal 1. Identify existing knowledge and practice of donors, as well as gaps, vis-à-vis achieving their goals in a digital world

Goal 2. Understand how the internal processes of donor organizations (e.g., procurement processes, internal training, evaluation practices) can be enhanced to improve desired outcomes in technology-based development programs

Goal 3. Identify how the Digital Impact Alliance can best support coordination between donors and implementers/grantees to promote the Principles for Digital Development

Goal 4. Understand how the Principles for Digital Development can be adapted and articulated to serve as a road map for achieving donors’ digital strategies

Context: Donor Policies and Strategic Plans
The starting point for this research is a review of the existing policies and strategic plans relevant to the Digital Principles. Across the sector, donor approaches can appear closely aligned with the Digital Principles, which validates the work that has been done to consolidate best practice and articulate it in a manner that reflects the broad agreement of key stakeholders in the sector. The recent “DFID Digital Strategy 2018 to 2020: Doing Development in a Digital World”4 explicitly references the Digital Principles, demonstrating the direct impact on their policy. However, there are inevitable challenges that surface from the different sources and sectors from which parallel guidelines emerge, such as the use of language. For example, legal frameworks around data
protection regulations naturally bring the language of the legal profession to bear on their articulation. Similarly, best practices in software development appropriately use technical jargon, which expresses similar values to the Digital Principles but in a different idiom.

Donor Policies: Sustainability
Sustainability is a recurring priority in donor guidance, reflecting the influence of the value-for-money agenda on governmental priorities as well as changing priorities in corporate social responsibility toward sustainable futures. The same is true for in the corporate sector. For example, technology designer Qualcomm underscores this in their ‘Sustainability Report’.5 From a government perspective, the increased focus on value-for-money metrics in the U.K. and Australia, for example, has led to an increased emphasis on demonstrating the sustainability of programs. In both the corporate and governmental use of ‘sustainability’, the term is shorthand for communicating the complexity of responsible, long-term and outcome focused use of resources aimed at maximizing impact. Because of this particular context of usage, the concept of sustainability is something of a ‘buzzword’ that reflects a specialized embedded meaning for donors and those to whom they are accountable—for businesses, their investors and for governments, and their taxpayers.

Open Government
An additional domestic driver of governmental donor policies relates to the increased demand for accountability from taxpayers that has led to open government initiatives, particularly around data. The development sector has benefited from the greater transparency of aid data. While open government initiatives by donor governments relate primarily to their internal operation, this includes spending by aid departments. Depending on how this funding is distributed, open data may or may not fully extend to their programming. Three of the foreign aid donors whose policies have the greatest impact on openness in digital development are the U.K., U.S., and French governments. While all are affected by the political environment within which policies are made and enforced, the U.K. and France (alongside other E.U. bilateral and multilateral donors) are governed by E.U. guidance as well. Other governments, including recipients of aid, have followed suit, including Kenya’s Open Government platform.6 Rwanda Online aims to provide various citizenship services online, including its Irembo platform. Ghana’s governmental ‘eServices portal’ likewise provides certain open resources. However, this is focused on streamlining basic bureaucratic activities for constituents, rather than providing access to data. In Tanzania, open data around education and social change has been a catalyst for reform and prompted greater citizen engagement and constituent accountability through the Education Open Data Dashboard and Shule.

Setting for Change
In this climate of apparent donor and government alignment with the Digital Principles, the role of the Digital Impact Alliance is crucial in bringing together key stakeholders and catalyzing change. In the midst of the wide ranging priorities of donors and implementers, and including the different voices within their organizations, from technical and legal to political and operational, the Digital Impact Alliance convenes a common ground for meaningful exchange. This consultation represents and synthesizes those voices and the dialogue they represent.

Claudine Lim

Manager at The Principles for Digital Development

Claudine first joined the Digital Impact Alliance in October 2017, shortly after receiving a dual masters in international relations and public relations from the Maxwell School and S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University. After working as a Program Coordinator and Researcher for DIAL’s Business Operations, she is currently working with the Principles of Digital Development.