USAID Digital Investment Tool: An Approach to Incorporating Digital Development Best Practices in Your Activity


Many USAID activities implement digital systems* to make development more adaptive, efficient, and responsive to citizens and decision-makers. Using digital systems can help USAID improve the effectiveness and efficiency of activities and support partner countries on their journey to self-reliance through increased information sharing and improved government and civil society capacity. Over time, USAID has learned that these investments often face predictable challenges that can be addressed at the design phase. The Digital Investment Tool is designed for mission staff to ensure that USAID and its implementing partners consider best practices, based on the Principles for Digital Development, when developing digital systems.

This tool is intended to support work planning, either on a stand-alone activity such as an e-government activity, or on a component of an activity such as a market information system within an agricultural development activity.

There are 13 best practice topics, “elements”, to select from. Each element contains a scale from Nascent to Optimized. Participants mark where they are and discuss where they would like to be. By providing five stages, we acknowledge that USAID and its partners must often make strategic choices about where to invest their time and resources—it isn’t all or nothing.

The Elements of Digital System Planning:

  1. Development Challenge
  2. Local Ownership
  3. Policy Landscape
  4. Digital Ecosystem
  5. Stakeholder Engagement
  6. System Users
  7. Total Cost of Ownership
  8. Scale
  9. Data & Feedback
  10. Open vs. Proprietary
  11. Privacy & Security
  12. Reuse & Improvement
  13. Change Management

The tool is intended to support a participatory process between USAID, its implementing partners, and stakeholders who are involved in designing, creating proposals for, evaluating, and making purchasing decisions on digital systems. Ideally, the facilitator will have some technical experience with digital technology. A facilitator’s guide is available at the end of the tool.


* A variety of terms may be used to describe digital investments, for example, digital technology, digital solutions, data systems, digital tools, etc. For the purposes of this document all of the aforementioned will be represented by the term digital systems.

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.