USAID Digital Investment Tool: A Participatory Approach to Incorporating the Principles for Digital Development in Your Activity

When we introduce U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) staff and partners to the Principles for Digital Development, the response is often: “These principles resonate, but how do you actually put them into practice?” Our new Digital Investment Tool was designed to answer this question by helping USAID staff concretely integrate the Digital Principles into activities that use digital technologies through a participatory process with relevant stakeholders.

The Digital Investment Tool supports robust development of digital systems that are effective and sustainable, and that support the self-reliance of local partners that own and operate these systems. We designed key features in this sector-agnostic resource, including:

  • Maturity spectrum approach to acknowledge the complex and evolving nature of digital development
  • Secondary analysis questions to guide further development of prioritized “best practice elements”
  • Prioritized selection to recognize that resource constraints and local context don’t always allow the optimization of every element, but instead require strategic choices
  • Facilitation guide to support use of the tool, an in-depth resource that requires skilled facilitation and familiarity with the digital context
  • Emphasis on stakeholder process to underscore that this tool is meant to facilitate a conversation and establish common expectations, not to act as a rigid scorecard

To support the development of the tool, the Development Informatics team in USAID’s Center for Digital Development, part of the U.S. Global Development Lab, engaged with partners at LEARN. We were excited to leverage the LEARN team’s expertise in user-centered design as well as their experience co-developing the USAID Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) Maturity Tool, which was created with the CLA team in USAID’s Office of Learning, Evaluation and Research in the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning.

As content development began, we discovered that a similar tool, the Digital Health Investment Review Tool (DHIRT), was being developed by USAID Global Health’s Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP). In the spirit of “reusing and improving,” we coordinated efforts. USAID’s Global Health Bureau and the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) convened an extensive stakeholder engagement process to engage the Principles for Digital Development community in developing the core elements and maturity spectrum of digital systems planning. Building off of that work, the Digital Investment Tool contributes sector agnostic content, secondary analysis questions, and user-friendly product design and facilitation features.

Once the initial resource was drafted, we engaged with a number of USAID staff and partners for feedback and testing to refine the tool from a field perspective. Special thanks to Adele Waugaman, Bill Weiss, Gama Roberts, Karl Wurster, Katie Hauser, Mark Huisenga, Olu Olutola, Paul Nelson, USAID Liberia Programs Office, USAID Privacy Council, our partners at AGRA, IBM Research Africa, Kumwe Freight Ltd, and many others for their feedback and support.

The Digital Investment Tool was formally launched in October 2019. We hope to promote its use by USAID staff and partners over the next year and to seek feedback from additional users in the development community. Lessons learned from these early adopters will help us to further refine the tool. If you use the Digital Investment Tool, we would value hearing about your experience! Please contact

Vivan Lu Ranson

Development Informatics Lead at USAID

Vivian Ranson is the Development Informatics Lead at at USAID for the U.S. Global Development Lab.