The Digital Public Finance Hub: Reflecting on our work with ODI

Since 2022, Public Digital has been working with the London-based think tank ODI to set up a new cadence of research and learning around ‘digital public finance’. You can think about digital public finance as the specific digital technologies, processes, and business models which help governments manage public money.

As we blogged about last year, these activities led to our Budgets and Bytes event, a conference in March which celebrated perspectives from people working on digital transformation and public financial management (PFM).

The event celebrated our publishing of two papers – ‘Digital public financial management: An emerging paradigm’ and ‘Making public finance digital: Challenges to the emerging digital public financial management paradigm’ – and served as the launch of the Digital Public Finance Hub, a learning initiative that Public Digital and ODI have been collaborating on in order to aggregate new learning around the emerging paradigm of digital public financial management.

Anir Chowdhury – a digital leader from a2i Bangladesh – presenting their work on digital public finance at our Budgets and Bytes conference with ODI in March 2023.

Building a global PFM community

Together with the papers, the launch of the Hub was our first attempt at helping the global community come together and understand the core features of an emerging paradigm shift in how public finances are managed in the digital era.

Looking back almost one year on from the launch of the Digital Public Finance Hub, we feel proud of the work we’ve done with ODI to advance new learning in this space, and to begin creating a community of people who are both thinking and acting at the intersection of digital government and PFM.

We’re delivering policy-advocacy and supporting practitioners in a space which lacks regular learning or a community to hold on to. We occupy a true unfulfilled need, which has been confirmed by the community we’re building, whether it’s through events we’ve hosted, presentations we’ve given, or our presence on platforms like LinkedIn. While there’s sometimes been a learning curve for Public Digital to acclimate to the public finance community and for ODI to acclimate to the digital world, our joint partnership has enabled us both to grow in unexpected ways.

Public Digital’s Nick Gates and ODI’s Cathal Long (left) gave a presentation to an Master’s class in Cambridge – amongst many other events attended last year

Here are some stats on our work this year:

  • Gave 12 presentations and organised six events

  • Engaged 50+ countries this year via Hub events and presentations

  • Published 13 blog posts and 2 research papers that received over 5,500 page views

  • Attended 12 different conferences and events to disseminate ideas around digital and public finance

  • Engaged 600+ unique individuals across all Hub-events, and many more through presentations and advocacy

Starting to deliver impact

The Hub is more than just these stats, though; we’ve started to see an impact on how countries are using that thinking as well. We hope to expand on our joint country engagements in the year to come, even as we double down on our policy and advocacy. Already through our joint partnership, we have reached many practitioners working in governments, some of whom have shared early examples of impact.

We are thinking in particular of a2i Bangladesh, who have been engaging with the eGov Foundation following our conference about deploying DIGIT and iFIX in Bangladesh. Or of the Rwanda Revenue Authority, where we convened workshops to help them map and understand their data governance priorities. Or of the team in South Africa’s Western Cape Treasury, which has used some of our thinking as they approach the migration of their legacy financial management systems.

The Public Digital team – Samira Matan and James Stewart (left) – in Kigali last month, leading workshops on data governance in the Rwanda Revenue Authority

The more open-ended nature of our work with ODI over the last year has represented an exciting departure from our regular engagements at Public Digital. It enabled us to experiment and explore in order to see what sticks. For example, we tried developing a monthly round-up blog series and a new BudgetByte webinar series. We also started to learn from what ODI has been doing in this space for years, helping to document case studies from their own country programmes and working with them to elaborate what joint country opportunities might look like.

Looking forward to what comes next

While the umbrella of digital public finance encompasses numerous areas, we feel that the Hub will provide a strong foundation to share other lessons in digital public finance from Public Digital is doing.

For example, over the last year our team has worked on digital public finance with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), both of which we’ve started to share lessons from. This year, we’ll also be exploring ways to share lessons learned from our ongoing engagements with the Ethiopian Ministry of Revenue, IMF, and eGov Foundation through the Digital Public Finance Hub as well.

Public Digital team members James Stewart, Samira Matan and Kit Weaver with team members from the eGov Foundation in Bangalore, working on product strategy for iFIX.

As we start thinking about where the Hub goes next and how we can broaden its base of support, we feel confident we’ve delivered a strong foundation for extending its lifespan, which we can carry forward for the benefit of the global community. A big thanks in particular to Nick Gates, who joined PD last year to help set this initiative up and lead it forward. While Nick will be moving on to a new role in February (we are very excited for him!), our work with ODI and on digital public finance will continue in 2024 – and hopefully well beyond that – using some of the foundations he helped lay.

If you’re interested in working with us on these issues or simply just want to learn more about our work in this space, please get in touch with James Stewart at [email protected]. We hope to hear from you!

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