Foreword

screen grab of the print version of the foreword for signals 3

Welcome to the 3rd edition of Signals

This issue focuses on digital transformation in international development. In these pages, you’ll find true stories about building digital services in, say, Bangladesh. You’ll find personal reflections from decades working in digital. You’ll find opinions on the priorities, practices and preoccupations of “digital development” actors – and, sometimes, on the need for these to change.

We value openness, and we’re always learning. This issue of Signals is compiled in this spirit, by a variety of our affiliates, our partners, and practitioners around the world whose work we admire. 

The opportunities and challenges of digital transformation in Rwanda, Peru, or India are in many ways similar to those in Australia, Denmark or Canada. These articles talk about the culture clash between how most big institutions work, and agile software development. They stress the need to focus on outcomes, and not to be thrown off by rankings, lazy equations or false certainty. 

But our contributors also argue that some considerations are especially urgent or important in developing country contexts: whether that’s doing user research or using data responsibly. They also pose questions that are becoming more pressing: on power, regulation and platforms; on digital identity for development; on making measurement and evaluation more relevant; and on open source and trust. 

International development at Public Digital

Here at Public Digital, we’re enjoying meeting and working with more governments and partner organisations in the Global South. During the second half of 2019, we visited Antananarivo, Kigali, Bogotá and Lima. 

We have 2 goals. First, to help governments design and deliver excellent public services, through building their own digital teams and improving digital and IT procurement. Second, to work with international development donors on their digital portfolios – to rethink both what they’re funding and how they’re funding it. 

For example, we’re working with the Government of Madagascar and the World Bank. The Malagasy Government has outlined a bold mission: to use digital to make public services faster, more efficient, and more accessible. We’ve been supporting the Government to develop a roadmap for building digital capability, and to set up a new central Public Service Transformation Unit and identify its first priorities. 

We’re inspired by conversations with forward-thinking donors who want to apply agile, iterative, user-centred ways of working to how they fund digital programmes and support grantees. As we’ve said before, changing how finance, procurement and governance work is essential for digital transformation. We think this is equally true of the international development sector. 

As in all our work, we are helping our clients to apply the culture, processes, business models and technologies of the internet era. Digital is not an end in itself; it is a means to improve service delivery, increase transparency, and ultimately to make life better for citizens. 

We hope you enjoy these pieces. We are very grateful to all our contributors for making the headspace and taking the time to write them. We intend to continue this conversation: so watch this space for another Signals (summer 2020, perhaps?) and keep an eye out for more posts at public.digital/blog.

Thanks for reading.


This is part of Signals, Winter 2019

NEXT: A responsible future for data, Francine Bennett