The interrelatedness of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offers a unique opportunity to develop common digital approaches and integration within and across institutions, creating an environment primed for a systems-level implementation approach. The analysis in the study “Digital governance for Recover Forward” focuses on information and communications technology (ICT) building blocks such as blockchain, database structures and information architectures, e-commerce platforms, messaging services, geographic information service (GIS), and digital identity management, among others. The aim of the study is to offer both partner countries and development practitioners an overview of digital governance approaches to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and fostering Recover Forward. To this end, a careful assessment of the opportunities, risks, challenges, and potential trade-offs of accelerating SDGs and Recover Forward through digital governance approaches is developed. Building on this typology, the study presents good practices that emerge from past and present projects.
SDG implementation is a shared responsibility that requires an integrated approach. At the same time, the existence of several sustainability and digital policies, the multiplication of strategies and fragmented information and communications technology (ICT) responsibilities blur institutional governance and hamper the whole-of-government approach. In order to overcome these obstacles and to facilitate digital transformation to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Recover Forward, a coherent whole-of-government approach is required.
Policymakers and development practitioners should support partner countries in developing clear national policy frameworks, with a single vision driving and leading the digital transformation of the public sector. Moreover, the development cooperation should offer technical assistance to partner countries in creating coordination processes or multi-sectoral mechanisms to improve cooperation on digital transformation that promotes the acceleration of the SDGs. Development cooperation can also indirectly support the coordination processes in partner countries by supporting the development and in-country uptake of digital platforms that foster multi-stakeholder dialogue, and by supporting participatory digital governance initiatives.
For effective localisation of the 2030 Agenda, development practitioners need to focus on building the institutional and technical capacity of sub-national stakeholders, including local governments, intermediaries, and domestic digital service providers. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is felt primarily at the local level. Localising the 2030 Agenda using a digital governance approach provides the framework for recovering forward. Design and implementation teams should be embedded within the community or have frequent contact with the communities. Otherwise, there is a risk of delinking the digital solution from the goal– such as SDG implementation and recovering forward. Teams embedded in the local context are more likely to make digital governance initiatives successful and to have a deeper understanding of user needs, behaviours, and constraints.
Development cooperation could support digital governance projects aimed at co-creating value through digital collaboration between local governments and citizens, using crowdsourcing, hackathons, and innovation competitions, whilst ensuring that technical engagement remains inclusive. To support maintenance and repair as well as incremental upgrades in the components, features, and applications, the development cooperation should prioritise digital governance projects that are implemented in partnership with local tech providers.
Even five years into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, only 44% of SDG indicators have sufficient data for proper global and regional monitoring. Data collection for an evidence-based design of SDG interventions can be improved by supporting new digital collection methods, such as open data, citizen-generated data and big data. These methods can also be combined with other innovative digital data collection methods such as open earth observation data and satellite imagery. Digital governance projects relying on crowdsourced data, big data or open data must account for underlying social structures and power relations, which affect whose realities and interests the data reflects. This helps ensure that digital data-informed decisions do not end up exacerbating social or economic divides.
According to the Digital Human Rights principles of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the Principles for Digital Development, the German development cooperation and its partners need to account for the underlying power relations during data collection, analysis, interpretation, and use. However, open data relevant to social change and sustainability often go unused due to local capacity gaps. Partner institutions often do not have the know-how and skills to interpret the data and process them such that they can underpin evidence-based policy making.
Donors should improve their digital governance initiatives’ chances of aligning with the Leave No One Behind (LNOB) principle by putting user realities, operating contexts, needs, constraints and behaviour at the centre instead of starting from a technological solution. The international community should support the development of digital governance projects that provide a package of offline "models of use" parallel to "online models of use" for population segments that are unable to connect or are less digitally connected. The implementation of such projects needs to be accompanied by demand-generating interventions such as advertising campaigns, online and offline outreach activities, and must occur in partnership with local communities and intermediaries that can leverage social networks to speed up uptake and scaling.
It is essential to actively embed political economy analysis in the design and implementation process of digital governance solutions. Only by doing so programme designers, project implementers and digital governance solution designers make informed decisions that allow for sustainable results and effective scaling up.
In some instances, the success of digital governance projects may hinge on the participation or blessing of powerful gatekeepers in the form of political actors or community leaders. Donors have a role to play in introducing programme teams to local partners, while implementation partners may need to leverage pre-existing work and relationships to facilitate buy-in. Project time frames need to provide space for implementation teams to build necessary relationships. Development cooperation has a role to play in "sensitising" governments and stakeholders in partner countries to the complex power relations at play at the international level. In terms of data collection, monitoring, processing and misinformation are largely influenced by the different standards applied by different countries. For instance, the US and China have different views on data protection and data privacy than the EU with its General Data Protection Regulation. Partner countries of the German development cooperation may struggle to find experienced regulators who can shape incentives, understand the implications for sustainable development and enforce the rules. Using existing programmes such as the 2030 Implementation Initiative, German development cooperation can support partner countries’ efforts in building regulatory capacities for effective data governance.
The aid sector has long recognised the need for more adaptive approaches to tackle complex development problems, but has been slow to implement adaptive management approaches and create enabling environments for such approaches. "Agile software development" principles involve iteratively improving products through short cycles of implementation, user feedback, and adaptation strongly aligned with adaptive management. However, the linear logic embedded in most development donor funding mechanisms and development project management approaches can hinder agile software development, since their built-in rigidity limits the freedom to act on user feedback. For effective scaling beyond the pilot stage, digital governance projects need to be designed in a way that provides space to navigate political economy dynamics and contextual peculiarities and that can adapt iteratively based on ongoing learnings. This would be in alignment with the “transformative project design” guidance principles of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, informed by findings from complexity science and adaptive management.