Advancing global digital cooperation: What opportunities are provided by the current focus on digital cooperation resulting from the UN Secretary-General's Roadmap for digital cooperation? What role should the IGF play (and how) in advancing global digital cooperation?
Birds of a Feather - Auditorium - 60 Min
Government institutions, by design, have a strong path dependency and limited flexibility to adjust their course to address today’s challenges and meet the expectations and needs of their citizens and the global community. This is especially true in the digital domain, where rapid technology evolution requires particularly agile decision making and implementation in order to ensure that digital solutions meet used needs and steps towards the use of digital tools risk being underestimated and misunderstood. For a long time, governments have failed to realize the transformative and collaborative potential of digitalization, and have mostly invested in vertical, monolithic digital solutions where each agency or department builds and maintains its own vertical solutions. This has resulted in a constant reinvention of the wheel and led to the creation of fragmented digital services and user experiences.
Transitioning to digital solutions is key to improving access to essential services for all citizens and to support business continuity. Especially following the unevenly distributed negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerating the ‘digitalization’ of services must be done in an inclusive manner in order to avoid increasing the ‘digital divide’ among the population, between those with differing access, comfort and abilities to adopt new technologies, and between countries and regions.
Especially in emerging economies and rural areas, weak technological infrastructure, high costs of technology, low levels of digital literacy and skills, weak regulatory frameworks and limited access to services mean that these areas run the risk of being left behind in the digitalization process. In order to proactively bridge this digital divide, it will be necessary to accelerate digitalization of high-priority services that are critical to recovery efforts, public service delivery and business continuity. Governments need to lay out their overall digital government transformation strategies, build digital platforms that scale and integrate services around the needs of citizens and businesses, while investing in capacity development at all levels.
Against this background, the GovStack Initiative, founded by Estonia, Germany, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), aims to build a common framework and technical practice for the design of reusable and interoperable digital components – referred to as “digital building blocks” – needed to digitally transform government. By investing in digital building blocks which are easier to design, implement, and scale across sectors, GovStack is set out to help governments simplify the cost, time, and resource requirements necessary to create or modify their digital platforms, services, and applications. GovStack will create a model digital government services platform, which will demonstrate elements of reuse across services and sectors (i.e., use cases).
The Initiative now joins forces with the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA) to advance global digital cooperation and support the discovery and implementation of digital public goods that can function as core components (digital building blocks) and enablers of sector services in a “whole of government digital architectural approach” or GovStack.
The UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation in its report from June 2019 recommended “that a broad, multi-stakeholder alliance, involving the UN, create a platform for sharing digital public goods, engaging talent and pooling data sets, in a manner that respects privacy, in areas related to attaining the SDGs”. Endorsed by the UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the DGPA defines digital public goods as: “open source software, open data, open AI models, open standards and open content that adhere to privacy and other applicable laws and best practices, do no harm, and help attain the SDGs.”
In 2020, the DPGA secretariat began convening Communities of Practices (CoPs) as an integral part of the Alliance’s work on identifying digital public goods of high-relevance for attaining the SDGs in low- and middle-income countries. Through these CoPs, the DPGA facilitates the discovery, development, use of, and investment in digital public goods to accelerate attainment of SDGs. In May 2021, all partners established a new GovStack CoP in order to support the discovery, identification and implementation of digital public goods that can function as modular components or layers in a “whole of government digital transformation approach”. The CoP will focus on identifying in-country examples of where multiple digital public goods are interoperating as “building blocks”, enabling governments to create and modify their own core digital platforms, services, systems and applications as part of their GovStack. Through the CoP the partners aim to leverage increase donor and resource alignment, coordination and mobilization, and enhanced country engagement.
Both initiatives further collaborate in terms of capacity co-development and support of DPG promotion in government service digitalization planning and strategy efforts of low- and middle-income countries interested in implementing DPGs.
Focus of Event and key questions:
This event will focus on how global digital cooperation and joint efforts to advance the development, management and implementation of digital public goods can create a more equitable world in order to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. Taking the community-based approaches of the “GovStack” and DPGA as examples, this session aims to highlight the opportunities of global digital cooperation by including a diverse range of stakeholders from international and regional organizations, governments, civil society, and the private sector.
The event will address how governments, the private sector, multilateral institutions and civil society can increase their capacity to plan, adapt, implement and contribute to technical developments and digital solutions, and thus accelerate the digital transformation of government services. In this context, the partners will present their collaboration and work in the GovStack initiative and DPGA CoP. They will share howtaking an architectural approach centered around open source, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and microservices can help unlock monolithic legacy systems where core data and services are siloed and promote how this will increase the speed of IT project delivery, leading to more effective, transparent and cost-efficient digital governments which are also more responsive to the needs of businesses and their citizens.
As practical examples, the session will highlight potentially exciting applications resulting from the partnership with the Horn of Africa Initiative (comprised of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan as partner countries), as well as country case examples highlighted through the DPGA GovStack Community of Practice, to illustrate how such a more holistic and comprehensive approach to integrate, adapt and reuse state-of-the-art open source technologies can enable and accellerate the implementation of digital government strategies both nationally and regionally.
The event session will take place in an online/virtual format. The proposed duration of the event is 60 minutes, out of which approx. 20-30 minutes are planned for presentations and 30-40 minutes are planned for questions from participants and interactive discussions. The event will aim at accommodating the participation of stakeholders present onsite in Katowice or participating online as much as possible. The onsite participants may choose to join the online/virtual event session from the assigned meeting room at the 16th IGF in Katowice or some other space they feel comfortable in, through the official IGF Online Participation Platform. As outlined by the IGF, the meeting room will contain the necessary technical equipment such as a screen on which the online/virtual event session will be projected and a microphone to enable onsite participants to contribute to the discussions via the online platform. A member of the IGF technical support team will provide information and support the participants onsite on how to contribute to the discussions and/or ask questions. To facilitate the online/virtual discussions and ensure participation of online and onsite participants, the event organizers plan to engage a team of moderators for the event, out of which one will be dedicated to moderate and monitor the chat. Moreover, depending on the technical possibilities of the IGF official Online Participation Platform, the event session may use complementary tools to further increase participation and interaction of participants, e.g. word clouds, polls, etc.
Government of Germany
Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
- Martina Metz, Head of Division, Division of Governance, Democracy and Rule of Law, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany
- Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the International Telecommunication Union, the Secretariat of ITU-D
- Nele Leosk, Ambassador at Large for Digital Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Estonia
- Lucy Harris (Co-Lead, Digital Public Goods Alliance, UNICEF) – Secretariat of the Digital Public Goods Alliance
- Dr. Thomas Zielke, Head of Division, Division of National and International Standardization Policy, Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy of Germany
- Abhishek Singh, President and CEO NeGD India
- Telli Koroma, Chief Technology Officer, Ministry of Information and Communication, Sierra Leone
Nanjira Sambuli, Tech Policy and Governance Analyst, board member at Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL)
Sherman Kong, Senior Advisor on GovTech at Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL)
Pia Seiffarth, Junior Advisor at GovStack, Global Programm Digital Transformation, Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
Targets: Countries seeking to achieve the SDGs in the next ten years are increasingly looking to national digital strategies and agendas to transform the way they do business and improve the lives of their citizens. Current challenges to (digital) government and the development of effective, accountable and transparent institutions (SDG 16) include lack of coordination, the habit of working in siloes, funding constraints, and the absence of scalable solutions.
Against this background, the GovStack Initiative, founded by Estonia, Germany, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), aims to build a common framework and technical practice for the design of reusable and interoperable digital components – referred to as “digital building blocks” – needed to digitally transform government. It will create a model digital government services platform, which will demonstrate elements of reuse across services and sectors (i.e., use cases). The work is essentially based on the “SDG Digital Investment Framework” developed by the ITU and DIAL in 2019 as a whole-of-government approach for digital investments. The design specifications and the resulting government platform model will be available as “digital public goods” for use by the global community, with a focus on procurement and implementation in a low-resource context.
The initiative therefore directly contributes to the global achievement of SDG 16. Moreover, it contributes to the achievement of SDGs 2, 3 and 4 by developing use cases across different sectors, e.g. in the area of maternal and child health (health), market linkage (agriculture), unconditional social cash transfer (social protection) and remote learning (education).
The Digital Public Goods Alliance encompasses the full SDG-agenda, i.e. all goals and targets, in what can be nominated, screened and subsequently as digital public goods.
Stakeholders engaged in the digitisation of government services (hereinafter referred as stakeholders) agree on the necessity of aligned cooperation and actions to achieve the digital transformation of governments: To further the digital transformation journey of governments, the initiatives like GovStack and DPGA are crucial.
Stakeholders agree on the following challenges in the area of digital transformation: a.) Siloed approaches; b.) Vertical efforts; c.) Lack of inclusiveness, d.) Need for citizen centricity.
Stakeholders shall commit to shift from agency centric strategies to a single digital strategy that takes a whole of government approach and commit to a citizen-centric service approach while digitally transforming their public infrastructure.
Stakeholders shall set clear principles of data collection, sharing and maintenance to ensure that the data is reliable and trustworthy and can be securely exchanged between public and private sector.
The session “The GovStack Initiative – Digital Government Cooperation” was hosted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).The session gathered speakers from BMZ, German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), Digital Public Goods Alliance) (DPGA), National eGovernance Division of India (NeGD) and Ministry of Information and Communication of Sierra Leone. The goal of the event was to present the GovStack Initiative as well as the work of the GovStack Community of Practice (CoP) with the DPGA and highlight the role of the initiative in advancing the global digital cooperation.
The moderator opened the discussion by stressing on the strong need for digital government services and digital public infrastructure to leverage the full potential of the digital transformation. The moderator further outlined that the global cooperation and partnerships play a crucial role in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and fostering digital transformation that serves people around the globe.
The session proceeded with the panel discussion that revolved around the following key issues:
- Changes needed to fully leverage the potential of digital transformation.
- The role of the GovStack Initiative in establishing global digital cooperation and supporting digital transformation of government services.
- Keys to successful global partnerships in the context of digital transformation.
- Ways to align different stakeholders’ needs into shared priorities to accelerate progress towards Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI).
- The role of GovStack CoP in advancing digital cooperation and contributing to the Digital Public Goods (DPGs) ecosystem.
The speakers provided inputs sharing their vision on the issues presented above. The key elements raised were the following:
- Strong global partnerships are crucial for digital transformation of governments and achieving SDGs.
- Digital transformation needs cross border and cross sectoral aligned cooperation.
- The whole of government approach is necessary for accelerating the digital transformation and avoiding the duplication of efforts.
- Digital transformation must be inclusive, citizen centric and sustainable.
- Digital infrastructure must be accessible for all.
- The GovStack Initiative can help overcome siloed digital transformation approaches.
- The GovStack Initiative supports harmonization of activities around the implementation of DPGs.
The panel also became a platform for sharing experiences and user perspectives on digital government cooperation and the implementation of digital government strategies and services. As such, representative of Estonia, Ms. Nele Leosk, highlighted that core principles of GovStack, namely, “share and reuse”, had helped Estonia to become a global leader in digital transformation of government services. Ms. Leosk also underlined that Estonia needs GovStack to continue its own digitalization journey. Representative of India, Mr. Abhishek Singh, also shared the lessons learned by India. Mr. Singh emphasized on the importance of keeping citizens in focus when designing digital services and relying on their needs and feedback. He stressed on the necessity to develop citizen centric and inclusive digital services that align with the whole of government approach. The audience also had a chance to know more about the digital transformation journey of Sierra Leone. Mr. Telli Koroma, CTO at the Ministry of Information and Communication, noted that is crucial to create the sense of ownership of digital solutions that can be achieved by customizing the solutions to the local context and building local skills.
At the end of the discussion, the speakers deliberated on how the government structures could shift towards citizen-centric service approach. The panelists agreed on the following steps that could make such shift possible:
- Laying out single digital strategy instead of separate strategies for different government agencies.
- Focusing on the needs of citizens and coordinating efforts between government structures.
- Consulting with citizens when designing the respective policies and digital solutions.
- Designing software interventions with SDGs in mind.