How Digital Public Infrastructure Can Help Solve Global Challenges

  • Digital public infrastructure is key to addressing important global challenges such as climate change and the need for responsive and efficient public finance.
  • It is important to engage in infrastructure-driven thinking to catalyze the ecosystem to create solutions that empower people and protect our planet.
  • Here are six principles for implementing IPRs as a problem-solving approach in key sectors.

As world leaders gather for the 77th UN General Assembly digital momentwe began to address an important question – how can we accelerate the understanding and development of Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) to meet the major global challenges of climate change and effective management of public finances?

Digital solutions must be scalable and contextual

In the world nested challenges require people-wide coordination and cooperation – across borders, countries, cities and districts – while requiring agility.

On the one hand, digital solutions can be innovative and solve immediate problems. On the other hand, they risk remaining fragmented and non-scalable when they do not coordinate with other parts of the ecosystem in which they operate. Moreover, solutions at scale can risk being monoliths that become rigid top-down dictates that are neither scalable nor contextually adaptable.

An infrastructure-centric approach using IPRs holds the to promise for us to imagine an inclusive digital future that harnesses the power of society, government and business, while being innovative, contextually relevant and scalable to serve people and our planet.

IPRs in identification and payments have dramatically shortened the adoption and inclusion curve. For example, India achieved over 80% financial inclusion in 6 years – compared to the 46 years it would have taken without an IPR approach. India and a number of countries such as Ukraine and Estonia are investing in interoperable building blocks, often built in reusable ways digital public goods.

These are seen as the DPI that enables others in ecosystems to solve challenges and build digital solutions on a common shared infrastructure, giving us the best opportunity to build inclusive-by-design principles into how technologies are scaled to improve access, protect data and unlock the value of digital for people and our planet.

What is infrastructure-focused thinking?

At its core, DPIs allow exponential things to happen. In this talkDr. Pramod Varma, one of the main architects of a number of population-wide DPIs, identifies six “first principles” for using a DPI approach to problem solving that have been used when designing the digital infrastructure.

Image: Dr. Pramod Varma

1. Separate the fundamental elements: DPI is the underlying building block that enables inclusive and exponential ecosystem growth, it is what separates “applications” from “infrastructure”. We need to consider what are the minimum building blocks that can locally trigger non-linear innovation by the ecosystem to be solved.

2. Identify them and implement them in a series of 1+ steps: What is one thing you can start today that triggers the next thing faster. Start with the change that triggers exponential change.

3. Think about the ecosystem, it’s the key: DPI design can catalyze the ecosystem to innovate at scale and serve people – including women and those in the last mile. Digital public infrastructure is not about solving; it is a question of distributing the capacity to be solved.

4. Build only minimal interoperable building blocks: The Greek philosopher Archilocus said, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one great important thing.” Any DPI should be like a hedgehog, doing one thing very well. It is important to construct a building block that could be used in various contexts.

5. Design to unify, not to standardize everything: A small group of people cannot solve climate change for example. It needs to be solved across all layers of society and stakeholders and therefore an infrastructure to facilitate data exchanges, create an interoperable infrastructure to build innovation in addition to helping unify the ecosystem and be efficient.

6. Catalyze inclusion through design innovation: Inclusive infrastructure enables inclusive innovations where the challenges of interoperability, safeguards and privacy are built into the norms and standards by which innovation around or on top of the infrastructure conforms.

DPI enables the ecosystem to create solutions for everyone

These principles were discussed during the workshop co-organized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). A group of DPI experts along with climate and public finance experts came together to discuss how shared digital infrastructure in specific areas, such as climate change, could help accelerate the Paris on the climate. They also discussed how digital infrastructure could help global communities of governments manage public finances more effectively, recognizing the interface of public financial management with government disbursement systems to the people. (G2P). .

Drawing from this infrastructure-centric approach, the six “first principles” can help identify shared digital public infrastructure that can potentially serve as a new digital framework to shorten the time to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, IPRs can enable accurate, real-time measurement of unified metrics to enable a universal lingua franca, an “apples-to-apples” approach when managing carbon sequestration between nations and regions. We already see this exchange of information happening for tax data, with the use of DPIs such as I repare developed by the eGov Foundation.

In the same way that government education and health departments do not build roads just for their use, this workshop was a first step towards creating the concerted commitment and work needed to understand the digital infrastructure that many actors can share to design solutions to ensure a inclusive future for all.

Certainly, we understand that the analogy with roads can be a red herring insofar as one immediately thinks of infrastructure as a “thing”. However, as Dr. Varma explains, it is essential to view DPI as an “approach” to problem solving, regardless of what we call “the thing” or the digital tool built using it. these principles.

Consider fair, safe and inclusive digital public infrastructure

We believe that infrastructure-first thinking is a nudge to imagine the building blocks upon which a shared global digital infrastructure can emerge, including infrastructure elements such as open data standards and switches. exchange of information to solve the problem of observability in public finances and monitor progress on nationally determined projects. contributions (NDC) in the climate field, but the journey to unpack and identify the building blocks in these critical areas has only just begun.

As we continue these conversations at 77th United Nations General Assembly, we look forward to world leaders coming together for the first time to talk about an inclusive, equitable and secure digital public infrastructure for the world. We are excited about the new thinking that is beginning to emerge to help untangle these complex challenges to apply infrastructure-focused thinking to climate change and public finance, issues that will affect everyone on earth. Digital public infrastructure is a 21st century technology that is rising to respond.

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