DFID’s Digital Strategy for Doing Development in a Digital World

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I’m Frances Sibbet, the Digital Service Lead at the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). This is the lightning talk I delivered at the Digital Development Forum – next 10 years.
DFID’s Digital Strategy is entitled ‘Doing Development in a Digital World’ and this theme resonated well with the participants at the Forum. It commits DFID to making greater and better use of digital technology to tackle global poverty and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. It builds on and showcases a strong foundation of digital innovation that is evident in hundreds of DFID’s programmes, spanning multiple sectors and geographies.
How digital technologies will help DFID achieve its objectives
We’re delighted that our new Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt, is passionate about new technology and its power for good. She believes that “Technology gives us the power to include, the power to reach, to inspire, to communicate, to educate, to change”.
Our aim at DFID is to be a global leader in digital technology and development,
in order to have a bigger, faster and more cost-effective impact on the lives of poor people. Above all, we view digital technologies as key enablers of sustainable development, not an end goal.
This means integrating digital technologies with strong regulations, institutions and capacity building for a holistic approach. Also key to our objectives is ensuring that the most vulnerable and marginalised are included in the growth and prosperity offered by digital innovations.
We are tackling this in two ways:

  • we want to use digital technology to improve the speed, value for money, reach and impact of our programmes
  • we want to transform the way we work as a government department and improve the digital capability of our staff.

We are scaling and demonstrating high potential solutions with donors and partner countries. Trailblazers are an activity we do with our country office staff , such as Kenya, that focus on applying learning about the application of digital technologies in particular sectors. They are and will be high profile demonstrators to identify, spread and scale innovative practice.
Our Digital Team advises our programme staff on the standards to which we expect our partners to adhere. They have to show us how they will adhere to the Digital Principles and they don’t receive spending approval to proceed unless they do.
If I had to pick out the 3 Principles that have the biggest impact on programme design and delivery,  I would say design with the user, understand the existing ecosystem, and use open data –  but of course all the Principles can be applied in different contexts.
Transforming as a digital department
We’re also transforming as a digital department and working to improve the digital skills and understanding of all our staff. We’re doing this through a new digital curriculum that we’ve piloted.
We have a Digital Ninja programme of volunteer staff who share their skills with their teams and we provide support to them from the centre. We’re up to 245 Ninjas in our country offices around the world at bronze, silver and gold levels.
Making our data open
Another challenge and opportunity for DFID is to make our data open and easy to use by our staff, partners, beneficiaries and the public. Our Development Tracker is where we publish open data on international development to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Standard. This strengthens in-country data systems to enhance transparency and open government.
Our Digital Strategy lays the foundations for the next three years for transforming our approach to doing development in a digital world. As for the next 10 years, that’s harder to predict!  Do read Jonathan Donner’s excellent piece on ‘What is the Future of Digital Development in 2028?’ where he explores these questions in more detail.
Follow us on Twitter @DFID_Digital and enquiries and feedback about the Strategy can be sent to [email protected]
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