Caption: Zambian data clerks compiling election monitoring reports.

Principles for Digital Development - What's Next?

The Principles for Digital Development are critically important - but there are tensions to be balanced

Last week, NDItech participated in another Working Group meeting for the Principles for Digital Development. Starting in early 2014, the Working Group has convened over 10 times to hold detailed discussions about the Principles for Digital Development, emergent best practice in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to support development projects, programs, and practice. NDItech hosted one of these deep-dive sessions.  Highlights of all the discussions can be found as “community insights” documents on the initiative website,, with special reporting on the first principle from this very blog.

The most recent meeting focused largely on previewing, and seeking feedback on, specific aspects of the upcoming draft report. The most interesting conversations centered on identifying synergies and tensions between the Principles, as well as identifying and overcoming barriers to adoption and implementation. As the Principles have been drafted and reviewed, there has not been a lot of work done in comparing them.  A particularly beneficial small group exercise took place at this session examining the synergies and tensions. Tensions always being more interesting, I’ll highlight some.

While a lot of time over the last year has focused on broader investigations for each principle, it’s proving increasingly important to assess how the principles interoperate - do they reinforce each other or generate tensions? NDItech has found that while it’s difficult to be strong on all principles, there are also important tradeoffs in project and product design.

For example, the session featured robust discussion generated around the tensions between #1: Design With The User, which focuses on developing context-appropriate solutions informed by specific user needs, and #3: Design For Scale, which works to assess and mitigate user-specific dependencies which may limit the ability to scale.

In addition, other tensions generating significant debate included #6: Use Open Data with its mandate to expose data, and #8: Address Privacy and Security, which demands that systems mitigate risks to the security of user’s data.

A reflection of this conversation along with an exploration of barriers to adoption and recommended approaches, are being crafted into a synthesis report that is due to be released in January 2016.  The work of NDItech continues to be informed by these tensions and one of our important contributions to NDI’s work is to minimize barriers to the adoption of these principles.