Tallinn Digital Summit 2022: a new era of digital collaborationGovStack panel featuring: Chris Burns (USAID); Liv Marte Kristiansen Nordhaud (DPGA); Konstantin Peric (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); Carlos Santiso (OECD)
There is immense global demand for modern infrastructure – both analog and digital – as a means of delivering the vital services that form the foundation of our lives. In the face of the many crises we continue to confront as an increasingly connected global community, it is all the more important that we do not waste time, energy, and resources duplicating efforts in building such infrastructure.
For that reason events like the Tallinn Digital Summit, a landmark event for anyone working in the realms of digital development and digital government, are increasingly important. As we look towards the future of digital cooperation, here are our learnings and takeaways from this year’s conference.
1. It’s about the people, not the technology
We have not only embraced the role of digital in addressing global challenges, but we’ve arrived to an urgent moment where we cannot actually meet development or humanitarian objectives without embracing digital technologies.
However, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the array of technologies available and lose sight of the starting point – the problems people have and exactly what we are trying to solve. It is key to start with the problem and the purpose we want to achieve.
During the 2014-2016 Ebola crisis, Sierra Leone turned to mobile wallets to make cash payments to first responders – making an analog process that had previously been slow and inaccurate, and using digital to make it fast, accurate, and secure. Digitization cut payment times from over one month to around one week, putting an end to payment-related strikes. In doing so, digital payments strengthened Sierra Leone’s capacity to contain the Ebola disease, treat those infected, and ultimately save lives.
Thus, the digital public good OpenG2P emerged out of the Sierra Leone Ebola Payments Program and continues to be developed as a set of open-source building blocks to help governments worldwide digitize their social protection programs.
Years later, Covid accelerated the need for governments to deliver subsidies and social benefits. The world was able to scale the use of OpenG2P to accelerate and deliver digital payments and cash transfers, which would have been impossible at scale without digital platforms.
Maintaining focus on solving real-world problems is the first step towards delivering real value.
2. But the technology is important, too
Technology – and how we choose to build it – is a reflection of our values.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen opened up the conference by summarizing this concept nicely: “Trusted connectivity defines the rules of the game. High-tech is great but what is the purpose? Who is setting the standards that will govern and protect our societies?”
During the GovStack panel, Chris Burns of USAID spoke of two primary models of internet governance in our current world; the first being surveillance capitalism, or the monetization of data without transparency; and the second being digital authoritarianism, or the exploitation of users for oppression. What he offers as a third, more ideal model is internet governance that centers the individual and gives them a transparent understanding of how their data is being used.
In this way, digital public goods (DPGs) can influence society just as much as society can influence DPGs. As we build out digital infrastructure, we should be thinking about, “What does it take to put the individual front and center? What do citizens need to do in order to trust systems?”
Effective and good digital development doesn’t necessarily mean favoring one product over another. But it can be facilitated by the objective assessment of how products deliver impact along the lens of the Sustainable Development Goals. GovStack’s Working Groups are focused on exactly that. As we map technical specifications for building blocks, we are charting the course for technologies that promote transparency, sustainability, and reusability.
With open technologies and open standards, we can ensure that the technologies that compose our future public infrastructure promote the values we want to uphold.
3. It takes a village
Contrary to the common misconception, open-source is not free. It’s true that open-source technologies can be freely adopted and adapted, but of course, it costs time and money to invest in people to build them.
For this reason, the community-based nature of open-source is key: the value of open-source being when others make changes and reintegrate them into the public code. In this way, we all can share the experience of building and maintaining the code, adding new features, etc. Such is the unspoken catch of open-source: once you leverage the technology, we hope you will share your solution and your learnings back to the community.
Digital public infrastructure requires investment from the broader global ecosystem – the more diverse, the better. Strengthening partnerships between state actors, start-ups, civil society, and others, to develop technologies can help strengthen the technologies themselves, and promote better experiences and outcomes for the users.
Here’s to the future
In the words of Estonia’s CIO Kristo Vaher, “Nobody is going to build a digital city without first building it house-by-house.” Let’s define the houses that are going to be critical for digital infrastructure, collaborate on what we create, and share what we build. Head to the GovStack Community page to learn how you can get involved in the movement.
To watch the keynotes from Tallinn Digital Summit, visit the event website.