One Year On: Digital cooperation, the GovStack Initiative and the Internet Governance Forum 2021

News |

As the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2021 takes place — a hybrid event being hosted in Katowice, Poland where we will showcase the opportunity of the GovStack Initiative for digital government cooperation — we wanted to reflect a bit more on the role the GovStack has played in bringing the global community together and what we believe its role will continue to be in 2022. Please join our session on Tuesday, 7 December, 2021 at 16:15 CET.

A little context: DIAL’s 2021-2026 Strategic Plan emphasizes an “A,B,C” approach to accelerating national digital transformation by focusing on accelerating digital transformation learning through country exemplars, building global will, and connecting proven solutions.This strategy came both from trends we have been witnessing in the digital development sector for years, but also out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects it had on our economies and societies. While the story of 2020 was the challenges from COVID-19 and the resulting untapped potential of digital technology in development cooperation, we believe the story of 2021 has been one of building the global will to begin realizing that potential.

It was from the unique inflection point of the pandemic in 2020 that GovStack was born. For those less familiar, the GovStack Initiative is an continuation of and elaboration on the thinking contained in the ITU and DIAL’s SDG Digital Investment Framework (2019), which seeks to build a common approach for developing and linking these fundamental, reusable, and interoperable digital components, known as “digital building blocks”, as part of core government service delivery. The immediate work within GovStack is to develop a reference model digital government services platform;longer term, we aim to help align and support the global community’s goal of helping low- and lower-middle income countries discover, finance, procure, and implement these technologies and technical practices. In this way, the promise for GovStack for last year has been as much about how to connect proven solutions as it has been showing others why it needs to be done.

During this past year we have seen unprecedented attention on the use of digital goods in development cooperation, and not only because of GovStack. Led by efforts within the UN, governments in the Global South and an impressive array of global development actors and donors strengthened global digital cooperation and support for digital public goods (DPGs) and digital public infrastructure (DPI). The 2020 Roadmap for Digital Cooperation was a pivotal moment in advocating for the role of digital public goods in advancing sustainable development in the coming decade. Following that, in 2021 the global community seemed to converge on the idea of jointly investing, supporting, and deploying digital public infrastructures to support government-led digitalization and service delivery, which gained traction in a high-level event in September.

A picture of (some of) the GovStack team members at a recent meeting in Geneva in November.

During the last year, the GovStack Initiative has convened an ever-growing network of open source advocates, subject matter experts, and software developers to form technical working groups, but has also helped build global will by actively informing others, creating new communities of practice, and improving multi-stakeholder governance of the initiative.

  • Formally launched the GovStack website and community board; 
  • Participated in a range of multilateral fora including the World Summit on the Information Society, the Tallinn Digital Summit 2021, and now IGF 2021; 
  • Partnered with important collaborators like the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA); 
  • Launched new working groups and established key governance, namely through the establishment of an Advisory Board; and,
  • Convened our increasingly global team twice in Tallinn and Geneva amidst a continually changing and dizzying array of travel restrictions.

Going forward, the success of our collective efforts will be managed by an evolving but increasingly community-driven approach, wherein GovStack will be governed as a multi-stakeholder initiative. While this started with the vision of ITU, GIZ, Estonia, and DIAL, we are continuing to seek more ways of diversifying our approach and involving the community. In May, all partners established a new GovStack Community of Practice (COP) as part of the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA), 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”.

We are also launching a new Advisory Board this month, which will include BMZ, ITU, the Estonian government, DIAL, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Digital Public Goods Alliance, FCDO, GSMA, IEEE and People Centered Internet, KfW, Sida, Smart Africa, and UNDP. We are incredibly excited for this group of talented individuals to meet for the first time and excited to see how they push GovStack in new and exciting ways in the year to come. Furthermore, we have recently hired Rachel Lawson, an expert community strategist from Drupal, as our new Community Strategist for GovStack, and we continue to seek new talent for our working groups as well as evolve the talent pool supporting this effort at our four founding organizations. 

The fact that such a large network of actors is coming together around the core tenets of GovStack so early is an encouraging sign for digital government cooperation, the theme of our IGF session. It is a hard-won achievement, but one which will only strengthen the ability to deploy this week and tailor it to the needs of its intended audiences. 

In 2022, we hope to expand on our efforts by leveraging this growing community to enhance our technical practice, begin mapping it to country demand, and engage directly with interested countries. (We have already received expressions of interest from, among others, the governments of Djibouti, Ukraine, Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and Sierra Leone). In the meantime, we will also be investing in more research about what “connecting solutions” means in practice, developing good practices for how a building block approach can be financed, procured, implemented, and maintained in a sustainable way.

While we may be closing the year with the IGF panel, we are more excited than ever to see what 2022 holds. A year on, the promise of global cooperation on digital government is bearing fruit, and we could not be more excited to see where it will take us.

For an agenda and more information about IGF 2021, go here.