Question: Is mandating adoption necessary to achieve scale for various Digital Public Infrastructure building blocks?
Short Answer: Typically not. While sometimes mandating adoption may help speed up the process of achieving scale, in the long run, voluntary adoption based on a strong value proposition to all market players and citizens is more sustainable at driving impact. DPI-builders should prepare for asynchronous adoption over time starting with smaller players, rather than wait for the largest incumbents to agree before launching.
Long Answer: Countries are often faced with this dilemma: there is often hesitation or reluctance on the part of market players or existing institutions of the country to upgrade to a DPI approach, or apathy of individuals in accessing or using the DPI (such as with digital identities). They may be sceptical of the value it would provide them, or have vested interests in previous legacy systems.
Mandating adoption may feel like a faster solution in some cases; and there is proof that it can be effective in the short run - particularly in regulated sectors where a regulator or government entity can enforce changes. However, a mandatory implementation approach can also lead to increased resistance by institutions towards infrastructure or approaches that are seemingly forced upon them by the authorities, or create a ‘checkbox implementation’ syndrome where the DPI is adopted in name but is not done with high quality. For instance, regulators sometimes mandate the use of open banking APIs - but banks could implement them with low success rates, effectively meeting the compliance burden without changing consumer experience.
Moreover, mandating DPI adoption leaves the system vulnerable to policy changes. If the policy leadership changes a few years down the line and they reverse the mandate, all the momentum achieved may be lost. Finally, if it is mandated, market players may view it as a compliance issue and not necessarily devote their best talent into it.
A more sustainable option would be to encourage voluntary adoption of the infrastructure at scale. This can be done simply by making DPI building blocks immediately useful for the individuals and institutions so that they can clearly see benefits, reduced costs, improved efficiencies, or market value of adopting it. DPI can be designed with strong incentives to adopt for all stakeholders.
Some examples are:
How to expedite voluntary adoption
Digital Identity enrollment
Create value to the citizen of having/using the Identity - This can be done by encouraging other departments or market players to use electronic ID authentication, or providing a verifiable credential of the identity or a profile data eKYC API so that the individual can fast track their access to key services (eg filing gov’t compliances, access to benefits, opening bank accounts, getting SIM cards, etc).
Registry enrollment/update by institutions
Create value to the institution populating the registry (e.g. a health facility registry or a land registry) by encouraging other departments or market players to use data fields or authentication capabilities of the registry, publishing open APIs for the registry to enable discovery by external market players, profile data eKYC to fast track onboarding in key services, etc.
Data Sharing (e.g. Open Banking/Open Finance; G2G data exchanges, etc)
Craft a reciprocity policy that ensures that in order to access data from any other actor in the data sharing ecosystem, you must also provide data to the ecosystem.
Craft a clear use case for a high value service that is improved based on access to data. For instance, for open banking, the use case is often improved lending portfolios, which can scale up based on access to data.
These features reinforce the spirit of the DPI approach to keep the individual at the centre of all systems and to only move with an individual's consent and interests at heart. When the incumbents realise that the DPI is not eating into their market share, but rather offering them more opportunities for growth and success, they will automatically want to join in. DPI does not just allow more people to have a share of the pie, but it also increases the pie so that everyone may have a larger share. This may not happen at first, and ecosystem facilitation adoptions should be comfortable with an async adoption pace with small challenger organisations going first and larger ones joining in later.
This gesture of allowing voluntary adoption also builds a layer of trust between governments, institutions, and people. It carries an intrinsic layer of faith that the DPI solution is secure, futuristic, creates value, and therefore will scale on its own merit. This silent surety on the part of governments as well as the clearly defined, immediately available benefits will give individual’s the boost they need to rise to the occasion - and raise their country with them.
The best part? People-driven transformation is lasting - across the changing tides of policy and procurements.