20 implementation suggestions to bring digital infrastructure in your country to life
Frame the problem clearly.The lack of growth of a specific digital program or solution is not a societal problem. Identify the real and root needs of individuals and businesses and gaps in service delivery to see where DPI can help intervene to create exponential change..
Think through why existing ecosystem players act the way they do. Mapping current incentives and current costs is crucial to understanding how to create change for the individual - DPI's aim is to change the calculus for ecosystem players who can now offer better services. What will it take to get them to do things differently? What are their real bottlenecks and costs?
Don’t aim for perfection before beginning.Universal adoption or aligning all partners on board (especially large incumbents) is almost never possible at first. Start anyway with a ‘coalition of the willing’ as early adopters and build from there - more will come over time. Asynchronous adoption is par for the course. Target some political support eventually, but it's not always possible to get whole-of-government alignment at the start.
Don’t leave all of the ‘how’ to technology vendors. Think through blueprints which include interoperability standards that create boundaries and roles for technology partners where they can excel, rather than outsourcing all of the design thinking to a tech partner. At a standards/blueprint level, tech is conceptually simple and accessible for strategic or policy leaders and doesn't require a Masters in Computer Science to take decisions on!
Small improvements (+1) Thinking to drive adoption. Rather than launching grand new projects or initiatives, ask what small (+1) changes across systems and ideas that already exist can help convert an existing digital system to a DPI to improve feasibility. For instance, an existing paper certificate can operate as DPI for a digital economy with a digitally signed QR code!
Small teams, high ownership. Particularly in early phases, DPI execution typically requires small teams that drive actions across an ecosystem, rather than unwieldy large central teams with dispersed ownership.
Design for system failures: Treat power outages, misaligned incentives, connectivity gaps, and other constraints as not the exception but as expected - and build multi-modal options and safeguards to ensure resilience.
Design architecture for tomorrow, but implement use cases for today based on political will & societal demand. For instance, you should architect a payments system that allows for multiple currencies in its root protocol even if cross border is unlikely on day one; or you should allow for multiple modes of authentication in a data sharing ecosystem even if one mode is the default based on current technology.
Frame adoption arguments from the counterparty institution's or user's point of view, not from the DPI builder point of view.Adoption by multiple stakeholders with different institutional positions and interests is essential to DPI. A market player, a regulator, a government department, or may have a different reason to adopt a DPI building block - frame it from their goals and interests or from an individual user's perspectives rather than yours. The value of the DPI to their goals should be explicit and clear in your narrative.
Parallel rather than consecutive phasing. It is tempting to wait for one phase to complete before beginning another - e.g waiting for ID registration to complete before testing authentication, or waiting for registries to be completed before building transactions/ service fulfillment networks in a sector. But if you have minimised the components of DPI to bare essentials, build them out in parallel as much as possible to avoid late surprises.
Test and debug early.No digital project is perfect on day one. Your DPI may get to 40-50% coverage based on high quality architecture and design, but will not reach critical mass without consistent bug fixing, catching errors, and continuous improvement. Seek constant market feedback on the usage of the DPI, especially in early stages. Target early sampling, testing APIs in sandboxes, small pilots, and hackathons as well as drive consultations with key players to ensure iterative improvements of the approach and wide adoption at scale.
Leverage existing digital assets in the country and/or global open source where possible. Try to reuse existing digital assets in the country - existing certificates, databases, or systems to see how small changes could help them operate as digital infrastructure (i.e. be reusable!) in the wider digital economy. If you're building from scratch - the quality and availability of open source in this space has taken a leap in the last few years - take advantage of it to build faster and cheaper. If you prefer to build in-house or via a vendor, ensure your system reviews and absorbs relevant learnings from available open source models.
Impatient with actions, but patient with results. Large scale societal transformations may take time (especially at the start, when the progress seems invisible) before developing enough ‘escape velocity’ to scale. Be patient while staying determined to make the next right step.
Be prepared to act fast in policy windows. It is crucial to work consistently on a DPI, build a coalition, and demo/test building blocks even when there is no policy window or political will in sight. Only the prepared can take advantage of an unexpected opportunity, crisis, or other policy window to drive scale-up!
Don't charge on day 1:Let adoption scale before adding in an additional cost to the user, it will reduce friction and hesitancies. Let them see the benefits of the DPI before so that they are willing to pay for that convenience.
Establish a volunteer policy: Many public-minded people will want to help in whatever capacity they can!
Early market feedback and co-creation: Organise hackathons, consultations, etc. to gain feedback from the start. Build with the market even as you build for the market.
Don't underestimate governance: Remember, the best tech has to be supported by strong governance frameworks from the start to nurture market innovation and private competition in the right spirit.
Minimise your role: DPI is built through humbleness! Focus on doing one thing and do it well. Always frame the other departments / people's contribution as more important to make them feel like a part of it and join you on the journey.
Expect a rocky road: Work with challengers, and wait for incumbents. As long as you stick to it, you will get there in the end!