An approach that works to transform nations at scale
Digital Public Infrastructure - or DPI - is a phrase now regularly referenced by government officials, think tanks, development institutions, nonprofits, and even global CEOs as a transformational approach to leapfrog progress at scale. Countries like Brazil, India, Singapore, Australia, and Thailand have all built and scaled DPI. As with any rapidly evolving construct, every new project and experiment around the world slightly alters what people mean when they use the phrase. At the Centre for DPI, we'd like to put out our thinking to help countries answer the question: what is this magic sauce that you call DPI, and how can it fast track our national digitisation plans to create inclusive and innovative digital economies?
Understanding DPI Thinking_CDPI.pdf
To answer this question, it's useful to first look back. The DPI movement is inspired by the open standards & specifications that created the Internet (TCP-IP, HTTP, HTML, SMTP, etc) and mobile networks (GSM, SMS, LTE, etc) - which operated as the original digital infrastructure of the late 20th century, triggering a burst of public and private innovation that broke barriers and drove inclusion. Our controversial opinion: No other tech innovation in recent memory - not the iPhone, not a laptop, not even a computer chip - has triggered as much subsequent innovation as those original open standards. Read that again slowly.
So looking ahead, how do countries take a similar approach that can catalyse inclusion and innovation in their nations in areas like access to money, access to health, access to education, and competitive innovation in services?
The DPI approach is about moving from platforms to open networks powered by protocols. We think there are 5 foundational categories that make up 21st-century digital public infrastructure: identifiers and registries; data sharing and AI/ML models; trust infra; discovery and fulfilment; and payments.
For a thriving digital economy, these are the functions that should be conveniently accessible at low cost. And fortunately, unlike the mobile and internet, these DPI require even less complementary hard infrastructure (wires, cables, cell towers, etc.) to create scalable impact.
These categories are not intended to be mutually exclusive! Payments on some level is a type of data sharing. Digital signatures (Trust infra) are used in ID/Payments/Data/Discovery and beyond. Consent (Trust infra) should be used in ID and in Data exchange. These categories are simply to indicate areas to focus on when crafting DPI!
Moreover, this is not an exhaustive list! These blocks are necessary but not sufficient to achieve a thriving digital economy. It is also important to note that the blocks can only be considered as DPI if they are build in accordance with the technical architecture principles - a data sharing system that is not interoperable or a digital ID that is not minimalist or reusable cannot be considered as digital public infrastructure.
Many different building blocks in each of these categories can drive exponential outcomes within and across various sectors.
...by creating ecosystems that combine 1) the right technology architecture; supplemented by 2) governance frameworks that are transparent, accountable, participatory; and 3) robust public and private market innovation.
In each of the sections below, we'll cover specific building blocks that fall into these categories, and link to open blueprints/specifications your country can use to kick off the transformation.