Will the world achieve the UN development goals by 2030 through digital public technology?

No, but it could put him in a much better position than not, according to a Brookings Institute work report.

‘How can digital public technologies accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals?’ is a highly accessible overview of the impact – current and potential – of digital technologies to achieve greater progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Or in some cases, such as undernourishment, reducing movement in the opposite direction.

“None of the relevant SDG indicators are fully on track for success by 2030, although some – such as child mortality, access to electricity, access to sanitation and access to drinking water – are on track to deliver gains for more than half of the people in need”, is perhaps not a particularly encouraging position, but digital technologies around identity, payments and data exchange can have a gateway effect for many purposes.

The paper discusses “digital public technology” (DPT) which they define as “digital assets that create a level playing field for widespread access or use, by virtue of being owned by the state, they are either state regulated or open source”. There is an ongoing discourse on digital public goods and digital public infrastructure (see the recent Rockefeller Foundation report on DPI in Togo and elsewhere), although Brookings is more concerned with digital and the public, it coined its own term.

It covers the OECD typology of three digital ecosystem layers described as “physical infrastructure, platform infrastructure and application-level products. The physical and platform layers of digital infrastructure provide the rules, standards, and security assurances so local market innovators and governments can develop new ideas faster to respond to ever-changing circumstances.

The report begins with “there is no single relationship between access to digital technologies and SDG outcomes. Country and issue-specific assessments are key,” but identifies five areas where digital technologies are having an impact, and all five are relevant to digital identity:

  • Personal identification and registration infrastructure enables citizens and organizations to have equal access to basic rights and services;
  • The payment infrastructure enables efficient transfer of resources with low transaction costs;
  • The knowledge infrastructure connects educational resources and datasets in an open or authoritative manner;
  • The data exchange infrastructure allows the interoperability of independent databases; and
  • Mapping infrastructure intersects with data exchange platforms to enable geospatial diagnostics and service delivery opportunities.

The first of these areas is fully met by SDG 16.9 – legal identity for all, including birth registration. Digital technologies that contribute to this goal and those that enable registration for government services with this identity then enable progress towards a range of other SDGs, the report notes: “a land title (SDG 1.4), a bank account ( SDG 8.10), a driver’s license or government-sponsored social protection (SDG 1.3) It can also guarantee access to publicly available basic services, such as access to public schools (SDG 4.1) and clinics (SDG 3.8) Small businesses can enjoy similar benefits when registration systems are available.

MOSIP and X-Road in Estonia are cited as good examples of DPT, as are aspects of Aadhaar.

Issues and Warranties for DPTs

DPT design and deployment can raise challenges such as a lack of financial sustainability, limited government capacity to oversee the system, or supply issues. The report does not specifically mention corruption.

More serious are the risks that these technologies can be used to exclude: “PDTs can risk deepening ‘digital and data deficits’ that exacerbate existing inequalities between communities that digitize and those that do not. Connectivity-limited communities with low digital literacy risk becoming a new “digital underclass” that lags behind connected communities. Additionally, digital technology can also deepen existing discrimination through data and tools that enable more accurate consumer segmentation. »

These platforms can also lead to a concentration of power in government as they attempt to avoid a monopoly in the commercial sector.

The report calls on stakeholders such as civil society to help promote TPDs. On governments, it asks them to create participatory design and implementation, establish citizen-centric data governance regimes, improve the public sector, and ensure accountability and redress.

The authors also describe that there are relatively few development funds specifically dedicated to DPTs, but the amount is growing as philanthropies recognize the potential, such as the Wellcome Trust, Mastercard Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

As life becomes increasingly digital, “international actors and funders would be well served to focus more on DPTs as key tools to advance policy strategies and outcomes.” Progress could accelerate if more governments and organizations pull out their (digital) wallets.

The report concludes: “A holistic approach to expanding digital access while building strong institutions, data governance regimes and participatory processes could help accelerate progress on many SDG targets as we approach the deadline of 2030.

Article topics

biometrics | birth certificates | digital identity | government services | identification for development (ID4D) | identity management | SDG 16.9 | The United Nations

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