How can digital public technologies accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals?

Report by George Ingram, John W. McArthur, and Priya Vora: “…There is no singular relationship between access to digital technologies and SDG outcomes. Country- and issue-specific assessments are essential. Sound approaches will frequently depend on the underlying physical infrastructure and economic systems. Rwanda, for instance, has made tremendous progress on SDG health indicators despite high rates of income poverty and internet poverty. This contrasts with Burkina Faso, which has lower income poverty and internet poverty but higher child mortality.

We draw from an OECD typology to identify three layers of a digital ecosystem: Physical infrastructure, platform infrastructure, and apps-level products. Physical and platform layers of digital infrastructure provide the rules, standards, and security guarantees so that local market innovators and governments can develop new ideas more rapidly to meet ever-changing circumstances. We emphasize five forms of DPT platform infrastructure that can play important roles in supporting SDG acceleration:

  • Personal identification and registration infrastructure allows citizens and organizations to have equal access to basic rights and services;
  • Payments infrastructure enables efficient resource transfer with low transaction costs;
  • Knowledge infrastructure links educational resources and data sets in an open or permissioned way;
  • Data exchange infrastructure enables interoperability of independent databases; and
  • Mapping infrastructure intersects with data exchange platforms to empower geospatially enabled diagnostics and service delivery opportunities.

Each of these platform types can contribute directly or indirectly to a range of SDG outcomes. For example, a person’s ability to register their identity with public sector entities is fundamental to everything from a birth certificate (SDG target 16.9) to a land title (SDG 1.4), bank account (SDG 8.10), driver’s license, or government-sponsored social protection (SDG 1.3). It can also ensure access to publicly available basic services, such as access to public schools (SDG 4.1) and health clinics (SDG 3.8).

At least three levers can help “level the playing field” such that a wide array of service providers can use the physical and platform layers of digital infrastructure equally: (1) public ownership and governance; (2) public regulation; and (3) open code, standards, and protocols. In practice, DPTs are typically built and deployed through a mix of levers, enabling different public and private actors to extract benefits through unique pathways….(More)”.