R. Gj / Flickr

At a Glance | Tracking Climate Finance in Africa: Political and Technical Insights on Building Sustainable Digital Public Goods

June 24, 2024 Data Management Systems and MEL, Global Data Policy
Tom Orrell, DG Comms
Aid Effectiveness & Management, Data Use

Development Gateway: An IREX Venture’s (DG’s) “At a Glance” series explores the highlights in DG’s white papers and other publications. In this installment of the series, we explore the white paper titled “Tracking Climate Finance in Africa: Political and Technical Insights on Building Sustainable Digital  Public Goods,” which was written by Dr. Catherine Weaver from the University of Texas at Austin and Tom Orrell, previously of DataReady and now a Deputy Director of Programs at DG. Weaver and Orrell explore the importance of climate finance tracking (CFT), common barriers to establishing climate finance tracking systems, and five insights on developing climate finance tracking systems.  

What is Climate Finance and a Climate Finance Tracking system? 

In order to combat the effects of climate change, financing is needed to fund effective climate fighting strategies, including funding to develop tools, programming, etc. that aim to equip governments and communities to predict, prevent, and address the needs provoked by climate change. Overall, climate finance is funding aimed at not only bringing the world closer to compliance with such climate policy as the 2015 Paris Agreement but is also aimed at protecting individuals and communities who are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. A climate finance tracking system is the planned process(es) and infrastructure supporting the tracking and monitoring of climate financing so that its impact can be tracked, analyzed, and (when appropriate) advanced or duplicated. 

The first barrier to climate finance and creating a climate finance tracking system is that the definition of climate finance is often subject to debate because of politically motivated contestation and ambiguity over what activities are directly or indirectly motivated by climate change concerns. Therefore, the first step in establishing a climate finance tracking system is arriving at a consensus amongst stakeholders (including countries, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society) on what counts as climate change activity.   

Once a common definition of climate change activity—and therefore, what constitutes climate finance—is established, a climate finance tracking system is needed in order to ensure climate finance is appropriately utilized and to track impact. While the specifics of what a climate finance tracking system looks like depends on the context in which it’s established, such a system can include tools like DG’s Aid Management Platform, an open-source tool that facilitates the monitoring of development activities in order to enhance aid effectiveness by allowing stakeholders to track activities from planning to implementation, and GIZ’s TruBudget, a collaborative and secured platform to track and coordinate the implementation of donor-funded investment projects. (Learn more about these tools and climate finance here.)

However, in order for any tools in a climate finance tracking system to be effective, the context in which the system is being established will ideally have many components, including digital infrastructure, human and computational capacity, data and accounting literacy, and complementary institutions and policies to ensure climate data is usable and useful for decision-making. Therefore, significant resources are needed in order for a climate finance tracking system to be effectively implemented. Here is an overview of five insights DG has identified on how best to create a climate finance tracking system.   

Five Insights in Developing a Climate Finance Tracking System
  1. Creating a climate finance tracking system is not only a technical endeavor but also a political one. Any type of data, including climate finance data, is inherently political. Therefore, in order to build a viable and sustainable climate finance tracking system, stakeholders must first and foremost approach this as a political task. 
  2. Building a climate finance tracking system will involve reaching consensus on how to standardize  definitions, measurements, methods of reporting, and other data requirements. In the instance of climate finance tracking, the list of stakeholders to be included in this endeavor is long, as public, private and civil society stakeholders may express different needs and preferences when it comes to tracking and reporting data.
  3. Building a climate finance tracking system at the national level requires (a) a concerted investment of time and resources to create accessible and usable technical systems that capture critical information as well as (b) the human capacity and (c) political willingness to sustain it. 
  4. Ensure different budgetary tools are interoperable (i.e., data can be shared seamlessly between systems) in order to avoid data silos and to facilitate the exchange of information between aid, procurement, budget, and other data systems in the climate finance tracking system. 
  5. Creating climate finance tracking systems requires planning from the subnational to the transnational levels. Subnational political will and capacity will have to be carefully cultivated as this is where most money is spent. At the national level, efforts to build robust climate finance tracking systems will also need to coordinate with efforts at transnational levels, especially to empower the tracking of regional resources and spillover effects of national programs.

Dive deeper into these insights and learn more about climate finance tracking and climate finance tracking systems in the white paper.

Explore our white papers

Tracking Climate Finance in Africa: Political and Technical Insights on Building Sustainable Digital Public Goods

In this new white paper, we explore the importance of climate finance tracking (CFT), common barriers to establishing climate finance tracking systems, and five insights on developing climate finance tracking systems.

Lessons Learned from Visualizing Information on Seeds Using Technology in Africa (TASAI-VISTA)

This white paper highlights successes and challenges during the implementation of the Visualizing Information on Seeds Using Technology in Africa (TASAI-VISTA) program, as the project comes to a close. It details the data collection, analyses, and stakeholder engagement processes informing the development of a suite of digital tools designed for the TASAI team and outlines lessons learned throughout the project implementation.  

Raising Awareness on World No Tobacco Day 2024: DaYTA/TCDI’s Work on Tobacco Industry Interference

May 31, 2024 Global Data Policy, Health Cecelia Yost, Lauren Eby, Winnie Awuor, DG Comms
Data Use, Program

This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the theme for World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) as ‘protecting children from industry interference’. The topic is more timely than ever, particularly in the African context that Development Gateway: An IREX Venture (DG) operates in through the Data on Youth and Tobacco in Africa (DaYTA) program and the Tobacco Control Data Initiative (TCDI). 

For one, African countries are home to an extremely youthful populace. In Nigeria, over 50 percent of the population is under the age of 18, while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), over 60 percent of the population is under the age of 24.

Over the years, the tobacco industry in Africa has successfully thwarted legal and institutional measures to combat its interference through a creative suite of tactics. The historical deception surrounding the tobacco industry’s representation of smoking’s adverse public health impacts has diminished its credibility amongst policymakers and civil society. As a result, the industry players have reverted to the use of front groups (i.e., manufacturers, media/PR firms, farmers associations, etc.), exploitation of public opinion, aggressive lobbying, and conflicts of interest to gain influence and repair its social image in the public eye.

“We need more evidence of tobacco industry interference, [specifically] how they do it, when they do it, through whom they do it, and the enormity of such interference–buying cars, building houses for government or agencies, corporate social responsibility [activities], budget support, [among other examples].”

- Civil society representative

Through the DaYTA program, DG is gathering primary data on tobacco use rates and trends among 10-17-year-olds in Kenya, Nigeria, and the DRC. This research will include new and emerging nicotine and tobacco products, such as electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems and heated tobacco products. Additional data gaps the DaYTA program seeks to fill include the socio-behavioral influences motivating minors to initiate tobacco use, as well as the nature of youth interactions with tobacco industry marketing. 

In the DRC context, having data on prevalence is especially crucial. Presently, the only youth prevalence data available comes from the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS), conducted in 2008. In addition, this dataset is limited to in-school youth in urban areas, excluding two major demographics: out-of-school and rural youth.

Through the TCDI program’s ongoing comprehensive work filling tobacco data gaps in six countries, DG has enabled tobacco control stakeholders to combat tobacco industry interference using legislative and regulatory mechanisms. For example, during a recent meeting held in the DRC, tobacco control stakeholders from the WHO, civil society organizations, and various departments of the Ministry of Health (MoH) reiterated the need to utilize results from TCDI’s primary research on illicit trade, to support efforts to ratify the Protocol for the Elimination of Illicit Tobacco Trade in the DRC parliament. Notably, in 2023, then Prime Minister, Sama Lukonde, issued a ministerial decree (040) banning smoking in public places.

The tobacco industry has devised and deployed a number of creative strategies to target young people–advertising near schools and playgrounds, giving away products for free, and selling appealing flavors in new and emerging tobacco products. During the DaYTA program’s rapid assessment in the DRC, stakeholders explained that one of the ways the tobacco industry captures children’s attention is by leveraging the use of toys and sweets. Specifically, they indirectly advertise near schools by selling candy mimicking the appearance of a cigarette, including the names and packaging of major cigarette brands. This subliminal messaging may lead children to become curious about real tobacco products, encouraging consumption later in life.

*the lower the score, the better the ranking. Learn more 

“Governments can take steps to introduce legislation to limit visible and invisible advertising aimed at young people. Sometimes, the tobacco industry gives gifts or toys as part of children’s activities. In this sense, it contributes a large percentage to attracting young people to its products.”

Jacquemain Nvilambi Congolese Alliance for Tobacco Control

Since the TCDI program began in 2019, the number of African countries participating in the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Survey has steadily increased–from a mere 5 countries in 2019 to 20 in 2023. This survey details how governments are responding to tobacco industry interference and how closely governments are adhering to the requirements stipulated by the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The research and knowledge base stemming from the TCDI program has highlighted a host of recommendations to tobacco control stakeholders on how to address the industry interference, including but not limited to:

  • Require transparency from the tobacco industry. Ensure the public has access to tobacco industry information, such as disclosures. This facilitates openness and accountability.
  • Establish a provision of standards or code of conduct to regulate interactions between public officials and the tobacco industry. For instance, an official or state employee should not accept gifts or services, in cash or in-kind, from the tobacco industry. Moreover, governments should not accept, support, or endorse any voluntary code of conduct put forth by the tobacco industry in place of legally binding tobacco control measures.
  • Reject any and all partnerships with the tobacco industry, especially when it involves the industry attempting to position itself as a socially responsible stakeholder through engagement in corporate social responsibility activities.
  • Enforce Monitoring & Enforcement mechanisms such as penal sanctions and whistleblower policies.
  • Avoid granting preferential business treatment to the tobacco industry.

As youth represent one of the most vulnerable populations being targeted by aggressive marketing of retail nicotine and tobacco products, it is imperative that interventions to combat tobacco industry interference can be pursued and implemented effectively. The six TCDI focus-country dashboards remain an excellent resource for stakeholders to expose lies perpetuated by the tobacco industry. For example, in many African countries, the stakeholders claim that tobacco control laws are unconstitutional or infringe on international trade and investment agreements. This is categorically false, as the WHO FCTC represents a legal basis for the policies being challenged, as there exists an international consensus on the adverse effects of tobacco use.

On this year’s World No Tobacco Day, DG is more cognizant than ever of the importance and impact of our tobacco control portfolio. Our longstanding efforts to equip policymakers, civil society, and the general public with access to timely and relevant data aids in facilitating sound decision-making, bolstering public trust, and creating opportunities for youth participation. Access to timely, accurate, and context-specific data on adolescent tobacco use is essential for cementing a robust tobacco control framework, one that can proactively combat tobacco industry interference, particularly in policymaking processes. 

Share

Recent Posts

At a Glance | Tracking Climate Finance in Africa: Political and Technical Insights on Building Sustainable Digital Public Goods

In order to combat the effects of climate change, financing is needed to fund effective climate fighting strategies. Our white paper, “Tracking Climate Finance in Africa: Political and Technical Insights on Building Sustainable Digital Public Goods,” explores the importance of climate finance tracking, common barriers to establishing climate finance tracking systems, and five insights on developing climate finance tracking systems.

June 24, 2024 Data Management Systems and MEL, Global Data Policy
Great Green Wall Observatory: A New Data Platform to Support One of Africa’s Most Ambitious Efforts to Combat Climate Change

In partnership with UNCCD, GGW Accelerator, and the Pan African Agency for the GGW, DG has launched the Great Green Wall Observatory. This pioneering digital platform monitors the GGW Initiative's progress, enhancing collaboration, accountability, and transparency across 11 African countries. By providing financial and project management data, the Observatory empowers communities, stakeholders, and policymakers to combat climate change in the Sahara and Sahel regions. With over 302 projects and $15 billion in commitments, this tool promotes robust climate action and fosters local and global engagement.

June 4, 2024 Data Management Systems and MEL, Global Data Policy
Five Insights on Country-Led Digital Public Infrastructure Systems to Create a Cohesive Approach throughout Africa

Drawing from Development Gateway: An IREX Venture’s work in implementing country-specific digital solutions that support a cohesive approach across a given region or continent, we have identified five insights on how to go about implementing digital public infrastructure systems at the country-level while having a cohesive approach throughout Africa.

May 21, 2024  
41C5B369-0E71-4D8A-9C10-D7AC8EE28B33_1_201_a

Letting the Sunshine in: Building Inclusive, Accountable, and Equitable Climate Finance Ecosystems

May 13, 2024 Strategic Advisory Services
Tom Orrell, Kelley Sams, Kobchart Jaraswimol, Stevie Harison
News/Events, Thought Leadership

In late April 2024, Development Gateway: An IREX Venture, together with the Thai Youth Anti-Corruption Network, organized an invite-only roundtable in Bangkok, Thailand to discuss how to  efficiently and effectively use climate financing, which is money committed for activities to mitigate or adapt to the impacts of climate change. 

Participants of the roundtable, hosted by the HackCorruption project led by Accountability Lab, came from a broad range of local, regional, and global civil society organizations; media; and private sector, academic, and development partner organizations. Together, we explored the concept and current execution of climate financing strategies. How do we define, access, monitor, and assess the impact of these financial flows? 

Ultimately, the group  determined that ensuring funds allocated to curb the negative impacts of climate change have the greatest impact requires a multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder approach that prioritizes local contexts, inclusive governance, transparency, accountability, and equitable distribution of resources

Disparate but Necessary Efforts: The Current State of Climate Financing

The current state of climate financing—in short—is a mess. 

At COP28 in 2023, climate finance was at the forefront. Several member states, notably developing countries, highlighted the need to lean into climate finance transparency and develop rigorous national climate finance tracking frameworks. Public, private, and blended funding and financing mechanisms are proliferating around the globe in a sea of market and regulatory experimentation. From carbon taxes, trading, and capture schemes to direct subsidies, governments and international organizations are simultaneously pursuing multiple (sometimes untested) funding and financing approaches.

While these necessary but disparate efforts continue to evolve, fundamental questions about climate finance remain unanswered. For instance, what investments constitute climate investments? How do we track financial flows and market activity while avoiding double counting investments? How do we ensure that investments in certain climate mitigation strategies are not harming the people living in areas that it is intended to help? The absence of agreed global standards and classifications regarding this cornerstone issue makes it challenging to track and measure what types of initiatives provide the greatest return on investment and positive environmental impact.

Additionally, a shared understanding of how climate investments are monitored and how impacts are  tracked is critical to understand  progress toward the  legally binding commitment UN Member States made at the Conference of the Parties to the UN Climate Change Conference in 2015 (COP21 Paris) to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2o C above pre-industrial levels [and aim] to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 o C above pre-industrial levels.”

 The cost of meeting this commitment is astronomical. The Climate Policy Initiative’s most recent estimates for meeting the Paris Agreement, “range from USD 5.4 trillion to USD 11.7 trillion per year until 2030, and between USD 9.3 trillion and USD 12.2 trillion per year over the following two decades.” This comprises funds allocated for the transformation of energy systems, restoring and protecting natural resources as well as methane abatement, increased resilience, and coping with damage. 

The 100 trillion-dollar question: how do we ensure good governance of climate finance mechanisms and data flows?

Shining light on climate finance and ensuring that it is used for positive change requires inclusive, accountable, and equitable systems. In the absence of clear global standards of how climate finance can be used to create positive social and environmental impacts, the priorities and needs of local contexts must take precedence to ensure that investments achieve desired impact and that solutions are locally owned as well as locally beneficial. Discussions with representatives of civil society organizations in Thailand highlighted the uneven and messy execution that can occur with climate projects aimed at outcomes aligned with donor priorities that are sometimes in opposition with those of communities. 

Given the vastness of climate change challenges that the world faces—touching on all aspects of natural, social, economic, political, and cultural life, the identification and articulation of local priorities must happen through both multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder processes that account for this all-encompassing scope and effectively contextualize local priorities and interventions. Without the serious engagement of local communities (e.g., smallholder farmers, indigenous and pastoralist groups, and other local land stewards) in carbon offset plans, things can quickly go wrong; for instance, planting monoculture forests that do more harm than good. Roundtable participants described how farmers and rural residents could collaborate with agricultural professionals and local industry to propose changes that were the most beneficial and least harmful to all. 

In the absence of clearly articulated definitions of  what counts as “climate finance,” the opportunities for double-counting, misappropriation, or embezzlement of money are significant. Given the enormity of the sums involved in servicing climate change adaptation and mitigation needs, open government principles of transparency, inclusive governance, and accountability are especially important. Regulation of new carbon markets will only succeed if founded in these principles, which function to both establish a predictable and certain regulatory environment as well as act as a brake and series of checks and balances on the potential misappropriation of funds.

Finally, the equitable distribution of the risks and benefits of climate financing mechanisms must be taken seriously and baked into climate finance discourse. Market-oriented mechanisms such as carbon trading schemes are currently geared at incentivizing transnational corporations to reduce their carbon footprints by placing a price on carbon emissions. However, extrapolating the model to a global level where companies in rich countries are able to offset their emissions through interventions in poorer countries significantly raises the risk of inequitable outcomes in the market. 

Moving forward, Development Gateway: An IREX Venture plans to build on the lessons learned in Bangkok. In particular, our focus will be on the role and function that open-source digital public goods and civic technology can play in supporting the co-design, building, and scaling of inclusive, accountable, and equitable climate finance ecosystems. We are particularly interested in how civic technology can be co-created with youth stakeholders so that it can be tailored to the particular needs and priorities of young adults for ensuring greater transparency.

Share

Recent Posts

At a Glance | Tracking Climate Finance in Africa: Political and Technical Insights on Building Sustainable Digital Public Goods

In order to combat the effects of climate change, financing is needed to fund effective climate fighting strategies. Our white paper, “Tracking Climate Finance in Africa: Political and Technical Insights on Building Sustainable Digital Public Goods,” explores the importance of climate finance tracking, common barriers to establishing climate finance tracking systems, and five insights on developing climate finance tracking systems.

June 24, 2024 Data Management Systems and MEL, Global Data Policy
Great Green Wall Observatory: A New Data Platform to Support One of Africa’s Most Ambitious Efforts to Combat Climate Change

In partnership with UNCCD, GGW Accelerator, and the Pan African Agency for the GGW, DG has launched the Great Green Wall Observatory. This pioneering digital platform monitors the GGW Initiative's progress, enhancing collaboration, accountability, and transparency across 11 African countries. By providing financial and project management data, the Observatory empowers communities, stakeholders, and policymakers to combat climate change in the Sahara and Sahel regions. With over 302 projects and $15 billion in commitments, this tool promotes robust climate action and fosters local and global engagement.

June 4, 2024 Data Management Systems and MEL, Global Data Policy
Raising Awareness on World No Tobacco Day 2024: DaYTA/TCDI’s Work on Tobacco Industry Interference

As tobacco companies have aggressively deployed creative strategies to market retail nicotine and tobacco products at children and adolescents, it is imperative that tobacco control stakeholders have access to timely and high-quality data to inform robust policies, regulations, and enforcement mechanisms.

May 31, 2024 Global Data Policy, Health
African city market streets – Lagos, Nigeria

New Research Reveals Reasons for Shisha Smoking in Nigeria

February 2, 2024 Health
Noreen Mdege
Program

Today, we’re excited to announce our Tobacco Control Data Initiative (TCDI) published groundbreaking research shedding light on reasons for shisha smoking across Nigeria. The research paper, “Reasons for shisha smoking: findings from a mixed methods study among adult shisha smokers in Nigeria,” was published by PLOS Global Public Health and provides vital context-specific evidence to inform the national response to increased shisha smoking. This study, the first of its kind to be conducted in Nigeria, used a mixed methods approach and covered all geographical regions of Nigeria. It was produced in partnership with R-DATS consulting and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Key Findings

The research, led by Dr. Noreen Dadirai Mdege, comprises in-depth interviews with 78 current shisha users in 13 states, along with a quantitative survey involving 611 current shisha users across 12 states, spanning Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones.

One of the most common, self-reported reasons for smoking shisha was shisha flavors. Shisha came in a variety of flavors that made people want to try or continue smoking it, and also gave both smokers and non-smokers the impression that shisha is safe, or safer than cigarettes. In addition,  shisha smoking was also driven by curiosity about other product attributes such as the smoke; beliefs that it was helpful for coping with challenging life situations such as stress, sadness or joblessness; limited knowledge on the negative health effects; the availability of and ability to smoke shisha in many places, including places where cigarette smoking is prohibited; and poor enforcement and compliance monitoring of the existing tobacco control laws. The presence of friends and family members who smoke shisha, coupled with the need to belong during social events, also played a significant role in promoting shisha smoking.

On the other hand, negative societal views towards shisha smoking and the high costs of shisha discouraged people from smoking it. Additionally, the research indicates that quitting shisha smoking without support is a challenging endeavor.

Implications for public health

This study makes a significant contribution to evidence for decision-making in regards to public health. Restrictions on flavors, strengthening compliance monitoring and enforcement of the tobacco control laws in relation to shisha (e.g., smoke-free environments in indoor and outdoor public places; having health warnings in English on shisha products; and tax measures) have the potential to minimize initiation and use, and to protect the health and wellbeing of Nigeria’s general public.

Dr. Mdege states, “We conducted this study as a response to an expressed need from the tobacco control community in Nigeria for data to inform policy-decisions on how to tackle the alarming surge in shisha smoking. We, therefore, hope that this research and the underlying data will contribute to strengthening tobacco control efforts in Nigeria as well as in other similar contexts.”

The full research paper is available here at PLOS Global Public Health. Access our tobacco control data for Nigeria here.

Share

Recent Posts

At a Glance | Tracking Climate Finance in Africa: Political and Technical Insights on Building Sustainable Digital Public Goods

In order to combat the effects of climate change, financing is needed to fund effective climate fighting strategies. Our white paper, “Tracking Climate Finance in Africa: Political and Technical Insights on Building Sustainable Digital Public Goods,” explores the importance of climate finance tracking, common barriers to establishing climate finance tracking systems, and five insights on developing climate finance tracking systems.

June 24, 2024 Data Management Systems and MEL, Global Data Policy
Great Green Wall Observatory: A New Data Platform to Support One of Africa’s Most Ambitious Efforts to Combat Climate Change

In partnership with UNCCD, GGW Accelerator, and the Pan African Agency for the GGW, DG has launched the Great Green Wall Observatory. This pioneering digital platform monitors the GGW Initiative's progress, enhancing collaboration, accountability, and transparency across 11 African countries. By providing financial and project management data, the Observatory empowers communities, stakeholders, and policymakers to combat climate change in the Sahara and Sahel regions. With over 302 projects and $15 billion in commitments, this tool promotes robust climate action and fosters local and global engagement.

June 4, 2024 Data Management Systems and MEL, Global Data Policy
Raising Awareness on World No Tobacco Day 2024: DaYTA/TCDI’s Work on Tobacco Industry Interference

As tobacco companies have aggressively deployed creative strategies to market retail nicotine and tobacco products at children and adolescents, it is imperative that tobacco control stakeholders have access to timely and high-quality data to inform robust policies, regulations, and enforcement mechanisms.

May 31, 2024 Global Data Policy, Health
IMG_3729

Democratizing Digital or Digitizing Democracy?

September 19, 2023 Global Data Policy
Sarah Orton-Vipond, Rebecca Warner
News/Events, Thought Leadership

The 2023 OGP Summit in Tallinn, Estonia featured a number of discussions centered on open government in the digital age. While the use of digital tools in government is far from a new idea, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a rapid expansion of this practice, with leaders quickly adapting to remote environments through digitizing government processes and services. As countries around the world recover from the impacts of the pandemic, the continued intersection of digital technology with democratic processes seems inevitable. The Summit highlighted a definition of digital democracy where democracy itself is furthered through the use of digital tools and technology, as is the case in Estonia. Estonia’s leadership in government e-services – e-Estonia– is well known: government services such as legislation, voting, education, justice, health care, banking, taxes, policing, etc. are digitally linked. This is an introduction of democracy and governance through digital. 

With online platforms and tools, digital democracy has the potential to make critical information open and accessible, facilitate open dialogue, and streamline decision-making processes. It fosters inclusivity, allowing individuals from diverse backgrounds to voice their opinions, engage in policy discussions, and even play a direct role in shaping the policies that affect their lives. However, as with any innovation, digital democracy comes with its share of challenges, including issues related to privacy, misinformation, targeted harassment and violence, and reinforcing unequal access to democracy and justice due to the digital divide. To create more equal benefits, and mitigate critical risks, USAID, the US State Department, and others through the Summit for Democracy are focused on embedding democratic values and human rights into tech development, design, and deployment. This is democracy in digital. 

Both democracy in digital and democracy through digital are required for building resilient, effective, and trusted institutions. As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, understanding and harnessing the potential of digital democracy becomes essential for creating more responsive, transparent, and accountable governance systems.

What can digital do for democracy?

Improved transparency and accountability: Open data and transparency in government processes allow civil society and the public to track decision-making, policy formulation, and spending. Governments collect a massive amount of data and open government policies, such as open data, have great capacity to increase public trust. 

Still, just because data exists does not mean people have access to it in a way that is usable for them. Ensuring data is user-friendly and accessible goes beyond standard user design principles, but acknowledges the importance of sharing information in accessible formats. This takes understanding distinct relationships between different stakeholders – how governments communicate to the public, how civil society engages with government – and responding in kind. DG’s Open Contracting Portal, which was designated as a Digital Public Good last year, is an example of an open source tool built with government processes, including engagement with citizens, at the center. Launched in Makueni County, Kenya, the Open Contracting Explorer has been scaled to other counties in Kenya, including a current partnership with Nandi County.

We often find that digital tools and projects, especially at the pilot or proof of concept stage, are developed with one specific user group in mind (such as government or civil society). When only one group is being well-served by a tool, its use is severely limited. Concurrently, we see anti-corruption and transparency tools designed based on what data or information is already available, not on what is needed by distinct, diverse users. Intentional collaboration from multiple groups is key to developing the best possible tool for a given country or context.

Inclusivity and accessibility: One of the core benefits of an increasingly digital democratic process is the potential to make civic participation more inclusive by breaking down long-standing barriers like physical location, mobility, gender norms, and time constraints. Some important components of democratic governance like community meetings and whistleblowing have moved online. Where populations are connected, this expands access exponentially – people who don’t have reliable access to transportation, people with children, young people and others who might not have the time or capacity to travel to in-person meetings can contribute to discussions and engage in the governance process. Online platforms can enable people from all walks of life to engage in discussions, share their opinions, and take part in decision-making processes. In addition, digital tools like social media can facilitate direct interaction between people and their government representatives, fostering a closer connection and increasing citizens’ sense of participation in government.

However, this direct interaction comes with its own share of risks, for example the targeted harassment and intimidation of women participating in politics and public life. Technology facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) is a growing problem, and too often plays a role in forcing women out of public life to preserve their mental and physical well-being. A thriving digital democracy must find ways to support improved gender representation and participation, and innovative approaches to combat TFGBV – like those being researched and piloted by IREX in its USAID-funded Transform activity – are needed to live up to this ideal.

Digital is not a one size fits all approach

While discussing the major opportunities for inclusivity with digital democracy, it is equally important to acknowledge the digital divide – the gap between those who have access to digital tools and the internet and those who do not. Many people, even in the richest countries in the world, do not have reliable access to the internet. Beyond this, effective participation in digital democracy requires a certain level of digital literacy and there are many groups who are less likely, or less able, to engage online due to a lack of comfort with or equitable access to digital tools. As governance processes move online, leaders must remain cognizant of the digital divide and consider a hybrid approach that takes multiple participatory mechanisms in account, and pursue investment in education and training to empower people in navigating online platforms responsibly.

Further, respect for human rights and democratic values must be embedded directly into the design of digital solutions. Democratic values should be included within the development of solutions themselves. This includes elements like respect for privacy, protecting data about vulnerable people, and combating misinformation. It also includes intentionally designing for marginalized communities to prevent furthering the digital divide.

e-Estonia is a remarkable goal and the progress towards digital democracy is clear; but the population (1.3 million) represents a relatively small-scale example when compared, for example, to  Nairobi County in Kenya, with four times Estonia’s population. The e-Estonia roadmap or the Estonian X-Road source code cannot be copy-pasted into societies around the world to drive digital democracy, but countries can pull lessons from this important work. Rights-respecting principles, inclusion of civil society in digital processes, and the development of stronger values-based regulatory frameworks for digital are key components for driving progress in digital democracy.

And while the promise of cutting-edge technology to improve governance is tantalizing, the immediate focus of digital transformation should be to establish best practices for applying sustainable, ethical approaches to the use of data and digital technology at the outset. True digital transformation requires policies and approaches that support digitization of democratic processes in a user-friendly, equitable, and sustainable format. And ultimately, all digital technology should be developed and implemented with the utmost respect for human rights and democratic values.