Guiding Practices

Digital Strategy

Before we describe what USAID will aim to accomplish under this Strategy and the types of interventions we will use to realize those results, we must first reinforce our commitment to values-driven programming. Throughout our work, USAID’s approach will embody a set of guiding practices that will not only help our digitally supported programming efforts stay on-target and be most effective, but also provide guidance on when and how to engage in a country-level digital ecosystem, consistent with U.S. values and in a way that protects civil liberties and preserves human rights.

Embed U.S. Values, Civil Liberties, and Universal Human Rights. “[The U.S. Government’s] approach to cyberspace is anchored by enduring American values, such as the belief in the power of individual liberty, free expression, free markets, and privacy.”85 Because authoritarians can use digital technologies as tools of surveillance, discrimination, or social control, USAID will take care to support only digital systems and policies that promote the freedoms of expression and action, equal opportunity, and self-determination, values and rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights86 and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.87
Collaborate with the Private Sector. In alignment with the Agency's Private-Sector Engagement Policy, USAID will work with the private sector to build long-lasting, equitable digital infrastructure while lowering risk for investors. USAID will also promote innovations led by the private sector that reduce costs for end-users and support access by local technology entrepreneurs to regional and global markets.
Foster Adoption of Globally Recognized Standards. USAID will work with stakeholders to foster their alignment with, and application of, globally recognized standards and best practices related to the digital ecosystem (for example, on interoperability, competition, and cross-border flows of dataf). Such standards and practices can increase investment in, and the growth of, local digital ecosystems and improve the quality of services available to communities.
Support In-Country Alignment. USAID will strive to align with, and strengthen, the national or sectoral digital priorities of partner-country governments in ways consistent with U.S. law and best practices.g In circumstances in which doing so is practical, and appropriate privacy and cybersecurity protections are in place, Missions should encourage data systems funded by USAID to link with national systems, and the Agency should seek opportunities to coordinate our investments with those of other donors and private firms. USAID must oppose digital integration in instances in which digital technology and data become unwitting tools of repression, and our Missions must be attuned to the influence of malign actors on the policies and procurements of national governments.88 Given the important role of regional alliances and regional integration, USAID will also collaborate to shape conducive regional environments for digital ecosystems, knit together by cross-border flows of data, the harmonization of policy frameworks, and use of globally recognized standards.
Strengthen Local Systems, Institutions and Capacity. In line with the USAID Policy Framework, which highlights sustaining results as a key principle that underpins our approach to fostering self-reliance, USAID recognizes that local systems and institutions help to deliver lasting results. USAID will strengthen local workforce-development efforts, promote digital literacy and hygiene, improve access to digital tools and services, and reinforce privacy protections.89
Promote Inclusive Digital Development. USAID recognizes that digital ecosystems are stronger and more sustainable when they work for everyone. Underlying our efforts to strengthen digital ecosystems is a commitment to understand and address the root causes of exclusion or under-participation by particular groups. USAID will invest in improving digital ecosystems in ways that meet the needs of all segments of society, in particular traditionally underserved groups such as the poor, women, youth, ethnic and religious minorities, and people with disabilities.
Meet Communities Where They Are along the Journey to Self-Reliance. Rather than imposing an inflexible set of global goals, USAID’s aim is to help communities in each partner country progress on their unique Journey to Self-Reliance.90 This means USAID will demonstrate sensitivity to local political, economic, and social context and adapt engagements based on the opportunities and risks presented by any given digital ecosystem. As capacity and commitment reach more advanced levels, we will consider adjusting the nature of our partnerships with governments, civil society, the private sector, and local communities in host countries on issues of digital development.
Strengthen Cybersecurity. In alignment with U.S. Government cyber policy, USAID will promote an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet that strengthens and extends U.S. values and protects and promotes cybersecurity for our beneficiaries. This will entail supporting the adoption of policies that espouse global cybersecurity best practices; facilitating the protection of Internet freedom; promoting the principles of the free flow of data and the protection of intellectual property; and prioritizing the development of a cyber-ready workforce in the countries in which USAID works.
Protect Privacy and Use Data Responsibly. USAID will encourage the governments, civil society, and the private sector in our partner countries and local stakeholders to protect and use data responsibly, by consistently striving for all data assets to have appropriate safeguards and to be high-quality, standardized, and machine-readable. As our programs rely increasingly on digital tools and the personal data they generate, USAID will elevate the need for the privacy and protection of programmatic data. We will work with our partners and national governments to navigate the complex ethical and legal issues that will arise.
Take Calculated Risks and Embrace Innovation. A key element of our ability to sustain results is to take balanced risks and manage them comprehensively. USAID’s Risk-Appetite Statement calls on the Agency to be bold, to work with different partners, and to innovate around novel procurement systems;91 this is particularly relevant to investments in digital ecosystems. The rapidly evolving digital landscape requires a high appetite for risk when “harnessing new technologies and innovations” in USAID’s development and humanitarian assistance,92 with a commitment to understand and minimize avoidable risks as we promote innovation. Simultaneously, the rights, protections, and safety of our beneficiaries and recipients must always be our foremost priority, so our appetite for risk is low when the security of information, such as PII, is threatened.93
WHEN NOT TO GO DIGITAL While technology can improve many development and humanitarian projects, it is not a panacea. For example, in some cases (such as relief for natural disasters), damage to digital infrastructure can disrupt connectivity and make low-tech tools more reliable. Data about some extremely vulnerable populations could be too sensitive to store digitally, or even to collect, regardless of the security measures employed. Deployment of some digital tools also might be unwise in countries with repressive and digitally sophisticated governments that can subvert or disrupt systems more easily than our partners can protect them. These and other “non-permissive digital environments” require careful consideration of when, and whether, to use digital methods.

f. Given the consensus view that data flows present singular challenges and opportunities, multiple organizations have developed principles, guidelines, frameworks, or white papers to inform policymakers and other stakeholders on how to navigate this environment safely. See, for example, CSIS, “Data Governance Principles for the Global Digital Economy,” (2019), https://www.csis.org/analysis/data-governance-principles-global-digital-... CIGI, “Data Is Different: Why the World Needs a New Approach to Governing Cross-border Data Flows,” (2018), https://www.cigionline.org/publications/data-different-why-world-needs-n... border-data-flows; USTR, “The Digital 2 Dozen,” (n/d), https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/trans-pacific-pa... 2-dozen
g. See, for example, the Principles of Donor Alignment for Digital Health: https://digitalinvestmentprinciples.org/

Last updated: April 14, 2020

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