Annex II: Implementation Initiatives

Digital Strategy

To achieve the goal and objectives of the Digital Strategy, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will take a multi-pronged approach. The Center for Digital Development (CDD) of the U.S. Global Development Lab will coordinate with other Operating Units (OUs) within the Agency (particularly the Offices of the Chief Information Officer [CIO] and Acquisition and Assistance [OAA] in the Bureau for Management “[M], the Office of the General Counsel [GC], and the Office of Human Capital and Talent Management [HCTM]) to execute the four key tracks of implementation. We will do the following:

  1. Develop tools and resources necessary to provide development and humanitarian assistance effectively in a digital age;
  2. Build capacity to better navigate the unique opportunities and risks that digital technology presents across USAID’s Program Cycle;
  3. Default to the use of appropriate technology in our development and humanitarian-assistance programming; and
  4. Invest in our human capital to continue to build the USAID of tomorrow.

This section sets out USAID’s vision for how we intend to achieve the goal and objectives of the Strategy. The implementation of the Strategy will allow for learning and adaptation as the digital landscape continues to evolve.

This Strategy contains USAID’s current vision; however, we expect that, based on lessons learned during implementation, the Agency could modify some of the initiatives detailed herein accordingly over the five-year span of the Strategy. USAID will continue to have conversations with key stakeholders both within and outside of USAID. All of the initiatives are subject to the availability of funding and will need to meet current Administration priorities. In addition, any initiatives that affect our contractors and recipients must be assessed against relevant policies and laws.110 Where necessary, USAID will conduct notice-and-comment rule-making to implement any Agency-specific requirements beyond those already established in existing rules to ensure we target any new obligations on partners appropriately to the relevant strategic priorities while considering the equities on all relevant parties. The implementation of the Strategy will start in a subset of target countries and will ultimately extend to all USAID OUs.

ADOPT AN ECOSYSTEM APPROACH TO DEVELOPMENT IN A DIGITAL AGE

Taking a systems-level approach, USAID will create tools and resources to enable our staff and partners to understand better and respond to digital opportunities or risks in the digital ecosystem, integrate digital tools and approaches across every region or sector, and navigate the current evidence and learnings in a rapidly evolving field.

EVIDENCE AND ADAPTATION IN A DIGITAL AGE

Digital technology is in a constant state of evolution, as emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things challenge established models of user interaction, service-delivery, and more. Absent intentional, robust, and actionable research, the development community will lack the resources necessary to appreciate fully and act on the risk posed, or benefit offered, by both current and emerging technology.

  • Digital Ecosystem Country Assessments (DECAs) will inform the development, design, and implementation of our strategies, projects, and activities. USAID is developing a standardized assessment of a digital ecosystem to inform country-level strategic planning, the design of projects and activities, and the implementation of activities. The DECA will examine aspects of a country’s digital ecosystem, including its infrastructure; access to, and the use, collection, and analysis of, data; digital society and governance; censorship, information integrity, and digital rights; cybersecurity; digital finance; and digital trade and e-commerce. The resulting information will identify concrete areas of opportunity and risk for Mission-funded programming based on where a country currently sits on its digital Journey to Self-Reliance. In countries in which extensive gaps in the digital ecosystem exist, Missions can build responses into sector-level programming or develop cross-cutting efforts country-wide.

    By taking a holistic view of ecosystem challenges and U.S. engagements and investments in-country, DECAs can facilitate interagency collaboration and private-sector engagement to strengthen the digital ecosystem. Digital experts based in the CDD will conduct a Mission’s initial DECA, with technical support from partners as needed, and always in partnership with Mission staff. Because of the rapid pace of change within digital ecosystems, each Mission’s Digital Development Advisor should update these assessments every one to two years, with support from the CDD, to inform strategic planning and the design and implementation of projects and activities regularly about new opportunities or risks in the digital ecosystem.

  • USAID will establish a Digital Ecosystem Fund111 to support Emerging Opportunities and Strategic Initiatives in a Digital Ecosystem. USAID must make targeted investments to achieve a vision of open, inclusive, and secure digital ecosystems that can also withstand aggressively pursued authoritarian interference and misinformation. Subject to the availability of funds, USAID Missions will use the Digital Ecosystem Fund to finance activities that can respond to short-notice opportunities or risks related to the digital ecosystem and long-term strategic opportunities to strengthen the inclusiveness of the ecosystem. A team in the CDD will manage the Fund and will collaborate with other OUs, including M/CIO, to do the following: (1) provide guidance on niche topics related to proposals to the Fund; (2) facilitate outreach to USAID’s Missions; and, (3) manage activities supported by the Fund. DECAs and the gaps identified therein will influence decision-making on the Fund. By being a source of internal funding deployable in any sector and any implementing mechanism, the Fund will afford Missions the flexibility that multi-year planning processes do not always facilitate.
  • USAID Bureaus and Independent Offices should develop Digital Visions that align with this Digital Strategy. USAID’s OUs will develop guidance in the form of a Digital Vision Paper112 that articulates how they should integrate digital technology into programming in that region or sector. The Vision Papers should reflect recognition of key trends and critical priorities for digital development and provide clear direction for the region or sector. Digital Vision papers should map out actions that align with the Agency’s Digital Strategy and are consistent with other Agency priorities, such as the New Partners Initiative113 and the Acquisition and Assistance Strategy.114 Working with agile, untraditional partners will be essential for successfully implementing digitally enabled programming. OUs should update the direction set out in Vision Papers every two to three years and fully integrate it into strategic planning, the design and implementation of activities, training, monitoring, evaluations, and learning. Each OU’s Digital Development Advisor or a designated point of contact should lead this process with support from CDD.
  • USAID should align Mission-led work such that programming reinforces and contributes to the development of open national digital ecosystems. When national digital strategies are not in place, USAID will work with willing government partners and the private sector to develop country-specific visions for open, secure, and inclusive digital ecosystems that facilitate interoperability, the exchange of ideas, and the trade of goods and services across borders. In addition, USAID should collaborate with our U.S. Government interagency colleagues in-country to ensure that U.S. Departments and Agencies work in coordination on digital ecosystem issues. When government commitment is lacking, USAID will work with other donors, civil society, and private-sector stakeholders to build this commitment and ensure the implementation of digital development in a secure, inclusive manner that recognizes and upholds individual and community rights, safeguards against digital exploitation, and encourages the use of data for decision-making.
  • USAID will establish a Digital Learning Agenda to ensure the Agency is continually adapting our planning and programming to changes in the digital sphere. USAID will maintain an active research portfolio to investigate the optimal applications of digital technology and advanced analytics in our programming; mapping the implications and impact of both the present and potential use of digital technology across sectors and country contexts; and creating evidence-driven feedback loops to inform programming and planning regularly. As we strive to make the most effective use of taxpayer funds, we will continue to prioritize deepening our understanding of the most robust means of delivering development and humanitarian assistance in a digital age. USAID will carry out this Learning Agenda in partnership with the academic community, bolstered by strong collaboration with implementing partners, government actors, and other relevant thought-leaders who strive to improve the development community’s understanding of both the promise and the pitfalls of digital technology. We will grow our evidence base and our systematic visibility into programmatic investments in digital tools, systems, and platforms, to engender a robust assessment of the impact of the Digital Strategy, and of digital technology writ large.

HELP PARTNERS NAVIGATE OPPORTUNITY AND RISK

To ensure USAID and our partners fully seize the opportunities and appropriately mitigate the risks that digital technology presents, we must employ a principled approach to apply digital development effectively and responsibly throughout our Program Cycle. USAID will build on our years of work in key digital fields to develop and provide coherent programming guidance applicable to all sectors. These support resources will guide the secure and appropriate use of digital technology in strategic planning, the design and implementation of projects and activities, collaborative learning and adapting, and monitoring and evaluation. As the nature of opportunity and risk continues to evolve in the fast-moving world of digital technology, USAID must remain flexible in how we endeavor to address risk and seize opportunity. USAID will undertake the following initiatives with an aim to learn and adapt throughout the process of implementation. Over the five-year course of this Strategy, these initiatives are likely to evolve, augmented by additional activities as the state of the global digital ecosystem develops.

  • USAID will augment our commitment to close the gender digital divide and address the disproportionate harm women and girls face online. Empowering women economically and socially is a core tenet of development policy, but persistent—and growing—gaps in women’s access to, and use of, digital technology115 significantly hamper the ability of digital technology to help women improve their lives, the stability of their families, and the resilience of their communities. Once online, women and girls face harm at a disproportionate rate, which further discourages their engagement with the digital ecosystem. Through this Digital Strategy, USAID commits to closing the gender digital divide through projects like the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative and the WomenConnect Challenge, and to require that all programming that involves digital technology will address the digital inequities and digital harms women and girls face. The CDD and the Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and the Environment will clearly define and offer evidence into how development programming can reduce the gender digital divide, develop tools for staff to use in strategic or programmatic design to address this challenge, and provide technical support in this field.
  • USAID will increase awareness of both the value and risks of online and mobile access for children, to reduce their exposure to disturbing or potentially harmful content, and to prevent exploitation. Digital technology offers children, young people, and their parents tremendous opportunities to advance well-being. Digital technology also plays an increasingly important role in protecting children, by facilitating birth registration, rapid family-tracing, and case-management. However, increased digital access also increases the risk of exposing children to harm.116 Through the Digital Strategy, USAID commits to supporting the strengthening, implementation, and enforcement of laws and policies that prevent, respond to, and protect children from all forms of violence, exploitation, abuse, and neglect, including children vulnerable to online violence and exploitation.
  • USAID will increase our efforts to improve digital literacyn of all people to advance development. Another persistent barrier to the adoption and use of digital technology in developing countries is gaps in the functional ability to use these digital tools fully among certain populations and social groups. USAID’s programming that includes digital technology regardless of sector or geography must include considerations around digital literacy in our design, from helping smallholder farmers track commodity prices on their mobile phones to helping newspapers operate on multimedia platforms. USAID should also expand our ecosystem-level programming in digital literacy, for example, by working with Ministries of Education to build curricula in digital literacy; assisting in the development of voice-based and native-language applications that will expand the reach of those applications substantially; or supporting the development of civil-society organizations that serve as watchdogs on digital issues and protect digital rights. USAID will develop tools and offer technical assistance to help our staff understand all facets of digital literacy and digital skill gaps within a country’s digital ecosystem and how to include these priorities in the design of strategies and activities.
  • USAID will expand our capacity to help governments, the private sector, civil society, and citizens in partner countries mitigate harm through cybersecurity programming. As cyber threats to development grow increasingly prevalent and sophisticated, USAID should expand our ability to provide holistic support to the cybersecurity needs of stakeholders in partner nations. Cybersecurity is becoming a prerequisite to maintain the sustainability and value of USAID’s development investments that leverage digital technologies and protect a project or beneficiary’s credibility, safety, and ability to deliver effective results. USAID should include cybersecurity requirements in programmatic designs that use digital technologies and build the cybersecurity capacity and resilience of beneficiaries, especially vulnerable populations. USAID will work closely with the U.S. Government interagency and other donors to coordinate interventions when appropriate, look to build beneficial partnerships with private technology and cybersecurity companies, and generally draw on the deep expertise that lies in USAID’s partner community. USAID will develop guidance for staff in cybersecurity programming and provide technical assistance in the design and implementation of strategies and activities.
  • USAID will increase our investments in the privacy and protection of data in our programs. Developing policies and practices to safeguard sensitive data and the personally identifiable information (PII) of users and beneficiaries must become standard practice in all activities that include digital technology. For example, when USAID designs and invests in programming that involves the collection of data on individuals, we must build in (and appropriately budget for) measures to protect privacy and protection, both within programs themselves and within USAID’s own operational infrastructure. USAID will also support partner governments, civil society, and the private sector to develop robust, national-level policies for the privacy, protection, and governance of data, while balancing privacy needs with the need for cross-border flows of data. This support will include advocating for policies that protect individual privacy and advocating against ones that hinder responsible international data-sharing and e-commerce. Additionally, USAID will develop guidance to support our staff in safeguarding the privacy and protection of data in development and humanitarian-assistance programming, and will provide technical assistance throughout the Agency’s Program Cycle.

SHIFT TO DIGITAL BY DEFAULT
 

USAID and our partners must work to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of every U.S. taxpayer dollar we manage. The appropriate use of digital technology allows us to reap efficiency rewards in our programming, and digitally savvy staff can better protect better the individuals with whom we work. As we transform our approach to benefit from the gains of doing development in a digital age, we must shift to a programmatic position that takes a whole-of-government approach to leveraging digital technology and engaging with the digital ecosystem responsibly by default. Only when this approach does not clearly offer an advantage, or when the risks introduced by digital are too great, should we revert to an analog approach to development. We will work to reduce barriers for organizations of all types to move toward increasingly digital operations responsibly and securely implemented. It is USAID’s vision that:

  • USAID will integrate the Principles for Digital Development into the design, procurement, and implementation of our awards, as appropriate. Endorsed by USAID and more than 200 organizations, the Principles for Digital Development are a set of guidelines and best practices intended to help development practitioners succeed in applying digital technology to development and humanitarian assistance. In addition to procurement, USAID and our partners will meaningfully incorporate the Digital Principles and other established, empirically rooted international best practices throughout the Agency’s Program Cycle. USAID will further strengthen our commitment to the Principles for Digital Development and ensure their ongoing alignment with existing, pending, and future USAID policies and award requirements, with input from our partners through public notice and comment where applicable.
  • USAID will mandate the digital collection of programmatic data.o In lieu of paper-based collection methods, USAID will require that our staff and partners collect all programmatic data digitally to the greatest extent possible and in a responsible manner that is consistent with the Agency’s existing data requirements and Federal information-collection procedures. This includes working under the authority of the Agency’s information-collection officials to ensure responsible and ethical collection procedures while following submission requirements to USAID-approved repositories when applicable. As USAID adapts to dynamic digital ecosystems, the Agency will continue to promote responsible data-collection practices and standards that fuel advanced data analytics, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, and allow USAID—and by extension, the broader development community—to maximize the potential of digital data. Ultimately, our goal must be to make the most sense of the data we collect for better decision-making, adaptive programming, and strategic planning, while also protecting data subjects from harm and empowering end-users and communities with actionable information. In the event the Agency grants an exception for this requirement, we will not only reveal obstacles to the responsible digital collection of data, but also address them where possible.
  • USAID’s contractors and recipients will adopt cybersecurity and data-privacy protective measures for their internal operations and implemented activities. USAID champions the principle of “do no harm” in our proposed move to digital by default, by elevating the need to protect and secure digital data collected by partners appropriately. Adequate cybersecurity and data-privacy protective measures include establishing protocols for the privacy, transparency, and protection of data in activities; investing in cybersecurity measures to protect data and systems; and implementing those measures. As already required in USAID’s regulations (Sector 225 of Title 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations), implementing partners should also establish informed-consent mechanisms and policies on privacy protections for individuals, while safeguarding the collection, sharing, and use of data. These cybersecurity and data-privacy protective measures should also extend to the information systems and practices of sub-contractors and sub-awardees, where applicable in the recipient’s award.117
  • USAID will make digital payments the default method of payment under all our awards. Building on Procurement Executive’s Bulletin No. 2014-06,118 USAID will engage in the notice-and-comment rule-making process to make digital payments the default method of payment under all USAID-funded awards, with appropriate exceptions. Upon completion of the rule-making process, USAID will track the uptake and adoption of digital payments across all our programming. When USAID grants exceptions, we will work to identify and, when possible, address obstacles to digitizing payments.

BUILD THE USAID OF TOMORROW
 

In line with USAID’s Policy Framework, the Digital Strategy will enable the Agency’s staff to become digital leaders in development, increase coherence between our digital practice and policy, and align existing digital priorities with budgetary backing. We will strengthen USAID for the future in the following ways:

  • USAID will hire and upskill Digital Development Advisors (DDAs). USAID’s staff regularly face unfamiliar challenges as they work to carry out development and humanitarian-assistance programming in a rapidly changing digital world. The opportunities and challenges of doing development in a digital age necessitate the creation of new support roles upon which Mission staff can draw for technical expertise and strategic guidance. Subject to the availability of dedicated funding, OUs will aim to create a new position—DDA— to serve as their experts on digital ecosystems and provide guidance on anticipating, recognizing, and reacting to changes and opportunities in these ecosystems. DDAs will facilitate the DECAs and support all sectors in incorporating digital tools into programming with an emphasis on interoperability and risk-mitigation. The Advisors will support Missions’ applications to the Digital Ecosystem Fund and other digitally related financing available through priority initiatives, and will work with the interagency on digital issues at post. They will also help OUs implement other parts of the Digital Strategy, including digital payments, the collection of digital data, the Principles for Digital Development, closing the digital gender divide, and digital literacy. The DDAs will receive training and technical support from CDD, in coordination with other operating units within the Agency (particularly M/CIO and HCTM). Initially, USAID will identify up to 15 Missions in which to pilot this position, subject to the availability of funds; after assessing and improving on the pilot as possible, USAID will roll out the program Agency-wide.
  • USAID will plan to establish an Executive Fellowship Program in Digital Development. USAID needs to invest in our future leaders’ abilities to guide the Agency through a period of unparalleled digital growth. USAID’s Executive Fellowship will be a long-term investment in USAID staff, and a key part of USAID’s strategy to achieve Agency transformation. Annually, pending appropriate approval by leadership and HCTM, the Agency will select a number of U.S. Direct-Hire staff with highly successful professional experience and technical backgrounds to serve as Fellows. Fellows will initially work in CDD to acquaint them with the digital development work taking place across the Agency. The Fellows will then embed with a private-sector firm involved in technology or cybersecurity, a think tank, technology incubator, or academic institution that is working on digital issues related to one of the Agency’s strategic priorities. Fellows will be exposed to innovation, application of technology, and organizational approaches to digital that could be used to transform USAID from within. The Fellows will return to the CDD for the final phase of the assignment, where they are expected to integrate their knowledge and skills in the technical/regional Bureau prior to returning to their permanent roles in the Agency.
  • USAID will integrate skills in digital development across the technical and programmatic occupational categories of our workforce. Digital approaches are impossible to divorce from sectoral work; therefore, USAID should integrate digital technology in a manner consistent with established digital best practices. Accomplishing this vision does not require that all of our staff become digital experts. Instead, we aspire to have a workforce that can act on opportunities and identify risks posed by the digital age. Fulfilling this target will call for the occupational categories in the USAID Foreign Service (called “backstops”), the Civil Service, and other hiring mechanisms to incorporate training sessions in digital development into technical conferences and as part of the on-boarding process for all new hires. Also, OUs will need to support hosting or sending staff to attend training in digital development.
  • The Agency should establish a senior-level Digital Development position. The transition from piecemeal, retail efforts scattered across the Agency’s programming to systematic, smart investments in digital development will require sustained leadership to oversee this change. Pending approval and the availability of funds, USAID should create a new position, similar to that of the Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Geographer, and Chief Scientist, which will be responsible for coordinating programmatic digital investments across the Agency, maintaining cross-Agency coherence in the implementation of the Digital Strategy, and guiding the adaptation of the Agency’s programs as the digital landscape evolves. The senior-level Digital Development Officer will sit in an appropriately aligned Bureau following the reorganization of several OUs as part of USAID’s Transformation. Although focused on the Agency’s programming, this position would liaise with the U.S. Government interagency to ensure effective coordination and alignment with U.S. foreign policies and would coordinate with the Agency’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Data Officer (CDO) to the extent their respective domains intersect or complement each other. At the same time, USAID will continue to invest in the authority of the CIO, CDO, and Chief Technology Officer to determine operational policy and technology and data requirements and guidance.

r. Digital literacy includes both skills related to the use of hardware or software as well as skills related to the use of digital media and information.
s. There will necessarily be exceptions to this mandate, considered case-by-case.

Last updated: June 16, 2020

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