Towards a digital public good for social services
This is our first post of a new decade, one that is being labelled "the decade of action". More than a just a catchy moniker, this is meant to be a rallying cry for all of the governments, civil society actors, international organizations and the private sector who have their sights set on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all". Ten years out, there are already some troubling signs that the current pace of change and levels of investment will not be sufficient to achieve the SDGs. We need to leverage every resource, every partnership and every tool that we can to make sure we fulfill our commitments to the people of the world.
The role of digital technologies is increasingly being seen as a critical component in the strategy for achieving the SDGs. Harnessing the potential of new technologies and making their benefits available to all - while taking measures to mitigate the risks they may present - is a challenge that must be faced head-on. With this in mind, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres convened a High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation in 2019. The Panel, composed of a diverse group of constituents from UN Member States, industry representatives, civil society organizations and other entities, produced a report that called for several key issues to be addressed at roundtable events. One of these will focus on Digital Public Goods, and on creating mechanisms for sharing them as a means of supporting the achievement of the SDGs.
In late 2019 we announced our partnership with the Digital Impact Alliance and our new vision of evolving Primero into a digital public good. What does this mean, and why is it important?
Organizations like Digital Square have been advocating for "global goods" in the heath sector for years: "Global goods are adaptable, interoperable, open source software or content designed to meet the data and management needs of country health systems." The Digital Public Goods Alliance adopts a slightly different definition: "Digital public goods are digital products, and the software, data and algorithms that drive them, that serve to educate us, help us thrive in our professional lives, enrich our cultural experiences, and ultimately do good for the benefit of humankind."
The idea that software that "does good" should be made available to as many people and organizations as possible is a simple but revolutionary idea. Why should we keep reinventing the wheel? Why should each organization, state, institution or programme have to invest in building or licensing software for public sector programming, for the benefit of humanity, knowing that this duplication exists and that these resources are scarce? There is a better way: Investing in proven software, making it widely available and affordable, ensuring that it is responsibly managed, that it respects individual's rights, that it is implemented sustainably, and that it is governed openly and thoughtfully. That's an ambitious approach, and that's our plan.
Primero v2 is currently under development, and will be made available in 2020 as a software as a service (SaaS), digital public good. With the support of the Open Source Center and our technology partners, and following the guidance emerging around digital public goods, Primero is plotting a course to fill the gap in the social services sector for a robust and ethical digital platform. We have a lot of work to do to continue to build the partnerships, refine the business model, expand the platform, and mature the governance. But it's worth the effort. For the public good!