According to a study by The Brookings Institution, open source technologies that fall under the category of digital public goods (DPGs) have the potential to significantly contribute to helping open societies achieve their goals for digital transformation if they are properly developed and implemented. According to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in 2020, DPGs are open source software, open data, AI models, standards, and content that make Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) a practical reality.
Victoria Welborn, senior programme manager for the United Nations Foundation’s Digital Impact Alliance, and George Ingram, senior fellow on global economics and development at the Centre for Sustainable Development, co-authored the report “Can open source technologies enable open societies?” The co-authors of the paper evaluate the distinctive value proposition of Digital Public Goods (DPGs) in promoting more just systems and codifying rights to support open societies before delving into the ongoing difficulties in fully using this opportunity. They also provide some policy suggestions for how to handle these difficulties.
The paper acknowledges DPGs’ capacity for transformation, their capacity to promote inclusiveness, and other ways they might be used to aid open societies in achieving their goals for economic, social, and political growth. According to the authors, these technologies can undoubtedly help with “building open, trustworthy, and collaborative societies that produce inclusive services for the benefit of all nations and people” if they are developed with the appropriate safeguards, in accordance with the principles of inclusion, privacy, transparency, and trust.
The co-authors note that while DPGs are important, there are several obstacles in the way of them reaching their full potential. These difficulties include the absence of a clear regulatory framework and of universally recognised standards governing Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI); local capacity limitations in supporting large DPI ecosystems; a lack of investment sustainability; and a fragmented ecosystem that supports DPGs as the slow adoption and implementation pace caused by the absence of established standards and inconsistent principles.
According to the report’s recommendations for utilising DPGs to foster the growth of open societies, safeguards for inclusion must be put in place, global norms and principles must be established, funds must be invested locally to build the capacities of civil society actors and technologists, and open source investments must be coordinated using a variety of funding models.
The analysis comes after a May 2022 paper from the Center for Sustainable Development at Brookings on the importance of DPGs and DPIs in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which includes ensuring everyone has a legal identity. One of the highlights of the ID4Africa meeting in Marrakesh in June was the discussion of the value of developing digital public goods and infrastructure and how essential they are for programmes involving digital transformation.