Digital technology was a reoccurring theme last week at the Biden administration’s Summit for Democracy on “defending against authoritarianism, addressing and fighting corruption, promoting respect for human rights.” COVID-19 has highlighted how central digital capabilities are for all aspects of life—work, health, education, commerce, and government. Digital infrastructure and government services are no longer just nice to have, but essential elements of a 21st century nation. Digital capabilities are ideologically neutral and can serve authoritarian as well as democratic tendencies, so development donors must be wary of whom they partner with and how they deliver assistance for digital government.


Low-income countries (LICs) and lower-middle-income countries (LMICs) are in dire need of assistance in all aspects of digital government. Support is required not only on the strictly digital components of ICT (information and communication technology) infrastructure, digital data and services platforms, digital participation, and digital security, but also on upgrading and adapting to the digital world the analog components of government institutions and regulations, in addition to digital literacy and human capital development.

Donors are currently supporting various digital development initiatives, but too often in one-off, siloed applications rather than as part of a comprehensive, strategic plan. Donors should build their support around national digital strategies and find ways to overcome barriers to donor coordination. The scale and urgency of need are such that donors should collaborate through establishing a comprehensive global digital initiative and regional efforts like the African Union’s digital transformation strategy for Africa. As appropriate, they should draw from and contribute to global public goods, as cataloged by the Digital Impact Alliance in its Catalogue of Digital Solutions, and utilize existing capabilities and platforms as provided by Future StateMOSIP, and GovStack.

Expectations for donor support must be realistic. An initiative can undertake only so much. A digital government initiative, even a comprehensive one, is likely to focus mainly on digitally specific components—telecommunications infrastructure, government digital capacity and online services, digital participation, and cybersecurity. For the other components that support digital government, there are existing well-established donor programs in building human capacity through education and training, in strengthening government institutions, services, policies, and regulations, and in advancing democracy and political participation. Ideally, a digital lens would be embedded in these traditional programs to create mutually strengthening synergies with digital government: education programs addressing digital literacy, institution building efforts adapted to the digital world, and democracy programs focused on citizen engagement in an online world.

Read the full article about digital government by George Ingram and Meagan Dooley at Brookings.