Exploring Digital Transformation & Emerging Technology

Episode 5 September 20, 2022 00:43:26
Exploring Digital Transformation & Emerging Technology
Data... for What?!
Exploring Digital Transformation & Emerging Technology
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Hosted By

Joshua Powell Vanessa Goas

Show Notes

We have come to the final episode of the current series, which focused on our new strategy. In this episode, Josh discussed digital transformation and emerging technologies with Annie Kilroy, Senior Associate, and Fernando Ferreyra, DG’s Director of Software Development. The conversation centered on sustainability and responsibility, what has changed in the technology landscape in the past decade, our approach to digital transformation, and how to continue prioritizing users.

Related links from the conversation:

 

Special thanks to Mark Hatcher for our theme music. You can find Mark on social media at @markdhatcher. 

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Episode Transcript

Josh Powell Hi, I'm Josh Powell. I'm the CEO of Development Gateway: an IREX Venture (DG). I’ve been with DG for about 12 years and I’m based in Washington, DC. Vanessa Goas And I'mVanessa Goas, COO of DG. I've been with DG for about 15 years and I'm based in Miami, Florida. This is Data… for What?! the new Development Gateway: podcast. We have several seasons on different topics in production, but in our first season we're going to talk about our new strategic plan, how it fits with our past work, the thought process behind it, and where we hope to go in the next few years. In this episode, we talked to Fernanda Ferreyra and Annie Kilroy about digital transformation and emerging technologies. Josh Powell Yeah, it was really a great conversation. You know, the reason we wanted to talk to Fernando, our director of software development, is because he's worked with DG for well over a decade and building technology, deploying it directly with governments and civil society globally and and really kind of delivering in a very pragmatic level digital transformation as well as testing out new technologies. And Annie has done a lot of work around digital and data governance, around understanding and measuring digital transformation and a lot of our applied research work. And so I think they both brought really great and unique perspectives to the conversation. Vanessa Goas So historically, DG used to talk a lot about digital technologies. We made a bit of a pivot towards data for decision-making in more recent years, and now this new strategy goes a little bit back to the question of digital. Can you tell us a little bit more about why we're making that shift? Josh Powell Yeah. I think when you pulled the mask off, it was always digital all along. You know, all the work that we've done has been about deploying digital technology to support data collection, data interoperability, data analysis, visualization, and all in the service of using technology to help support better decision-making and better development outcomes. The vernacular in this case has evolved over time, and particularly with the data Revolution report in 2015. There is a lot of framing and focus on the data component over the more recent years. I think what's become clear and particularly throughout the pandemic, is that all of those processes around data as well as around citizen engagement, civic participation, and so forth, they all require a level of digital transformation and digital equity and also increasingly digital rights and digital governance that really weren't being met by the development sector, by governments, by certainly by the private sector as well. And so I think certainly the pendulum and the focus has swung back a little bit toward digital. For us it's a little bit of change, but it's a lot of continuity. The main difference is that we're being very intentional in this strategy about leaning forward into some of the new and emerging technologies, testing them out with an eye on governance, with an eye on ethics, and with an eye on appropriate technology – which for a while was the buzzword that you've heard in this space was around appropriate technology, that's kind of going away. We're going to start to see that coming back as new and exciting or buzzworthy technologies inevitably run into their challenges and limitations. I think you'll start to see people talking more and more about appropriate tactics. Vanessa Goas I think it's been interesting, over the course of our careers in this sector, seeing how data and digital was a bit of a niche topic and kind of had to force their way into the room and explain why it was important, to becoming almost accepted and more mainstream. How are we setting ourselves aside and making sure that we're being a little bit different in this space so that we continue to bring value? Josh Powell Yeah, I think that's definitely where we're at. The first time in my career where I think demand is kind of far outstripping supply in terms of expertise in the digital space. And so there is a lot of opportunity for growth, not just for DG but for a lot of partners. I think what's unique about our approach in our offerings is a few things. One is that our teams are half software engineers and half development practitioners. We really bring that hard engineering skillset to all the work that we do as opposed to outsourcing or just having maybe one or two technologists on staff. And so our thinking is really heavily driven by our software team very often, and particularly in this strategy cycle. I think the other thing is really a close understanding of governments, of civil society, and of the contexts that we work in so that we can really tune the use of digital technology, of data to specific problems that people have in their day to day life, in their work, in their decision making processes. I think that's often lacking. There's still very heavy tools focus within the development space and I think as you see digital mainstreamed into more and more sectors where you have folks getting excited about digital, maybe for the first time. And so there's this natural inclination to kind of repeat the mistakes of the past of “I have a tool, this tool can do X, I must deploy this tool.” And I think being able to come in as a trusted partner, to be able to really ensure that the approaches that are being designed, the tools that are being deployed are really fit for purpose, are sustainable, and also ensure the rights and the protection of information, particularly marginalized and vulnerable communities. Vanessa Goas What was most interesting in your conversation with Annie and Fernando? Josh Powell What stood out to me in this conversation that the first half of it in particular, there was an inordinate focus, and I think rightfully so, on risk identification mitigation. Obviously we're a technology organization. We're strong believers in the role of technology. But I think we also have a very weighty understanding of the responsibility that comes with deploying technology, particularly technology that is either designed to allocate resources that influence people's lives or that even more directly touches their lives through service delivery and access to various resources. And so that was was obviously something that our team spends a lot of their time thinking about. That first do no harm principle. And then from there thinking through what are the exciting things that we can do that match with our ethics, that match with our value, and our mission? And there's always a lot to be done. But I think doing it really thoughtfully and carefully is always critical to the way that we work. Vanessa Goas And I think that's such an important thing about the way that we work and also what we look for in partners, right? We're not just looking for any particular opportunity to go implement any new shiny thing that we want. We really are always thinking about the people behind the tools that we build. Who are going to be the users? who are going to be the ultimate people benefiting from the use of this data? And I think what you brought up about do no harm. It's so important. And it's something that I think gets thrown around in our space almost not seriously. Sometimes for us, it's always sort of at the forefront of what we're doing. And I think sometimes it means that we don't go after what we perceive to be a little bit riskier, even though it might be a bit of a sexy or new thing for us. So I do think that's a really important. I'm very glad that you guys had a chance to talk about that. Let's turn to the conversation with Annie and Fernando. Josh Powell I'm here with Annie and Fernando today. Annie, do you want to go first? Annie Kilroy I'm Annie. I'm a senior associate. I've been with Development Gateway for about five years now. My background is in data analysis and policy analysis, so I support a lot of initiatives at DG on data use and data use advisory. Fernando Ferreyra I’m Fernando Ferreyra, the Director of Software Development. I lead the team that takes care of developing software solutions, and we've been doing it for many, many years and we have a focus on delivering these high quality, sustainable products with an emphasis on open source. Josh Powell Annie we will start with you. What is digital transformation, and how do you see Development Gateway's approach to digital transformation changing in recent years? Annie Kilroy I think that's an interesting question. I think digital transformation… it's kind of hard to define. It's a catch all for just bringing things to the digital world, whether that's a process or kind of service or anything like that. It's recently, I think, taken on a new connotation in the development context in terms of bringing government institutions online, especially those in the developing world. And also it touches on in the development world systems of tools and technology that is used to advance development. So for us, I don't actually think that it's super different than anything that we've always been doing at DG. We've always been a technology provider, so implementing digital transformation and at that smaller scale, one system at a time. I think we started with the aid management platform and that's an example of just one system at a time. But I think as we matured as an organization, we started realizing that there's a lot more than just a digital tool that needs to happen in order to actually reap the benefits of any sort of digital transformation initiative. These are policies, data sharing, interoperability, governance. All these digital tools need to relate to one another and work with one another. So I think it's really not all that different from what we've already done in the past. We've always provided advisory support on a policy level and governance. We've also been doing a lot of applied research and best practices related to data sharing and interoperability and all these things that digital transformation as an umbrella term encompasses. So I really don't think it's much different from anything the DG has already done – other than maybe taking it to a higher level and also just giving it a name. Josh Powell Perfect, thanks. And Fernando, how have you seen DG approach change over the years and what do you see as the role of digital innovation and emerging technologies in this new strategy? Fernando Ferreyra Digital transformation, like Annie described, it's a broad term, has to come hand-in-hand with innovation. Now, with innovation comes a lot of noise and we need to be able to get the signals from there. The way we try to do this is by fostering a culture of experimentation where we can find interesting solutions to the common problems that we have. Solutions are always evolving, and I think that we are the beginning of the digital transformation. We are in a very initial stage that we'll have to be very careful about how we can really extract the value. The promise of digital transformation is to get more value for all of our efforts. Now, will we? We need to be smart about how we invest there, how we look at these new technologies that are sometimes more disruptive and we need to see what the value is there. Josh Powell So you talked about experimentation, you talked about disruption. But I think what both of those words comes a third word, which is responsibility. How do we think about these things ethically and systematically in a way that we can make sure that as we experiment with tools that ideally should be improving lives, that they do that without creating new risks or new exposures. Fernando Ferreyra Yeah, I think tha from the start, since I started working at DG 14 years ago, it was always about sustainability. And that sustainability is a pillar, but what sustainability means has also changed over the years. How are we going to be careful about this? There are many things that work towards sustainability. There's always a temptation to use some more commercial solutions or things that have recurring licenses. We've seen in the past that although we can't use them, it's just that this has to be part of the plan and part of the conversation on how a product is going to evolve after we end the project. We take very serious responsibility when we are doing technology selection or suggesting architecture for our solutions. Sometimes it's not the cutting edge, it's not the most innovative solution, but we strive to get the most sustainable one – and this has worked very well for us in the past. Josh Powell Thanks. And to build on that for us as we look at engaging more with emerging technologies and tools, things that are a little bit more nascent or experimental, what are some of the things that you're thinking about in terms of how we engage with some of these new tools in new ways? Fernando Ferreyra First of all, in the tool selection to make sure that they have a thriving community. Some of these technologies come and go and then you end up with solutions that cannot be maintained, improved, and evolve. On the other hand, there are always conversations about things, like, carbon footprint. What's the operative things that impact the long running of of a service that need to be taken into into account? We have concerns in some tools about how to make sure that the tool that we are implementing is safe, gets security updates, and with an emphasis on personal information, especially if we have a system that tracks that kind of information. How we can be compliant with the standards and at the same time being careful of not just to store the data, but how the data are going to be kept and maintained and kept safe. Security and environmental impact, sustainability, licensing. These are all dimensions that compose how we choose a solution. And of course, there are some local contexts that may favor one technology instead of another, because as we move forward with projects, we engage with the local technical community when we want to make sure that we are not imposing a technology that cannot be sustained locally. Josh Powell Great. Thanks, Fernando. And Annie, Fernando started to talk a little bit about personally identifiable data. We also deal with, in some cases, data that might be commercially sensitive. As we think about not just the technology itself, but the data that's being fed through that. What are some of the ways in which DG is thinking about data governance and really making sure that we're staying a step ahead, not just of meeting minimal standards but of setting good practice? Annie Kilroy Yeah, I think that's a really good point because it's not just about, like you said, compliance and being humble about the fact that digital is not a silver bullet. But I think we're also, like you said, keenly aware of the major risk factors of misuse of data and technology. We're seeing a lot of examples of that already. Everything from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to using biometric data to isolate certain populations, Internet shutdowns to control dissent, and all kinds of misuses and unethical uses of what should be useful technology. So I think one of the things that we do at DG is – because of our experience working directly with users of this – whatever software tool we're building or whatever kind of policy that we're advising on, I think we have a lot of visibility into some of these real world risks and what the real world consequences might be. I think we also do a really good job at DG of convening the right stakeholders and asking the right questions in these kind of convening and community meetings, as Fernando already touched on. Community is important for just identifying any sort of innovation tool that we want to use. But for us, the DG community it is also really important when it comes to rolling out a tool or developing a policy recommendation or anything of that matter. So we really try to focus on the downstream impacts, whether those are good or bad, and I don't think that we shy away from them. Josh Powell So we've talked a lot about the risks and about foundational principles that lead to more sustainable tools. But what are some of the things that you're really excited about that we're either currently doing or that you hope that will do under the new strategy? Annie Kilroy Yeah, I'm really excited to see how we can marry a more bottom up experience with digital transformation work with some of the more top down frameworks that are coming out. There's a growing body of evidence and literature in the development community about what digital transformation is and how to do it and how to be successful at it. And I think that there are a lot of assumptions built into those about things being one size fits all and context and things. So I'm really excited to see DG in this space as more of a grassroots digital transformation group or taking more bottom up approaches and seeing how we can kind of marry that with some of the kind of national level guidance that comes out from the U.N. or World Bank or other development and private sector organizations that contribute to this body of evidence on digital transformation and what works. Josh Powell Great. Thanks. And Fernando, same question to you. What are you excited about in the new strategy – and be as geeky as you like? Fernando Ferreyra So for a long time we've been fighting to get good data a lot of the time. But now I think that with the promise of a couple of technologies, like a machine learning and deep learning, there's a lot of opportunities there. When I started looking at this about seven years ago, you needed to work directly with IBM to access their Watson systems so you could try to do something. Now the libraries are widely open. There are many projects that provide a good level of A.I. an advanced level that was not possible without a lot of resources. The thing that excites me the most is how we're going to apply these tools to bring further that mission of, okay, let's do something with data, let's bring it further. I think that the potential there is pretty big. The way that tools have been standardized and open sourced in many cases, or the availability of the big players in a sector to facilitate using their techniques, their tools, their APIs so you can, without big investment, get a lot of insights from all the data that we've been collecting for many years. But now I have a follow up question for Annie. In this context of the tools that we are developing, how do you think that DG keeps the user at the center between all of these things happening in technology policy? Annie Kilroy Yeah, that's a really important question. I think part of it goes back to our understanding and our perspective on the ground, right? So we're really working with data users, end users, but also the people that are impacted by these data systems. So if you have, for example, a health information system project or a health sector digital transformation project, are you working not only with the users of that tool, supposedly nurses, doctors, things like that, but are you actually also going into the community and understanding what the major health priorities are there and making sure that the data and the system that you're building also reflects those values as well. So I think there's a lot of things DG does. Again, everything from convening the stakeholders to just kind of staying abreast of these real world issues by continuing to talk with people. I think our core methodology does a really good job of casting this wide net. When we do CALM assessments on anything from what kind of technology do you need to use to what is the organizational or national data strategy in a given country? We apply the same methodology that allows us to cast a really wide net and see things from a really detailed lens that highlights, again, not just the end users, but people that are affected by these systems as well. But I'd like pose this question back to you as well, Fernando and Josh, and see what other things DG does to make sure that we keep the user at the center. Fernando Ferreyra I can speak from the purely implementation aspect of this. One of the results of our methodology is that we engage with the stakeholders pretty often. It's key to understanding how a system is going to be used. And in some instances that takes the shape of, you know, having people see how people are using our tools. But sometimes it also includes making large printouts – so people that use these systems can go to villages or wherever the data is going to be used and explain how some of these things work, what the data means, and in general, the users in our projects are up front and center. I think our projects thrive when the users are engaged and that can take many, many shapes because people have limited amounts of time and so on. We try to make it as efficient as possible to engage with the teams that are going to be using our tools in the day to day either for making decisions or doing the data collection. Josh Powell The one thing I'd add is all of our methods and our team really understand that tools for data are really used to drive decisions, that decisions occur within a specific political, procedural, regulatory and technical context. And whether the decision maker that the tool is designed to inform is a minister making budget allocations, or whether it's a smallholder farmer deciding how much money to spend on improved seed varietals versus fertilizer or other inputs, versus keeping in savings and moving forward with what they have. In either case, our goal is really to tune the data, the information and the presentation of it in a way that's going to be ultimately useful to the person that we're trying to influence. And so that leads to a very unique set of assessment tools, methods, design processes. But it's not just about who is the person that you're sitting across the table from. I think, Annie, to your point, it's about who are all the people that aren't in that room who need to either use or benefit from the system? And how can we best capture and reflect their perspectives in a way that's kind of authentic and meaningful to their experiences? Fernando, earlier you talked a little bit in the context of tool selection about local development communities and sustainability. You've been at this for a long time now. What changes have you seen in the global talent pool and composition? And how is that impacting the way that we're thinking about local partnerships as well as long term sustainability and handover of tools? Fernando Ferreyra In general, there seems to be polarization over which platforms have been successful, easier to obtain or easier to connect to local talent. The evolution that I've seen is that it used to be very spread out. At one point a few years ago there was a new open source solution for each possible problem. But eventually most of the communities were the ones that made a solution thrive or not. Now especially one of the one of the biggest changes has been how open source has been embraced by the private sector, the civil society, etc. for replacement of things that you could only pay before now moving into something that it's way more sustainable and at the same time it follows a principle of transparency that private companies or proprietary systems were not open to have. And now they are forced. Because imagine any system that it's currently managing your internal data, you want to make sure what is happening with the data that you're moving from one point to another point. And in the case of open source that the code is fully auditable and you have many, many eyes, especially over key projects that change substantial parts of your framework. So all of the tools that you've developed brings a new set of problems, of course, but at least you'll have now the transparency and the tools the organizations can fix those problems themselves. Before, it used to be a more involved process. A clear example is the security updates when something happens. If you are using a proprietary solution, you need to wait for the release cycle of that company to to fix something. But that could be a significant security issue for you. Currently, with leveraging open source tools, you can either provide a small fix for this particular problem and contribute that fix to the community so somebody else can use it. And I believe that's key on most of the projects that we work on and that we're going to be working on. Josh Powell Just following up on that, in recent years we've supported local developers in Indonesian building out tools in open contracting. We've seen the government of Nepal take our IT management platform, open source tool and convert it into their own new adaptation of that system. We've worked closely with the Government of Ethiopia in strengthening the takeover of their aid management platform by a local team of developers within the ministry. How do you see this localization of talent also shifting the way that we can think about how we deploy technology and how we ultimately hand it over for local ownership? Fernando Ferreyra The main change or the larger impact on how we do things is how we need to be when we document and handover things or participate in many of those projects that you mentioned. And I [ am proud] that I was personally involved in handing over the data tool for Mozambique, the way we were able to train two people to support it. And this was in 2010. As of today, the site is still running, and is still being maintained by the same team. The tool is available data, but it's still working and it doesn't need to be upgraded until the needs change. I believe that what is happening now is that the pool of talent is bigger now. It's still a challenge to find and make sure that you are assessing the right set of skills, which is something that we try to identify early on. And what has worked in most of those projects that you mentioned is just being able to get the local team as embedded as possible in our day to day processes. We don't have a perfect process, but we do have a process that has worked for us and we bring this to our development to the local team so they can take it, adapt it and treat it as they want to make sure that it fits their context. We have ours, we offer it, and we work with them to improve it so it fits their data in a way that we can handle their projects. I feel a bit of pride when we see that something that we built has something built on top of it and it's still use. Josh Powell Perfect. Thanks. So we've seen a recent resurgence in interest in digital transformation and, Annie, why do you think that is and what do you think is different? That's really kind of brought it in vogue again. Annie Kilroy Yeah, honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with the pandemic. I think it made a lot of government institutions – in particular who have traditionally been the most resistant or hesitant to go digital – realize how important that is, especially in a pandemic situation where everyone's working from home and those digital tools are really essential to keep government services running. So, for example, if you want to have a digital payment systems and e-government tools, you can't just go halfway on a digital payment tool, right? Like, you need to be able to verify digital identities. You need online digital banking, you need all these other things that are not going to be solved with some sort of one-off technology tool. And so I think it's brought a really great example of how digital transformation can't just keep going on this tool by tool basis. These tools need to talk to each other. There needs to be a comprehensive strategy. We need to be explicit about how this system interacts with that system, and we need to keep the government running and keep public services delivered to citizens. I think the other thing is there's been expanded Internet access, especially mobile phone access has really expanded and taken off. So the amount of access that people have to digital technologies has really increased as well. And I think it's high time that government institutions catch up on that and start to streamline their processes and move towards more and more digital e-government services. You know, in a lot of ways, digital transformation, when you think about it, it is really all encompassing. It is quite a wide scope. It touches on, policy, and it often involves writing new action laws and legislation. It involves creating new government bodies to oversee things. It involves a whole plethora of things that before the pandemic was just a little bit too ambitious to take on all at once. I think that COVID really kind of accelerated the need to get over the fear of trying to tackle this very ambitious goal, unfortunately, through necessity. But it is, I think, a really great opportunity, and I think that's why it's really come back into the forefront of the conversation on development because of just the absolute need to go digital. Fernando Ferreyra And I second that. It's clear that the pandemic pushed forward a lot of things, but I also add that some technologies have reached maturity and accessibility. You were asking, Josh, about how things have evolved. One of the keys is how cloud computing has become the standard in the industry. When we used to deploy our Aid Management Platform in different countries, we usually came to the country with a server, with routers, with cables, with everything, and then we needed to figure out how to make sure that it has power, make sure that it's maintained and so on. All of that has been simplified and it takes some time for everybody to be involved. And it's understandable how it used to give a clear sense of ownership of the applications when you have the actual hardware that the things are running. But the value proposition of cloud computing is so good because then you can delegate maintenance of servers to people that have millions of servers and not you. You're trying to make everything more efficient while at the same time improving all the service level agreements and that combined with the fact that the cloud computing industry is providing access to things that were unthinkable before, such as machine learning analysis or in general everything related to analytics. It's getting simpler and more powerful as society gets more digitized. We are only going to have more data. So the problem is it's only getting more complicated. Getting these cloud computing, Internet of Things, big data and all the promise of digital – I think that it's pushing this digital transformation further. I've read it described in the past as a wave of technology, but now I hear that is it being described as a tsunami, that it's impossible to stop. It's going to change, and it is changing the way all organizations do things, because the value proposition is just great so far. Josh Powell So, Fernando, I remember a decade ago seeing maps of all the new subterranean fiber networks that were being deployed and predictions about a kind of rapidly closing digital divide and getting more and more of the world onto the Internet. In reality, I think progress has been a lot slower than expected and a lot more Internet access is still mobile, and even at that, data costs remain quite high in many of the countries where we work. How does that impact the way we think about selecting and deploying technologies? Fernando Ferreyra It's very important. Again, it's connected to engaging with the users. Like you said, it has gotten better. It used to be that it was very hard to make solutions that could work for all those cases. But although things have gotten better, engaging early with the context has always helped us understand how we could. You can make a very quick slick UI, but the problem is that if that requires gigabytes bid connection, it's not good. So we try to optimize for the context that we work on. There are many, many techniques and many resources that we use. For instance, we are trying to embrace in all our applications some sort of offline access, which has also evolved in the ways that the tools that the frameworks provide – this is because it is a need. And it's not just a need of the countries that don't have great connections to the great interconnected system of the Internet, but also rural parts of many, many countries have this issue and we need to optimize for everyone. Josh Powell We see continued digital divides by gender, urban and rural socioeconomic status, what do you see as Development Gateway’s role in contributing to kind of a policy and a strategic dialog that helps to bridge those in the years ahead? Annie Kilroy I think our role is really just to make sure that digital divide is not something that's just accepted and then swept under the rug. The digital divide is very much a concern at our organization. We place an emphasis on understanding how digital impacts or doesn't impact women and children or disadvantaged groups and other marginalized communities. It's really important for you to continue to engage with those communities, as we do in our assessment and policy building processes. And to also make sure that those voices are amplified, especially in our processes and whether that's in communications with our clients and partners or in our report or other works that we publish. And also, of course, very important stakeholder convenings and decision making meetings where we make sure that those voices, if they can't be present, that they are documented and amplified. And I think that we play a really important role in making sure as technology providers and also advisors and researchers and making sure that those considerations are always at the forefront and never ignored or taken for granted. Fernando Ferreyra How do you see the future of digital transformation and how it impacts our space? Josh Powell Yeah, I mean, I think as you both have highlighted, it's kind of become omnipresent. It's not a question of will digital impact a certain sector, a certain country, a certain economy, it's a question of how and what will be some of the mitigating factors that make that either a successful or a dangerous impact. So, we see in some countries that it's really kind of fueling authoritarianism and providing tools for surveillance and for monitoring of communities, and in other countries that's driving access to public services or, you know, encouraging greater voter uptake or voter turnout or other things that are positive and desirable. And to some extent, it becomes what we make of digital as a tool or a set of tools that gets applied within existing cultural and political context. And I think one of the things where DG is at our best is in understanding this context and understanding the incentives that people face and understanding some of the limitations. Whether that's capacity, whether that's finances and resources, whether that's policy space and identifying the best path to be able to move programing forward and to be able to move digital transformation. I think the biggest need is where we can contribute is supporting strong standards and models for governance, and particularly for participatory models of governance that aren't just top down. So some of those bottom up approaches that Annie was mentioning before – and then I think just really having a pragmatic practitioner lens to what we do. We're also at our best when we're more than just the sum of our projects. I think one of the things that we've done quite successfully in the data for development space – and in this new strategy – is a key focus is taking the lessons that we learn from all of our projects, from working closely with communities, with governments, both national and subnational, and bringing that to some of these international policy dialogs and to some of the decision making that development agencies are taking. They allocate sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars in programing to make sure that what's being put forward from a policy perspective, from an investment perspective and from a programing perspective, is respectful of rights, is appropriate for context, and ultimately really delivers value for the people that it's meant to serve. Fernando Ferreyra We've seen many solutions that are hard to understand what their impact is and so on. How do you think that we can pierce through all of this into making sure that we are aligned to the good solution sector of technology? And I'm talking specifically about technology because it's what I do. Josh Powell Yeah, I think there are two or three ways. I think the first is taking a strict ethical and learning based approach to what we do. We talked earlier about experimentation and how that has to go hand in hand with responsibility. Really understanding user needs, assessing technologies through the lens of those user needs, and taking a participatory approach to the design. But then also the rollout and the sustainability of tools is really crucial. And I think sometimes you'll find that the architecture and the solution that you started with isn't the right one. And we certainly scrapped things and started fresh based on feedback we've gotten from the community. I think the second thing that's equally important for us is to work our way further upstream. A lot of times I think technology projects fail before they're procured. They fail because they've done this scoping study, maybe they've contracted that out to an organization that doesn't have a really clear grasp of the context. And they go about putting out technology that isn't really fit for purpose and a match for the context and for user needs. And I think one of the things that's unique in this new strategy is we explicitly say that we will play both the practitioner and implementer role and an advisory role. I think having our advisory work informed by our practitioner work and having our practitioner work informed by understanding what is the upcoming cutting edge – and is it a good cutting edge or is it something that we need to try to mitigate against? And so I think being able to engage in the very early stages of of projects before they even start as well as, you know, in digital strategies of agencies, of government and thinking through what are the technologies that they're going to pick and helping them to pick ones that are that are kind of winners that are well aligned with the needs that exist. And then also being there to implement and making sure that we do that really rigorously, methodically and in a really kind of participatory and user centered manner. Annie Kilroy Just to build off what you said, one way, we pierce through these failed technology projects – And I think one really interesting thing about reframing our thinking on going digital under the umbrella of digital transformation – is just the recognition that digital technologies don't exist in a vacuum. There's all kinds of political, managerial, sometimes financial incentives to go digital or build a digital tool. And I think in the past there's been a lot of misunderstanding that digital is good no matter what. And just doing digital for digital sake and building any sort of digital tool is going to be better than not having a digital tool. And I think we're starting to realize that that's not exactly true. And a digital tool really needs to be able to work within a larger context with other tools and with other purposes in order for it to really reach its maximum potential. And I think that we've been humble about that on our own. Maybe the digital tool isn't going to solve all your problems and what you really need is a comprehensive policy framework or something like that. So I think the shift towards thinking about digital transformation and more of this umbrella term is going to help us target these non technical issues that are often the reason why digital technologies fail. Fernando Ferreyra Big plus to that. So Josh, what gets you excited about the new technology digital transformation? Josh Powell So I think it's just exciting to be able to do what we've been doing at a greater scale and to really have a clear avenue to inform the policy. I've always just been really excited and seeing the connection between our programmatic team and our technical team, and I think working those two sides of DG together to develop and deliver solutions. And also knowing that there's greater and greater demand for that, and knowing that a need in digital transformation to bring together rigorous software development; strong, thoughtful, and participatory data governance approaches; and clear change management understanding of context driving user needs. It's a perfect fit for who DG has been for a long time and that there are more and more exciting ways for us to be able to apply what we do well Annie, Fernando, thanks so much for taking the time to talk today. I really enjoyed the conversation. Fernando Ferreyra Thank you. Annie Kilroy Thanks, Josh, you too. Josh Powell Big thanks to everyone who listened to this series focused on our new strategic plan. We'll be back soon with another season of Data… for What?! about Data Governance – hosted by Beverly Hatcher. See you then! Vanessa Goas Special thanks to all our guests. This podcast was produced by Lindsey Fincham with support from Analisa Goodmann. Our theme music was created by Mark Hatcher. Learn more about Development Gateway on our website, developmentgateway.org or through our social media.

Other Episodes

Episode 1

August 08, 2022 00:45:38
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Introducing: DG's New Strategic Plan and Data... for What?!

In July, Development Gateway (DG) launched our new Strategic Plan for Fiscal Year 2023 to 2025. This plan builds on twenty-two years of project implementation experience and policy engagement around the globe. To help contextualize the new Strategic Plan, we are launching a podcast series called Data… for What?! This series we talk to DGers throughout the organization - as well as collaborators within our strategic partner, IREX - about how and why we prioritized the various elements of the new strategy. In this episode we talk to Kristin Lord, President and CEO of IREX about how our partnership fits into the Strategic Plan; and to Aleks Dardelli, Executive Vice President of IREX and Chair of DG’s Board of Directors, about the process of putting the Plan together at this opportune, yet precarious, global moment.   Special thanks to Mark Hatcher for our theme music. You can find Mark on social media at @markdhatcher.  ...

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Episode 3

August 23, 2022 00:37:35
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Geography: Growing & Deepening DG’s Regional Footprint

In this episode, we explore how DG is prioritizing our geographical focus in the coming years. Conversations with Vanessa Baudin Sanchez, Carmen Cañas, and Charlene Migwe-Kagume highlighted the opportunities and challenges of expanding our portfolio in Central America and deepening our work and partnerships in West, East, and Southern Africa.   Jump to the Conversation Expanding to Central America – 7:14 Deepening work in East and Southern Africa – 13:20 Building onto DG's Work in West & Francophone Africa – 21:36   Digging Deeper The team mentioned a number of DG programs and processes during this conversation, you can learn more through the links below: DG's Custom Assessment Landscaping Methodology The Aid Management Program (AMP) Des Chiffres et Des Jeunes (DCDJ) Open contracting and procurement DG's learning culture Our agile approach   Special thanks to Mark Hatcher for our theme music. You can find Mark on social media at @markdhatcher.  ...

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Episode 4

August 30, 2022 00:32:39
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Digging Deeper in Agriculture

In this episode Josh talks to Charlene Migwe-Kagume about how we are approaching agriculture work in our new strategy. Agriculture is a space where DG has worked for a number of years, but how are we building on past experiences and our strengths to take this work forward? Josh and Charlene discuss digging deeper in agriculture and how innovation plays a role.   Programs Discussed Visualizing Insights on Fertilizer for African Agriculture (VIFAA) Visualizing Information on Seeds Using Technology in Africa (TASAI-VISTA) Cashew-IN Platform Highlighting our Partners International Fertilizer Development Center AfricaFertilizer.org Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture The African Seed Access Index Special thanks to Mark Hatcher for our theme music. You can find Mark on social media at @markdhatcher.  ...

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