Digital Public Goods could transform digital government services, but need frameworks for implementation says report

April 25, 2022
Best Practices for the Governance of Digital Public Goods

Cambridge, MA – For most countries, “digital government” is becoming simply “government.”As a result, an ever-increasing number of systems and processes critical to the operation of government—the core infrastructure of a state—are being digitized. Yet the massive costs involved in building out this new infrastructure risk exacerbating global inequities and acutely straining government budgets write David Eaves, Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer in Public Policy, and a team of student researchers in Best Practices for the Governance of Digital Public Goods, a new paper from the Ash Center’s Project on Digital Government.

It is no surprise, the paper argues, that Digital Public Goods (DPGs)—an institutionalized sharing of “open-source software, open data, open AI models, open standards, and open content” between government and other actors—are an increasingly discussed alternative model to expensive and proprietary digital infrastructure. Inspired by the open-source movement, DPGs, shared across jurisdictions, have the potential to lower costs, speed adoption, and create standards to facilitate cooperation and trade. However, the joint management of any resource by sovereign entities—particularly of key infrastructure for the maintenance of public goods and services offered by the state—carries with it significant questions around governance.

With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the research team carried out a series of interviews with leading experts in the field to better understand how public-sector DPGs could be deployed by governments and supported by technologists and funders. These interviews served as the basis for developing a series of governance best practices for DPGs, which include:

  • Codifying a vision, mission, and values statement
  • Creating a code of conduct
  • Designing governance bodies
  • Ensuring stakeholder voice and representation
  • Engaging external contributors

“DPGs are potentially transformative for governments, regardless of their size and budgets,” said Eaves. “It’s our hope that these recommendations help allow policymakers, technologists, and digital government leaders to facilitate the development and best practices for the use of a basket of digital public goods.”

About the Ash Center

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens.

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Daniel Harsha
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
 
Sarah Grucza
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation