The challenges and opportunities of scaling digital public goods

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In 2021, UN Global Pulse, in collaboration with the Digital Public Goods Alliance and supported by the Government of Finland, conducted qualitative research to understand the enablers and challenges of implementing and scaling digital public goods (DPGs). A DPG is any open source software, open data, open AI model, open standard or open content that adheres to privacy and other applicable laws and best practices, does no harm, and helps attain the Sustainable Development Goals. While this research focused specifically on health-related DPGs, the results are broadly applicable to other digital public goods across sectors.

Among other findings, this research identified a need to better support DPG owners in scaling their innovations, specifically through access to experts. Last month, we conducted a survey to better understand this need and to strategically gauge interest in a DPG support programme that would connect subject matter experts with owners and implementers of DPGs. About forty DPG product owners participated in the engagement and reported a need for guidance from experts across a wide range of fields such as intellectual property, licensing, governance, sustainable financing and other expertise.  

The survey objectives sought to primarily: 

  • Understand what challenges DPG owners identify as priorities;
  • Understand how DPG owners would use a support pool;
  • Validate the need for a community of practice (CoP) on scaling DPGs;
  • Identify participants and optics of interest for the CoP;
  • Understand the value of these two new offerings to current and potential DPG owners.

The results of the survey helped capture the unique challenges faced by DPG owners. At the top level, we heard that: 

1. Financing is both the greatest challenge and top priority for DPG owners

For DPG owners, key challenges were financing and sustainability of their products. Sustainability could be viewed from a range of perspectives, however, respondents mostly focused on the need to achieve a sustainable business model. A third core challenge that surfaced was also demand from implementers. While technical challenges included interoperability, licensing, and data security, these fell far below the nearly 65% of respondents that chose financing as their priority above all else.

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2. DPGs are built by small, agile teams

The survey revealed that respondents were mostly working alone, or within a small team on their DPG. This underscores the need for an expert resource pool, or for accessible support to take advantage of opportunities to scale.

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3. Those implementing DPGs share concerns around financing, market incentives and data security

In order to scale DPGs, a resource pool of experts could also help assuage the concerns of those implementing DPGs. Particularly, any hesitancy around a lack of technical expertise available to implementers and to help underscore the value of open source products and digital public goods.

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The survey revealed several insights about DPG product ownership beyond what we have shared above. If you’re interested in understanding more about the findings, you can access additional information and insights in this slide deck.

UN Global Pulse is developing its innovation scaling offer which includes the scaling of digital public goods (DPGs). This work is in support of the UN Secretary General’s commitments in his report  “Our Common Agenda”.

To find out more about our work on Digital Public Goods, join a webinar on 7th June, 2022 where we will discuss the scaling challenges and opportunities in more detail. Register here.

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