Digital Public Goods (DPGs) are digital technologies provided freely to everyone for the benefit of communities. The UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation stresses the need to invest in DPGs, to scale  their implementation and unlock their potential to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. For instance, a digital platform for maternal health data collection, with software adaptable to specific contexts, could enhance accessibility of healthcare planning in settings where resources are stretched.

With this in mind, the Innovation Scaling Team at UN Global Pulse teamed up with the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA) to conduct qualitative research and try to understand the opportunities and barriers to scaling DPGs, particularly in the area of maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH).

Our impact

The Innovation Scaling team reviewed nearly 50 MNCH innovations, interviewing diverse stakeholders (in the UN, think tanks, academia, ministries of health, NGOs and other funders) to better understand their challenges in scaling DPGs as well as what they need to overcome them.

The results of the research were published in a 2022 report, which called for innovation stakeholders to share knowledge and resources for collective impact beyond individual efforts. The findings prompted UN Global Pulse to explore with the DPGA opportunities to create “communities of practice”, which can offer valuable space for collaboration and the sharing of insights. 

More broadly, the Innovation Scaling team was prompted to look across the UN system for a deeper understanding of the opportunities and barriers to achieving better outcomes with innovation. This research concluded in 2022 and was documented in a report published in 2023, an example of Global Pulse’s evidence-based approach to innovation scaling.

Our lessons

We discovered the reasons DPGs did not always have enough impact on MNCH priorities were related to gaps in understanding stakeholder needs or buy-in; restrictions in funding; lack of coordination leading to duplication of innovation efforts; and limited access to technical support and knowledge. Of these, sustainable funding was both the greatest hurdle and highest priority.

Our MNCH research was narrow in scope. But we observed similar problems in later research that looked at the scaling of innovations in general. Here again we saw that challenges in securing sustainable funding and limited technical support were holding innovations back from achieving impact at scale.

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