Global cooperation for governmental Open Source

Digital Public Good - a global standard for governmental Open Source

Published on: 10/12/2020

The United Nations has endorsed a new multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in low- and middle-income countries. European governments and organisations are invited to endorse the standard and contribute to this global effort.

The initiative is the Digital Public Goods Alliance, which is cofounded by Norway, Sierra Leone, the Indian think tank iSPIRT and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The cornerstone of the initiative is the concept of digital public goods, defined as:

open source software, open data, open AI models, open standards and open content that adhere to privacy and other applicable laws and best practices, do no harm, and help attain the SDGs.”

As explained in the UN’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, there is a plethora of technologies and development models that can contribute to digital advancement and a more equitable world, but most existing solutions are not easily accessible and unevenly distributed. Open Source can provide an answer to these issues and with more support, funding and recognition these projects can be scaled up and implemented in many scenarios. The digital public goods concept is aimed at coordinating a global effort to foster benefits of Open Source:

“"Digital public goods represent an unprecedented opportunity to fundamentally alter power balances in international development. They enable sharing, reuse and adaptation to suit local needs. And, combined with the right support and holistic funding structures, DPGs have the potential to build long-term ownership, agency and capacity at the country level." - Lucy Harris, UNICEF Co-lead of the Secretariat for the Digital Public Goods Alliance

Potential digital public goods are nominated and then assessed by the expert Communities of Practice specialising in priority areas such as financial inclusion, digital health, climate change and digital & job skills. In order to be approved, projects have to fulfill the criteria of the Digital Public Goods Standard, which has nine main criterias such as the relevance to the Sustainable Development Goals, use of approved Open Source license, adherence to data privacy laws and a ‘do no harm’ provision.

You can consult a list of almost 500 nominated Digital Public Goods, among which we can find the Estonian project X-Road that has been named a DPG in early November. Full registry is available here.

Being recognised as a digital public good brings a new level of credibility to approved projects, increases their discoverability by governments around the world, and provides a possibility of further collaboration with the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA) to recognise new opportunities, funding, mentorship and support.

Here is how The Government of Norway describes their involvement in the project:

“Norway is following up the UN High Level Panel for Digital Cooperation’s recommendation 1B that underlines the importance of ensuring digital inclusion for all, including the most vulnerable. The access to digital tools is an important accelerator for development. This is even more important in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Norway believes in the deployment of digital public goods as a means to enable countries to accelerate the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. Digital public goods can transform how we approach development assistance in a range of sectors by enabling us to reach and impact individuals more directly. Furthermore, it enables us to work more holistically across sectors and to break down silos.

Therefore, Norway is a proud co-founder of the Digital Public Goods Alliance together with the government of Sierra Leone, UNICEF and iSPIRT, where we work to identify, share, reuse and support adaptation of digital public goods to suit local needs." – Minister of International Development, Dag Inge Ulstein of Norway

There are several ways to get engaged in the project. European governments, developers, organisations and public officials can:

  • Endorse the Digital Public Goods Standard as an advocate for openness in digital technologies,
  • Nominate a digital public good - is a project you know, use or develop in your institution a DPG? To spread the word about it and join the DPGA’s global efforts, you can submit a solution for assessment,
  • Contribute to improve the Digital Public Goods Standard on Github,
  • Use, contribute or spread the word about projects that are approved as digital public goods. All nominated and recognised projects are available in the DPG’s Registry.

The Digital Public Goods Alliance relies on contributions from key pathfinder countries, private sector and government experts, philanthropic donors and several innovation groups across the United Nations. Its secretariat is governed by an Interim Strategy Group: The Government of Sierra Leone, The Government of Norway, iSPIRT and UNICEF. For additional questions, you can contact the DPGA at hello[at]