Principles, standards and frameworks for digital development

Last updated June 16, 2023

As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of digital transformation, it's important to remember that innovation doesn't always require starting from scratch. Often, the wheel gets reinvented, leading to a situation where crucial elements or critical factors might be overlooked in the development of digital services.

In order to avoid such oversights, numerous principles have been established to guide digital development. These principles are not one-size-fits-all; they have been crafted and refined to cater to specific areas, and to address unique challenges that may arise during the analysis and development phase of a digital service.

However, common themes and critical factors emerge across these various sets of principles. These shared elements highlight the foundational aspects that are vital to successful and equitable digital development.

In this article, we aim to provide an overview of these principles, standards, and frameworks that are shaping the field of digital development. By understanding and implementing these, we can ensure the development of digital services that are inclusive, equitable, and more effective.

List of principles

  • Digital development principles
  • Development innovation principles
  • UK Government Principles - Technology Code of Practice
  • The feminist tech principles
  • Responsible data principles
  • Principles for digital-ready policies

List of fundamental principles for digital service design

  • Digital by default: Prioritizing digital channels for services and information delivery to increase accessibility and efficiency.
  • Mobile First: Designing and optimizing digital services primarily for mobile devices, acknowledging the global shift towards mobile internet access.
  • Do no harm: Ensuring that digital designs avoid manipulative tactics such as dark patterns, and prioritize the protection of personal data to respect and safeguard users' rights.
  • Remote first: Embracing remote access and functionality as a fundamental feature of digital services, enabling users to engage from any location.
  • Privacy by design: Embedding privacy considerations into every stage of product development, rather than treating it as an afterthought or optional feature.
  • Open by default: Favoring transparency and collaboration through the use of open standards, open data, open source, and open innovation.

Summary and overlapp of principles

User-centered design and accessibility: This includes designing for the end-user, making sure technologies are accessible and inclusive for all users, and promoting equitable participation and representation.

Openness and transparency: The importance of using open source software, open standards, and open data and crediting the work and ideas that new technologies are built upon.

Collaboration and co-creation: This involves facilitating collaboration across sectors, sharing information and resources, and ensuring marginalized groups are active stakeholders in design and policy processes.

Privacy and security: Privacy and security must be addressed, with individuals having the ability to control how their data is used, shared, and saved. This includes privacy by default, making privacy integral to systems, and addressing security in digital development.

Sustainability: This covers sustainability in terms of both environmental impact and long-term viability of technology. It involves moving away from short-term innovation cycles towards increasing sustainability throughout the lifecycle of technology, and building for local ownership.

Data-driven decision-making: This involves using evidence and data to drive decision-making, being data-driven, and developing clear metrics to measure progress. Focusing not only on quantitative, but also qualitative data.

Risk management and harm prevention: It involves careful handling of risks, ensuring safety measures to prevent harm, and establishing firm boundaries against harmful technological practices.

Scalability and adaptability: It is critical designing for scale, identifying scalable solutions, and integrating and adapting technology to work with existing systems and future demands.

Equity and social justice: This principle involves acknowledging the relationship between social equity and technology, and emphasizes fostering innovation that promotes inclusivity, particularly for marginalized and vulnerable groups.

Consent and autonomy: This principle underscores the importance of informed consent, suggesting that consent must be voluntary, informed, and reversible. It advocates for the idea that digital identities should not be static, but flexible and self-determined, thus empowering individuals to define their own digital persona based on their evolving identities.

Digital development principles

Source: Principles for digital development

  • Design With the User: User-centered design starts with getting to know the people you are designing for through conversation, observation and co-creation.
  • Understand the Existing Ecosystem: Well-designed initiatives and digital tools consider the particular structures and needs that exist in each country, region and community.
  • Design for Scale: Achieving scale requires adoption beyond an initiative's pilot population and often necessitates securing funding or partners that take the initiative to new communities or regions.
  • Build for Sustainability: Building sustainable programs, platforms and digital tools is essential to maintain user and stakeholder support, as well as to maximize long-term impact.
  • Be Data Driven: When an initiative is data driven, quality information is available to the right people when they need it, and they are using those data to take action.
  • Use Open Standards, Open Data, Open Source, and Open Innovation: An open approach to digital development can help to increase collaboration in the digital development community and avoid duplicating work that has already been done.
  • Reuse and Improve: Reusing and improving is about taking the work of the global development community further than any organization or program can do alone.
  • Address Privacy & Security: Addressing privacy and security in digital development involves careful consideration of which data are collected and how data are acquired, used, stored and shared.
  • Be Collaborative: Being collaborative means sharing information, insights, strategies and resources across projects, organizations and sectors, leading to increased efficiency and impact​1​.

Development innovation principles

Source: International Development Innovation Alliance

Promote Inclusive Innovation: Promote inclusive innovation, with a focus on supporting the poorest and most vulnerable to have lasting development impact. Gender analysis is valuable in this regard. Women and adolescent girls, including those with disabilities, should play a decisive role in the design, testing, learning and adoption of innovative solutions, and should be engaged as both recipients of innovation and by supporting them with tools and resources as innovators.

Invest in Locally-Driven Solutions: Invest in locally-driven solutions and support and encourage local innovators and their partners in developing countries, including by sharing talent and resources from global networks with them.

Take Intelligent Risks: Take intelligent risks by experimenting and using rigorous data, while ensuring that we do no harm, and investing more boldly once initial steps yield stronger evidence of the demonstrated impact and financial viability through proof-of-concept.

Use Evidence to Drive Decision-Making: Use evidence, including disaggregated data, to drive decision-making to improve impact and cost-effectiveness by developing clear metrics early on and measuring progress against milestones on an ongoing basis to help identify the most effective innovations and the remaining gaps.

Learn Quickly and Iterate: Seize opportunities to learn quickly, iterate and ensure the impact of promising innovations before scaling them up by also acknowledging failure and inefficiencies.

Facilitate Collaboration and Co-Creation: Facilitate collaboration and co-creation across public, private and civil society sectors and coordinate the application of scientific, technical, social and business innovations to leverage intellectual, financial and social resources from all, and share data, standards, results and learning widely.

Identify Scalable Solutions: Identify scalable solutions, including technologies, that demonstrate high-potential to achieve and sustain significant impact and cost-effectiveness, and open the potential to reach millions of people in need.

Integrate Proven Innovations: Integrate proven innovations into organizations’ larger programming by removing the internal and external barriers to using these solutions in current and future projects, and support the acceleration of growth and impact of proven innovations.

UK Government Principles - Technology Code of Practice

Source: United Kingdom Government

  • Define user needs: Understand your users and their needs. Develop knowledge of your users and what that means for your technology project or programme​.
  • Make things accessible and inclusive: Make sure your technology, infrastructure and systems are accessible and inclusive for all users​.
  • Be open and use open source: Publish your code and use open source software to improve transparency, flexibility and accountability​.
  • Make use of open standards: Build technology that uses open standards to ensure your technology works and communicates with other technology, and can easily be upgraded and expanded​.
  • Use cloud first: Consider using public cloud solutions first as stated in the Cloud First policy​.
  • Make things secure: Keep systems and data safe with the appropriate level of security​.
  • Make privacy integral: Make sure users rights are protected by integrating privacy as an essential part of your system​.
  • Share, reuse and collaborate: Avoid duplicating effort and unnecessary costs by collaborating across government and sharing and reusing technology, data, and services​.
  • Integrate and adapt technology: Your technology should work with existing technologies, processes and infrastructure in your organisation, and adapt to future demands​.
  • Make better use of data: Use data more effectively by improving your technology, infrastructure and processes​.
  • Define your purchasing strategy: Your purchasing strategy must show you’ve considered commercial and technology aspects, and contractual limitations​.
  • Make your technology sustainable: Increase sustainability throughout the lifecycle of your technology​.
  • Meet the Service Standard: If you’re building a service as part of your technology project or programme you will also need to meet the Service Standard​.

More governmant standards:

The Feminist Tech principles

Source: Superrr

The Feminist Tech principles are a set of guidelines for tech policy-making and technology creation. They are intended as responsive work-in-progress that reflect the evolving nature of our digital world. The principles were drafted in a collaborative process between the team at SUPERRR Lab and a group of activists, policymakers, writers, designers, technologists, researchers, and educators, that advocate for digital rights and the rights of marginalized groups.

Climate action and social equity are interlinked. Tech solutions are not neutral and what they optimise must be interrogated. It is crucial to understand the links between climate action, historical and contemporary colonial structures and social equity to optimise for a feminist future centered around equality and sustainability​.

Equity and visibility along the supply chain. Today's digital technologies rely upon the extraction of non-renewable resources and labour, which often amounts to modern slavery. Supply chains and the inequality footprint of technology must be made visible. Exploitative working conditions must end, and profits must be shared equitably along the chain of production​.

Sustain, maintain and share. Innovation should not come at any cost. We should move away from short-term innovation cycles, towards longevity and openness. The appreciation of, and value accorded to, maintenance and interoperability must increase​.

Healing and empowerment over profit maximisation and tech-solutionism. Technologies must center around the needs of communities rather than prioritising profit maximisation above all. This is in response to the existing technologies that obscure and reinforce injustices, surveil, control and radicalise their users​.

Accessibility, equitable participation and representation. Accessibility is a human right, not a »nice to have«. Marginalised groups must be active stakeholders at all stages of design and policy processes​.

No to progress at any cost. Some technologies are too harmful to be deployed. Red lines on harmful technological practices must be set and more research must be conducted on the potential harm of emerging technologies on communities at the margins. Processes for feedback, evaluation, and veto must be established​.

Name, acknowledge and share. The work, concepts, and ideas that new digital technology is being built upon must be credited. We must demystify technology's founding narratives. The first step into a feminist internet is naming all creators and inventors that nurture the infrastructure and the code​.

Publicly-financed software should be open source. This allows anyone to build upon public investment and create something new. Public funders have to value maintenance and care for critical systems at least as much as innovation​.

Creating safer spaces online is an ongoing relational negotiation process. Technology must be designed to counter hate speech, disinformation, and misinformation. Effective, trauma-informed mechanisms to report and analyse abuse or harmful flaws in tech must become mandatory​.

Design for informed consent. Asking for and obtaining consent respects a person's right to autonomy and agency. For consent to be valid, it must be voluntary, informed and reversible. Strong policies are also needed to protect the privacy of individuals and groups​.

Your (digital) identity is yours to define. We need mechanisms that allow for digital identities to be fluid, to change over time, embrace non-binary concepts and defy established categorisations. Self-determination must be at the core of digital identity​.

Privacy by default, not surveillance. Self-governance of data is fundamental to the equitable functioning of the internet. We must all have the agency to determine how, for what purposes, when and for how long our data is used, shared, and saved​.

Responsible Data Principles

Source: Responsible Data

  • Power dynamics: The least powerful actors in any situation are often the first to see unintended consequences of data collected about them.
  • Diversity and bias: Considering questions like, “who makes the decisions? What perspectives are missing?
  • Unknown unknowns: We can’t see into the future, but we can build in checks and balances to alert us if something unexpected is happening.
  • Precautionary principle: Just because we can use data in a certain way, doesn’t necessarily mean we should. If we can’t sufficiently evaluate the risk and understand the harms when handling data
  • Thoughtful innovation: For new ideas to have the best possible chance of succeeding – and for everyone to benefit from those new ideas and projects – innovation needs to be approached with care and thought, not just speed.
  • Holding ourselves to higher standards: In many cases, legal and regulatory frameworks have not yet caught up to the real-world effects of data and technology.
  • Building better behaviours: There is no one-size-fits-all for RD. Existing culture, context and behaviours change the implications and ways in which data is used.

Principles for digital-ready policies

Source: European Union

User-centric processes ready for automation

  • Policies affect various business processes. These business processes will in many cases be supported by digital technologies by default.
  • IT can be an enabler for simplification and automation for business processes to be partially or completely executed through digital technology.
  • Analyse the business processes of the different stakeholders affected by the policy. Focus on user-centricity as this is also the guiding principle for the IT implementation.

Digital policies

  • When designing the policy, it is imperative to assess the consistency and interaction with existing legislation and with on-going policy developments on digital topics
  • Consider the existing IT investments projects

Once-only principle and reuse of data

  • The Once-Only Principle should allow public administrations to reuse, or share, data and documents that people have already supplied, in a transparent and secure way.
  • Policymakers should know the data assets linked to their policies and aim to remove obstacles to sharing, combining and reusing these data assets.
  • Reusing concepts helps not only consistency but also reuse of data across sectors.

Evolving IT landscape

  • When designing the policy options, policymakers should involve IT experts to analyse the capabilities provided by the existing IT landscape.​
  • Reusing existing ICT solutions could reduce costs and accelerate implementation. IT experts may consider the reuse of open source interoperable solutions available on Joinup, a collaborative platform created by the European Commission.

Innovation and technologies

  • Digital technologies give opportunities to respond to old problems in new ways for better outcomes and provide more added value to citizens.
  • A digital-ready policy which is designed in a forward-looking manner, (e.g. to allow for future expected changes in the further uptake or development of technology will also potentially save future costs.
  • Policymakers should consider the high costs of phasing-out IT-legacy systems without preventing innovation and new digital approaches to develop. They should also ensure to have the right level of digital skills and IT experts in the IT landscape where the policy will be implemented.

Digital-ready drafting

  • Set out clear rules in the legislative act while keeping those rules future-proof to technical development.
  • Consider the need for a clear governance for shared IT systems.
  • Use simple, precise and concise wording - especially for the parts that are likely to be automated - the digital-ready terms are as clear as code.
  • Reuse existing concepts from your policy domain and ensure alignment with those in related policy sectors thus ensuring interoperability.