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What are digital public goods and the DPGA?

What are digital public goods and the DPGA?
Lucy Harris image

Lucy Harris @lucyeoh

Co-Lead of the Digital Public Goods Alliance, UNICEF
Mala Kumar image

Mala Kumar @malakumar85

Director of Tech for Social Good, GitHub Social Impact

May 31, 2021 // DevelopersPartnerships

Published on: May 31, 2021

Update, September 29, 2021: GitHub Social Impact is now a member of the Digital Public Goods Alliance! Read more here.

What are digital public goods?

Digital public goods (DPG) describes open source software, open data, open AI models, open standards, or open content that adhere to the DPG Standard. There are nine indicators in the DPG Standard, the first of which is relevance to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a critical feature distinguishing DPGs from other openly licensed solutions. DPGs must also adhere to privacy and applicable laws, and demonstrate that they have taken steps to ensure the project anticipates, prevents, and does no harm. DPGs may help protect countries from vendor lock-in, facilitate local capacity building, and break down innovation silos by facilitating connection and reuse of existing systems.

To be considered a DPGs, an open source project must first go through a nomination process, and can be submitted by anyone through a public form. The DPGA’s technical team reviews the nomination to confirm that all nine indicators of the DPG Standard are met. Successful nominees are then considered digital public goods and are displayed as such on the DPG registry. The DPG API can be used to populate other registries and catalogues, such as the Digital Impact Alliance Catalogue of Digital Solutions, that wish to display DPGs. These registries and the DPG API increase discoverability of DPGs, and ensure that they can serve critical development purposes and contribute to a more equitable world.

The Digital Public Goods Alliance

In mid-2019 the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation published The Age of Digital Interdependence. This report recommended advancing a global discussion about how stakeholders could work together to better realize human well-being with digital technologies. Recommendation 1B in that report stated,

That a broad, multi-stakeholder alliance, involving the UN, creates a platform for sharing digital public goods, engaging talent and pooling data sets, in a manner that respects privacy, in areas related to attaining the SDGs.”

Responding to this recommendation in late 2019, the governments of Norway and Sierra Leone, UNICEF, and iSPIRT formally initiated the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA), a multi-stakeholder initiative with the mission to accelerate the attainment of the SDGs in low- and middle-income countries by facilitating the discovery, development, use of, and investment in DPGs.

Today, the DPGA works collaboratively with a variety of stakeholders to create and maintain foundational tools, such as the DPG Standard and the DPG registry. The DPGA also coordinates efforts across the DPG ecosystem, including through communities of practice and country pathfinding pilots.

Learn more on the DPGA’s website

How GitHub is increasing visibility of the DPGs

Visibility of DPGs is critical. As of May 2021, more than three-fourths of all DPGs listed on the DPG registry and in the nomination process host their codebases on GitHub. This not only gives GitHub important ways to support the work, it also provides our Tech for Social Good Team a unique role to play as a connector and facilitator. To date, GitHub Tech for Social Good has facilitated connections of more than 10 organizations, projects, and individuals that drive more than 15 potential DPGs.

GitHub Tech for Social Good has highlighted two important DPGs in past talks, DHIS2 and CommCare. DHIS2 is the world’s largest health management information system (HMIS) and serves as a critical piece of public health infrastructure throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and parts of South Asia. CommCare is a data collection tool built by the company Dimagi, and has been used for COVID-19 contract tracing, birth registrations, and tracking malnourished children. It has registered 450 million people and places globally.

GitHub’s Policy and Tech for Social Good teams have provided feedback on the DPG Standard, and facilitated connections with open source industry experts. The team will also be conducting a second open source research project that focuses on low- and middle-income countries and DPGs. This work will be done in parallel to efforts from other organizations exploring DPGs in the public sector.

What’s Next

We’ll be sharing more details on the GitHub Social Impact Insights page on how UNICEF created its open API for DPGs, and DPG activity happening on the GitHub platform. Stay tuned for these posts—and additional updates on how we’re working with the DPGA to highlight DPGs on the GitHub platform!

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