From Insights to Impact: Evaluating 4 years of progress with the IDES (part 2)

François Coupienne, Global Digital Lead, UNCDF
Tobias Schillings, Results Measurement Specialist, UNCDF

Policymakers in least developed countries (LDCs) face formidable challenges in navigating digital transformation. Often working with limited resources and underdeveloped infrastructure, they struggle to gather the necessary data and insights to drive effective policy decisions. This lack of actionable information results in fragmented efforts and missed opportunities to create inclusive digital economies. As a result, many communities remain disconnected from the benefits of the digital revolution, exacerbating existing inequalities. To address these challenges, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) launched the Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard (IDES) initiative. The IDES equips policymakers with the critical data and strategic insights needed to overcome these obstacles, enabling them to formulate informed policies that foster digital inclusion and drive sustainable economic growth.

The IDES follows a multidimensional approach and measures both the development and the inclusiveness of a country’s digital economy across four key building blocks: Policy & Regulation, Infrastructure, Innovation, and Skills. Emphasizing the need to build digital economies that leave no one behind, the IDES measures the inclusion of eight marginalized segments across these dimensions: women, youth, elderly, refugees, migrants, micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), rural populations, and people with disabilities. For more details on the IDES methodology, please see here.

This article continues our exploration of the IDES, marking four years of implementation. Based on a survey and individual interviews with over 30 stakeholders, this part delves into the qualitative insights gathered from senior public officials in Uganda, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, the Solomon Islands and other IDES countries. These case studies highlight how IDES has been instrumental in driving policy change and advancing digital transformation in these countries. As highlighted in Part 1 of our blog series, IDES is implemented in 33 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, and officially adopted by 11 governments as their national measurement tool for digital transformation. The scorecard has informed 17 policy drafts and 10 enacted digital policies, strategies, and regulations. For a detailed overview of the IDES achievements in government adoption, policy support, and capacity building, please refer to Part 1 of our blog series.

IDES, a tool for policy development

To understand how IDES supports policy development and contributes to digital transformation initiatives, UNCDF conducted a survey and interviews with over 30 stakeholders. These stakeholders consistently emphasized IDES’s significance as a foundational reference for policy formulation, guiding the establishment of Digital Economy Strategies and ICT policies. For example, government stakeholders from Uganda’s Ministry of ICT emphasized how the IDES approach informs all steps of the policy development process: “IDES is our first reference for policy development, it has guided the development of the Digital Transformation Roadmap with all targets aligned with the IDES framework”. Additionally, the country uses IDES for policy prioritization, institutionalizing the tool as part of a mandatory feasibility study for policy development. In Zambia, the Ministry of Technology and Science leveraged IDES to draft the first National Digital Transformation Strategy 2023-2027 and to update its ICT policy. In Madagascar, the Ministère du Développement du numérique, des Postes et de la Télécommunications (MNDPT) use IDES to mainstream inclusion in the new Plan Stratégique du Numérique (PSN). In Solomon Islands, the Ministry of Communications and Aviation use IDES to update the National Financial Inclusion Strategy in 2021. Similarly, the government of Sierra Leone leveraged IDES to develop their national Digital Economy Development Strategy in 2022.

IDES, a tool to measure progress and identify priorities

Moreover, IDES serves as a vital tool for measuring progress and identifying market gaps in the digital economy landscape. Government partners from Solomon Islands note that many aspects of their digital contexts lack comprehensive data: “Many aspects of our digital economy context are severely under-researched and IDES fills this gap with actionable, policy relevant data and analyses”. The Central Bank and the Ministry of Aviation and Communication stressed that the tool responds to an urgent need for better measurements to steer policy development by aggregating the few available data sources in an actionable and complementary manner, while also producing original information on aspects of policy assessment and inclusion. Similar data gaps apply in many of our partner countries and governments from Tonga to Zambia have expressed the centrality of actionable IDES insights to advance policy action.

IDES, a tool to advance inclusiveness

In addition to its role in policy development and progress tracking, IDES is instrumental in promoting inclusiveness within digital transformation strategies and in mainstreaming inclusion across various digital workstreams. By incorporating IDES insights, countries are striving to ensure that their digital economies benefit all segments of society, particularly marginalized groups. For example, the Ministry of Communications and Aviation in the Solomon Islands leveraged the insights from IDES to inform both the National Financial Inclusion Strategy and to develop the country’s first Women’s Financial Inclusion Policy, effectively broadening access to financial services for its most marginalized communities. Stakeholders emphasized : “IDES has been key both for informing our National Financial Inclusion Strategy and in mainstreaming inclusiveness into all of our workstreams on digital transformation”. Similarly, the government of Sierra Leone employed the IDES framework and data to inform the National Financial Inclusion Strategy 2022-2026. As mentioned above, in Madagascar, the Ministère du Développement du Numérique, des Postes et de la Télécommunications (MNDPT) uses IDES to mainstream inclusion in the new Plan Stratégique du Numérique (PSN).

IDES, a platform for coordination

Furthermore, IDES functions as a central platform for stakeholder coordination and collaboration. It facilitates dialogue and alignment of priorities among public, private, and multilateral stakeholders, ensuring a cohesive approach to digital transformation efforts. In Burkina Faso, a national IDES reference group has been established to serve as a central platform for a variety of national partners to pool data, shape common perspectives, and drive policy initiatives. Countries like MalawiSolomon IslandsNiger and Uganda have also put in place working groups on digital transformation and leverage IDES to guide the discussions and decisions during their sessions – with stakeholders noting that ““IDES serves as the central platform to convene public, private and multilateral stakeholders to discuss and align our priorities on digital transformation”.

IDES, a tool for capacity building

Lastly, IDES fosters capacity building and peer learning through initiatives like the IDES Community of Practice. This platform enables governments to connect with partner countries, share best practices, and explore innovative approaches to navigating the digital economy landscape. For example, the inaugural IDES Community of Practice Meeting in Zambia brought together over 70 participants from 15 different countries to learn the best ways to employ data-driven decision-making to advance digital transformation, fostering peer exchange and dialogue between governments that are facing similar challenges. A participant from the Uganda Ministry of ICT reflects: “The IDES Community of Practice has been instrumental for connecting us with partner governments, sharing best practices and exploring new ways of navigating the digital economy”. In another example, the CEO of Start-Up Bangladesh organized a session for IDES government partners in Africa, Asia and the Pacific to explain the role played by the Government of Bangladesh in fostering innovation in the country. From 16th to 20th May 2022, government representatives from Ethiopia and Malawi undertook a learning visit to Uganda and Rwanda to exchange on best practices.

As we look to the future, the continued success of the IDES initiative underscores the importance of data-driven policymaking in the digital age. By providing a reliable framework for measurement and analysis, IDES empowers governments to make informed decisions that promote inclusive growth. The collaborative efforts fostered through IDES not only strengthen national digital economies but also create a global network of knowledge and support. Moving forward, the insights and experiences gained through IDES will be invaluable in shaping resilient and inclusive digital economies worldwide.

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