Keystone Objective. National development goals/SDGs tend to be broad in their scope, and there is a danger of efforts becoming too diffuse when incorporated as part of a national digital strategy. There may, therefore, be a need to sharpen the focus further. One approach might be to identify a keystone objective which can potentially have cascading impacts across the economy and use it for providing strategic focus. Such a keystone would help reduce/eliminate redundancies and wasteful investments. In the corporate sector, Paul O’Neill’s singular focus on “zero worker injuries” while leading Alcoa is an enduring example of success.
A digital strategy that follows the various causal links to achieve the keystone goal of ‘Good Jobs for All’ as an example would end up touching upon every important aspect of the digital economy. It would be an interesting parallel to William Blake’s poem of seeing the “world in a grain of sand”.
Problem Statements. A great way of achieving focus is to identify problem statements and use them to solicit innovative solutions. Some leaders in digital government, e.g., Israel’s Ministry of Health, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and the EU (among others) have been pursuing such an approach with a fair degree of success.
Guiding Values, Principles and Frameworks
National digital strategies would benefit from the adoption of values, principles, and frameworks that could provide broad guidance to multiple players undertaking their digitalisation initiatives. Having a directional compass would offer strategic alignment and cohesion – while allowing for innovation and creativity on the part of individual actors.
Example of Values. Values are the touchstone to decide what should be prioritised and to what purpose. Openness, positive impact, empathy, and compassion are excellent values adopted by many successful organisations.
Example of Guiding Principles. The UK has recently come up with the Gemini Principles for a National Digital Twins strategy:
Gemini Principles for a National Digital Twins strategy
1. From the digitisation of existing processes to digital by design
2. From an information-centred government to a data-driven public sector
3. From closed data and processes to open by default
4. From a government-led to a user-driven administration
5. From government as a service provider to government as a platform
6. From reactive to proactive policy making and service delivery
Existing organisational structures of government are primarily designed for an analog world and need to change to become more relevant in the digital era. A good starting point for an organisational redesign is the area of digital regulation which often adopts a narrow sectoral approach that is likely to be sub-optimal. Also, the rapid pace of technological change typically results in laws and rules lagging technology.
Digital regulation needs to be designed from the ground up to be cross-sectoral, cross-border, cross-platform, public-private, and technologically oriented. Given that digital technologies are general purpose technologies, their regulation should be cross-sectoral as a horizontal, rather than as a vertical. Given that data flows are often agnostic to national boundaries, and the most valuable tech companies (e.g., social media companies) are outside most national borders, it is essential to bring a cross-border perspective to regulation. Similarly, the oversight of Over the Top content (OTTs), for example, requires cross-platform approaches.
If regulatory actions have to keep pace with technology, it will be necessary for regulators to work upstream with innovators and startups through strong public-private partnerships.
Some countries starting with the UK have established regulatory sandboxesto work closely with the private sector. Regulators will also have to leverage technology better in the future to retain their relevance. A case in point is tackling online harms. It may be impossible to prevent the spread of harmful content on social media, without the use of automated safety technologies.
A sound digital strategy should have a correct sequencing of actions for promoting the digital economy. Foundational elements, e.g., broadband networks, ease of data access, cybersecurity, digital skills, agile regulation, and entrepreneurship deserve precedence over other aspects.
Finally, to paraphrase Boon Siong Neo and Geraldine Chen in their book ‘Dynamic Governance,’ in developing a national digital strategy it is crucial to think ahead, think across, think big, and think again.