Where the digital transformation journey begins — sharing our Digital Maturity Assessment model

It’s very easy to talk and write about how digital can change people’s lives for the better and how digital transformation can change governments to make them more efficient, effective and transformative. Most of us have experienced digital transformation especially during Covid-19 where so much of life went online and there was an impetus to change how we live and work. It is, however, far harder to move the talk and vision, into action and make digital transformation happen, especially with a clear structural impact which we strive for at UNDP, structural transformation.

There are some incredible and visionary digital strategies from Governments in the Asia Pacific Region including the Republic of Korea, Singapore or Japan (as per E-Government Development Index). And many governments are still in the infancy of developing their strategies (Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan and Lao PDR being on the lower end of the EDGI list in the region).

Each country has, of course, a different level of and different context to digitalization and governments need to better understand where their digital transformation work needs to focus to ensure strategic direction and to make sure there are quick wins to ensure acceleration and momentum. To support this agenda the Regional Innovation Centre of UNDP Asia and the Pacific, in partnership with our Country Office partners and consultants, have developed a robust diagnostic tool, the Digital Maturity Assessment framework.

Why is digital transformation important in development?

Our role as the UNDP is to support governments to develop their digital strategies, to help bring those strategies to life through pilots and programmes that lead to systemic change, and, most importantly, ensure that any digital strategies and any digital transformation is inclusive and drives meaningful benefit for everyone in society.

In UNDP`s Digital Strategy 2022–2025, it talks about digital being both an ever-evolving range of technologies (like mobile technologies, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, Internet of Things, and robotics to name a few) that impact our world, it also talks about digital as a mindset, which translates into a new way of working that enables people and institutions to innovate with technology. Therefore, digital transformation is not only about technology, but also about strategy, change and new ways of thinking and working. It’s not just about tech, it’s about people. It is a journey, not a destination.

At the UNDP our approach to digital is inclusive, rights based, and human centred aiming for openness and guided by a whole-of-society approach and the Digital Maturity Assessment we are sharing here is a way of operationalizing this.

Through the Digital Maturity Assessment, we are offering concrete assistance to accompany countries through their Digital transformation journey, appreciating the work that has gone on before in country, to progress towards a continuously adapting, anticipatory and human-centered governance systems and operations.

Sharing the Digital Maturity Assessment

The UNDP Digital Maturity assessment is complimentary to the UNDP readiness assessment (see this great example from Moldova) and dives deeper into the best areas for digital piloting and testing.

The Digital Maturity Assessment has been created to help deeply assess where a country stands in terms of digital maturity in a truly comprehensive manner. It is a robust diagnostic tool to understand the capabilities for reform design and delivery of excellent digital public services. For some governments and some UNDP offices a full maturity assessment might not be the answer, but the methodology can be very well applied in sectoral contexts as well including health, education etc.

Importantly, it’s not just a report, but serves as a basis to develop the national digital blueprint/strategy and a roadmap to follow in many or some specific areas (education, government services, identity etc.), to start on and build confidence across government. The purpose of doing the assessment is not just to get an assessment, but to build relationships with and across government ministries and departments, to share and develop relationships with the private sector and civil society and prepare the groundwork to move directly into pilots and scaling.

The Digital Maturity Assessment methodology is based on the Harvard Kennedy School of Government model and adapted for the UNDP. It considers different components (private sector, entrepreneur environment, education system, infrastructure, public policies) of a digital ecosystem and adapt to the six key (political environment, skills&hiring, delivery capacity, user-centred design, institutional capacity and cross government platforms) dimensions of the maturity framework.

A diagram showing the different parts of the digital maturity assessment.
Example of the Digital Maturity Assessment Framework

When to use a Digital Maturity Assessment and when to do something else

One of the challenges of introducing a product like this is when to use it and when to suggest something else to support governments on their digital transformation journey. Doing a Digital Maturity Assessment can act as a good in route into working with governments on substantive change rather than just short-term pilots (although some “quick wins” are a good tactic in broader strategic change) it can also help embed core principles of inclusive development at the start which many other assessment approaches do not. The assessment also shows government partners about how all the areas of digital transformation fit together rather than seeing areas of digital transformation separately or as projects.

Broadly speaking it’s good to use a Digital Maturity Assessment when:

  • The Government doesn’t have a current digital strategy or does not have a roadmap or plan associated with their current strategy,
  • When the government wants to re-evaluate their current digital strategy,
  • There is disagreement between government departments and ministries on who leads digital or who is responsible for digital transformation,
  • There is a lack of clarity about where investment needs to be made or there is disagreement about areas that need support,
  • Some Ministries have digital strategies and plans, but others do not,
  • When there has been little action in enacting a current digital programme.

When not to use a Digital Maturity Assessment

  • When there is a clear government digital strategy and roadmap across Ministries that has buy in and is making progress,
  • When there has been a recent assessment completed by a trusted body Ie World Bank, ADB or others,
  • When there are already pilots underway that are supported but just need financing,
  • When there is no agreement from the government that digital transformation is important.

The success in Lao PDR

For many governments who desire a whole-of-government transformation there is nervousness about where to start this important work. This kind of transformation not only includes new infrastructure, hardware and software, but it also requires a new mindset for civil servants (which will be the focus of one of our upcoming blog posts), new systems and processes and new methodologies. It often requires a new vision for what is possible, for example bringing all government services online will change the nature of how citizens interact with government but will also change many of the roles within government.

UNDP country office in Lao PDR, together with the government have excelled in understanding that digital transformation is more than the nuts and bolts of programming and administration, it’s about leadership and vision.

The entry point to this journey was on the one hand the realization that the Lao PDR ranks 167 out of 193 countries on the EGDI index, being a clear indication that UNDP must help the most left behind in the digital space. On the other hand, Covid-19 made the lack of digital knowledge, the undeveloped infrastructure, and non-existent digital structures for digital public service delivery apparent.

The first step of engagement before embarking on the Digital Maturity Assessment, was a sensemaking workshop facilitated by the Lao Accelerator Lab, which was a first of its kind within the Lao PDR government. It helped to bring together colleagues from multiple ministries to discuss different elements of digitalization and simply brought forward the realization, for the first time, that digital has an impact on all of them. This sensemaking workshop articulated to us at the UNDP that the Country partners wanted to do a deep dive into where they should invest in digital transformation, this led to the development of the Digital Maturity Assessment model.

The UNDP Laos team describe the Digital Maturity Assessment experience as being rewarding, including lots of consultations, bringing everybody up to speed, while initiating activities. The Digital Maturity Assessment process then consisted of desk study; survey; data request; deep diving, focus group interviews ensuring the human-centered principle and involving citizens in the process; leading to a comparative perspective of global digital government practices; and gap analysis. The process led to the DMA report where all pillars have been scored which have been accepted by ministries and provinces.

What happens next in Lao PDR?

After the Digital Maturity Assessment report, we swiftly moved into developing a national digital blueprint and roadmap. Through the interviews and assessment process important relationships were formed, an understanding of where digital transformation can take place was developed which was a key part of the success of the next phase, moving to pilots.

Now, as they enter the piloting phase, they remain widely consultative engaging continuously with the Ministry of Communication leading the digital transformation work, and on the other hand, the masterplan and the priorities will be updated regularly as more learning is coming in from the pilots. The three pilots emerged from various areas of the entire government space, and will be resulting in three digital products, namely: Local digital learning classroom for Marginalized and Vulnerable Groups (MVGs) or rural populations; Development of One Stop Government Super App; Skills assessment of public sector digital teams and civil servants.

What’s next for this digital work?

The Regional Innovation Centre will be testing the model again in Indonesia for the remainder of 2022 and we are also looking at three areas to adapt and improve the model. Firstly, to embed more agility in the model — agile (definition) is there but it’s not explicit enough, secondly to bring more inclusion more explicitly into the model and thirdly to try and build more systemic thinking into the model. All of these elements are in our practice, but they are not codified and therefore not explicit and must be captured when moving to scale.

There is some push back on the words “maturity” and “readiness” when it comes to tone and phrasing of this work, that we need to consider. We are also working on how to connect more explicitly to the various high-level assessments that countries in Asia Pacific often already have. We are also keen to document and understand the important part of the process that is the engagement across government ministries and the political buy in required for change.

Partnerships are critical to catalyze inclusive approaches to digital development, including the provision of adequate resources to implement such efforts as the Digital Maturity Assessment. We are always open to joining forces, you can reach us at brh.ric@undp.org .

Thank you to the many people involved in leading this work especially to Ricarda Rieger, Resident Representative of UNDP Lao PDR Country Office, Ketmany Vilayvong from the Lao PDR Country Office and Debashis Nag, Digital Lead for Asia Pacific UNDP. This blog has been written by Kate Sutton, Debashis Nag and Agnes Huller. We will keep you posted on our findings and in the meantime, should you be interested you can share your thoughts with us on Twitter @ricap_undp

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Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific

Doing development differently through designing, developing, curating, collating and championing innovation and digital across the Asia Pacific Region.