Meld. St. 11 (2019–2020) Report to the Storting (white paper), Summary

Digital transformation and development policy

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1 Introduction

1.1 Purpose

The purpose of the Report is to define and provide strategic direction for digitalisation in Norwegian development policy, and to show how existing and new initiatives can be applied in priority areas. Digitalisation is an umbrella term that encompasses the introduction of digital tools and methods that streamline processes and change societies. Both nationally and internationally much is being done to harness digitalisation and new technology, but the efforts are often fragmented and uncoordinated. A more systematic and integrated approach is therefore needed to determine how digital transformation can be used to enhance the impact of Norwegian development policy. Digitalisation can increase the reach of existing development efforts and assist developing countries in capitalising on the potential of digital technologies. To build on lessons learned and encourage results beyond the scope of individual projects, Norway will take a systematic and integrated approach to use of technology in its development policy. Furthermore, Norway must lay the foundation for innovation and digitalisation in all its multilateral and bilateral efforts. Digitalisation is not an end in itself, but a means to:

  1. meet the challenges within the Government’s priority focus areas more effectively and with higher quality within the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals;
  2. renew and enhance development cooperation and reach those most in need, so no one is left behind;
  3. utilise digital solutions in low-income countries and in Norwegian humanitarian efforts to promote sustainable development, by boosting job creation and increasing competitiveness, among other things;
  4. increase investment in the basic infrastructure that countries need to utilise digital technology.

New technology, innovation and public-private collaboration makes it possible to strengthen Norway’s contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals. Norway will prioritise development cooperation with its partner countries and will direct resources where the needs are greatest. New opportunities will be a focus in Norway’s political dialogue with partner countries and with countries where Norwegian ICT firms and industry organisations are already actively engaged with local partners. Local strategies, ambitions and existing digital expertise of those countries will serve as the basis for Norwegian development cooperation.

The Government will incorporate digitalisation into its thematic areas of focus. Along with humanitarian efforts, the Government’s key development-policy focus areas are health, education, climate and the environment, oceans, private sector and agricultural development, renewable energy, the fight against modern slavery, human rights and financing for development. As work proceeds, the cross-cutting considerations relating to human rights, climate and the environment, gender equality and combating corruption will be safeguarded.

Norway expects our implementing partners within the prioritised areas to do more to identify, utilise and implement digital opportunities to reach more people and have more effect. More viritual meetings and online working methods may also contribute to reduced carbon emissions. Norway will work to improve coordination and flexibility to prevent fragmentation and duplication. In many cases, especially for projects that are fully publicly funded, open licences and open standards must be the main rule.

The use of digital technology is especially important in efforts to reach the most marginalised groups in society. Depending on the country, such groups may include persons with disabilities, religious and sexual minorities, and children who are prevented from attending school. The efforts will be carried out in broad partnership in the private and public sectors as well as academic and civil society organisations.

Norwegian efforts will focus on four barriers to digitalisation:

  1. Access
  2. Regulation
  3. Digital competence
  4. Exclusion

1.2 Digital transformation and development policy

The digital divide between developing and industrialised countries, and between urban and rural areas, is large. We will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 without the use of digital technologies.

The world is undergoing a digital revolution that is fundamentally changing how we live, work and relate to one another. Through digital means, the economy and society can continue to function, also in a crisis. However, poor countries that fail to utilise digital opportunities are increasingly lagging behind. Many areas around the world are faced with a lack of infrastructure, limited access to stable electrical power, poor reading- and writing skills and low levels of digital competence. Norway will work to ensure that developing countries are able to take part in the opportunities that innovation and new technologies provide. Marginalised groups and vulnerable individuals in poor countries are the furthest behind. Reaching them will require the use of digital tools and targeted policies.

Development funding can play an important role by serving as a catalyst for, and contributing strategically to, digital transformation processes already taking place in developing countries. Digital transformation processes are not limited to one sector, one part of the world, or one group. Trade and industry and research and innovation are strong drivers of digitalisation. The natural urge of individuals to find better solutions is another. The ramifications of technological developments are wide-ranging and cross-sectoral, and a combination of the above-mentioned drivers provide complementary effects.

Norway supports the development of sustainable democratic states. By providing assistance that takes advantage of technological potential, Norway can support development that promotes civic participation and democracy. Meanwhile we must remain aware of ways in which new technology may be misused to suppress and limit individual freedoms. The innovation and digitalisation potential of all Norwegian multilateral and bilateral assistance measures will be evaluated.

Norway commits to the Principles for Digital Development,1 which call for digital tools and methods that are user-centric, aligned with existing ecosystems or contexts, scalable, built for sustainability, and data-driven. This also entails a commitment to sharing, collaborating and improving one another’s solutions as much as possible while adequately addressing privacy and security concerns.

Part 1