Introducing the Digital Policy Model Canvas

Digital change and innovation continue to throw up both unprecedented challenges and new opportunities for policymakers around the world. Adapting to the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is one of the main tasks confronting leaders across business, government and civil society.

Yesterday, the National Digital Policy Network of the World Economic Forum, of which I am a member,  released a White Paper aimed at facilitating this process. The paper, entitled “Digital Policy Playbook 2017: Approaches to National Digital Governance,”  examines a number of case studies from around the world to develop a “playbook” that can help leaders in designing digital policies that maximize the forthcoming opportunities and effectively meet the challenges. It is the result of a series of extensive discussions and consultations held around the world, over , and attended by leading experts from various sectors and geographies.

The White Paper includes a number of specific recommendations, aimed at different challenges and adaptable to different circumstances and geographies. If there is one overarching recommendation that emerges, it is on the need for a lean approach to policymaking that incorporates agility and iteration. Only such an approach, which borrows its methodology from the world of technology itself, can effectively respond to the fast-moving and multi-stranded nature of the challenges today facing policymakers. Such an approach is also best-suited to the multiplicity of settings, contexts and circumstances in which policymaking takes place, and particularly the regional, national and transnational nature of contemporary policymaking.

How can such insights be translated into a practical and pragmatic approach to policymaking? In order to find implementable solutions, we sought to develop a “Digital Policy Model Canvas” that would guide policy makers to derive specific policies and regulatory mechanisms in an agile and iterative manner – integrating both design thinking and evidence based policy making. This notion of a canvas is borrowed from the business world. For example, in Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur introduce the idea of a “Business Model Canvas” to generate new, innovative business models that can help companies–and others–go beyond legacy systems and approaches.

Applying this approach to the world of digital policymaking and innovation, we arrive at the “Digital Policy Model Canvas” represented in the accompanying figure.

Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 6.08.24 AM

The design and implementation of such a canvas can be applied to a specific problem and/or geographic context, and would include the following steps:

  • Begin with a well-developed problem or definition of an opportunity, mostly informed through public consultation and due diligence
  • Establish a clear sense of the beneficiaries and their needs, applying user-focused design methodologies
  • Map, curate and engage with key stakeholders involved in developing and implementing the policy
  • Always remain sensitive to context – cultural, political and social
  • Adopt an inclusive and iterative process and coordinate with global actors
  • Assess and experiment with existing solutions and engage different people/constituencies to ideate new approaches
  • Be aware of budget and time constraints, and the possible risks associated with any approaches

The Appendix of the White Paper contains further details on this notion of a “Digital Policy Model Canvas” as well as a specific application of the approach to broadband policy in Rwanda. As evidenced by that case study, a canvas approach helps translate broad insights and understandings to the needs of a particular country. It also helps define the key issues at stake as well as metrics to evaluate success, and suggest avenues for possible iteration and improvement. Overall, such an approach provides an element of rigor in methodology that can help guide policymakers through the often confusing and contradictory universe of digital policymaking. It offers structure with flexibility, and a broad approach informed by global lessons with the ability to focus on a specific region.

We welcome your views on these issues, and in particular on the possibilities (or limitations) of a canvas-based approach.