Access the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s new Guide to Creating Digital ID for Inclusive Development.

Identity is deeply personal. Issues of identity are complex and tied up with power, privacy, and protection. Yet identifying constituents is often critical to organizing and managing global development projects. Decades of development work have relied on ad hoc identity systems to administer programs, yet today we find that nearly 1 billion people still lack representative identification.

USAID’s 2017 report Identity in a Digital Age: Infrastructure for Inclusive Development documented some of the complexities that arise when we create or use digital ID in development programming. Done well, these systems can provide a unique, trusted, multipurpose ID to everyone, which is key to economic and social development.

How to Achieve Inclusive Digital ID Infrastructure

Yet, even if we understand why ID is important, it is still challenging to know how development practitioners across sectors can achieve their goals without contributing to an already fragmented identity landscape, let alone work to create more cohesive and inclusive digital identity systems at the same time.

Akin to other recent guidance such as ID4D’s Practitioner’s Guide, USAID has released a companion and update to the 2017 report to focus on how to achieve more inclusive identity infrastructure.

The Guide to Creating Digital ID for Inclusive Development provides practical insights for USAID staff, national governments, development practitioners, and other development professionals into navigating the challenges of digital identity systems in development work. This new guide aims to:

  • Illustrate how investments in digital ID systems can positively and negatively impact individuals and their households.

  • Provide specific how-to guidance for donors, program managers, and monitoring and evaluation specialists to help them understand and foster sustainable digital ID ecosystems.

digital-identity-usaid.pngPhoto credit: Guimba Souleymane, International Red Cross Niger.

The Guide to Creating Digital IDs contains five tools. These tools can be considered individually if you’re looking at a specific issue, or together for a holistic guide to supporting infrastructural ID in a project.

  1. Encourage Infrastructural ID System Design in the Activity Design Process: Provides ideas for donors that would like to signal support for, and interest in, ensuring that any ID-related components of a project take into account the local ID infrastructure.

  2. Engage Multiple Partners in the Design Phase: Provides tools for mapping existing stakeholders who are working on and with ID in any given context, as well as for convening partners to create an ID systems map.

  3. Ensure Trust through Data Protection: Provides basic definitions of data protection terms of relevance to IDs, as well as tips for assessing and mitigating potential risk for participants and organizations.

  4. Choose the Right Technology Vendor: Provides tips for assessing tech vendors, whether for beneficiary management system or government ID systems, to avoid risks such as vendor lock-in, unforeseen costs, or operational problems due to local realities.

  5. Design for Reuse and Interoperability: Provides guidance to consider so that a system designed for one project or activity can consider, from the start, how some or more of these components can be reused by future projects or partners.

The Promise of Inclusive Digital Identity

Integrating this guidance into your development projects could help the estimated 1 billion people worldwide who lack official ID find an on-ramp to an inclusive identity system. The tools in this guide are rooted in the understanding that, through our programmatic investments in ID systems, we can strengthen underlying infrastructure and promote greater self-reliance at the individual and system level.

In doing so, we recognize the importance of ensuring identity systems not only meet programmatic objectives, but, as Caribou Digital noted in its report, Identity at the Margins, balance “…operational benefits with an empathetic assessment of how these systems impact individuals’ privacy, dignity, and agency.”

We hope this guide will help those who are striving to find this balance.

Chrissy Martin Meier is a consultant with the DAI-led Digital Frontiers project, and Shachee Doshi is an AAAS Science and Technology Policy fellow at USAID’s Center for Digital Development.

This blog originally appeared on ICTWorks.