Why bringing all actors to the table is necessary to close the digital divide
Multi-stakeholder partnerships are key to achieve an inclusive and sustainable digital transformation, according to Simone Conrad, Deputy Coordinator of the Africa Union — European Union (AU-EU) Digital for Development (D4D) Hub. “Policymakers, businesspeople, experts, and civil society representatives bring diverse views and expertise to the table,” she says. “These different perspectives are needed to fully understand the complexities and opportunities created by new digital technologies and innovations.”
In her current role, Simone leads the organisation of multi-stakeholder dialogues, both at the intercontinental level (between the AU and the EU) and across Africa. Working together with the different implementing partners of the AU-EU D4D Hub, her aim is to create a space for open exchanges and identification of joint priorities — a first step towards more concrete collaborations.
In this interview, she shares her views on the challenges and potential of multi-stakeholder engagement in the digital for development field, explaining how the AU-EU D4D Hub’s activities fit in this picture.
Q: What are multi-stakeholder dialogues and why are they relevant to close the digital divide?
SC: There is a growing realisation amongst policymakers that we can only achieve a digital transformation that leaves no one behind if all those who are impacted by digital technologies and innovations have the chance to meaningfully contribute to the decision-making process. Policies, regulations, and actions cannot be designed and implemented in isolation, without taking into consideration the concerns and priorities of actors such as civil society, academia, and the private sector.
Multi-stakeholder consultation processes are increasingly important for public authorities. Decisions that are built on different points of view are more likely to be effective and widely accepted — an essential condition for sustainable policy implementation.
In this sense, dialogues are one of the first steps towards multi-stakeholder engagement. Their purpose is to kick off exchanges and to find convergence points between different interests. In the longer term, their aim is to contribute towards participatory policymaking, and hopefully, to tangible multi-stakeholder partnerships.
Q: How does the AU-EU D4D Hub facilitate multi-stakeholder engagement in digital transformation processes?
SC: Engagement with the different actors of the digital ecosystem is a guiding principle for all the projects under the D4D Hub umbrella. In this spirit, facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogues is one of the main areas of activity of the AU-EU D4D Hub.
The AU-EU D4D Hub supports four types of dialogues. First, national dialogues to contribute to country-level policy processes. Second, pan-African dialogues to promote exchanges between countries and learning from good practices. Third, thematic dialogues focusing on specific areas, such as cybersecurity or digital financial services. Finally, intercontinental dialogues for African and European stakeholders to identify joint priorities. All of these dialogues are organised by the implementing partners of the AU-EU D4D Hub (GIZ, Enabel, AFD, Expertise France, LuxDev, MFA Estonia, eGA, and ITL) under the strategic guidance of the African Union Commission (AUC), the European Commission (EC), Smart Africa and national ministries, depending on the scope.
For example, in March we will be facilitating the first Africa-Europe D4D Hub Multi-Stakeholder Forum, co-hosted by the AUC and the EC. The purpose of this event is to discuss key themes in AU-EU digital cooperation, such as connectivity, digital entrepreneurship, and data governance, with digital actors from Africa and Europe. Both institutions have committed to listen carefully to all recommendations and include them in subsequent political discussions.
Q: What are the challenges of multi-stakeholder approaches and how to tackle them?
SC: Multi-stakeholder approaches can significantly contribute to inclusive and sustainable digital transformation policies and actions. However, we need to pay attention to several challenges for them to deliver on this ambition.
For example, different actors speak different languages and sometimes struggle to understand each other. Sometimes, this is even the case between people within the same organisation, such as political decision-makers and technical-level experts. There is not a one-stop solution for this issue. What we do in our dialogues is to carefully understand the expectations and challenges of each actor and build a space where they can listen to each other. We work with professional facilitators that have experience working across sectors and can bridge possible barriers.
We should also not underestimate the possible existence of diverging interests. We strive to involve representatives of all key actors from the start of the planning phase of a dialogue, so we can integrate different perspectives to the agenda. The effectiveness of this approach, nevertheless, also depends on the interest and readiness of participants, which is very context- specific.
About the interviewee
Simone Conrad serves as the Deputy Coordinator of the AU-EU D4D Hub since the project’s launch in December 2020. Previously, she worked as a Digital Development Advisor at GIZ, the German development agency, and as a Digital Policy Officer at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR). Building on the understanding and on the cooperation between different stakeholders has always been at the heart of her work.