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Standards for Articulating Digitalisation Benefits

While the costs of digitalisation are beginning to receive some attention, the positive side of the equation—the supposed benefits of digitalisation to people, organisations, the government and society as a whole—have not yet received rigorous attention. Developing standards that would allow entities to clearly articulate the benefits and intended use-cases of a large digital application is of crucial importance to public affairs.

There is a strong current of reflection today about the costs to fairness, autonomy and efficiency of the digitalisation of public life. But the other side of the equation—the theory of benefits—is not very well articulated either.

We have strong intuitions about the benefits of digitisation of public-services.

🧾 It can promote superior accounting and record keeping.

📈 It can help identify large-scale correlations in populations across different indicators like education, income, health.

♿ It can make the state and the private sector more accessible than they were before.

🎯 It can enable more effective and targeted intervention.

These can improve transparency, help create early warning systems and can allow for better design and implementation of social policy. But through what channels and how effectively can they help us do this?

We need to develop a better understanding of the channels through which these systems create impact.

Use-case modelling and analysis is a particularly important exercise in rigorously expressing how the deployment of a public-service digital application will lead to impact.

Case in point: the use of Aadhaar as an authentication mechanism in the Public Distribution System

As papers by Jean Drèze et al. and Karthik Muralidharan et al. have shown, the use of Aadhar for a large-scale public purpose like the Public Distribution System (PDS) can have many social vulnerabilities that only reveal themselves through use-case analysis.

Before digitising a particular use-case like PDS, we must model and analyse:

🙋 How comfortable are rural users with biometric authentication?

💲 What new transaction costs do biometric identification create?

💾 How does biometric identification interact with the local state—PDS dealers, outdated equipment etc.?

From a technology perspective, authentication needs to be:

  1. Sound: nobody is incorrectly authenticated.
  2. Complete: nobody is incorrectly inauthenticated.
  3. Fair: nobody is inappropriately denied service.
  4. Private: no one’s informational autonomy is compromised.

But designing implementations that meet these conditions requires us to adopt perspectives from 👣 Sociology/Anthropology,   🏛️ Political Science,   📈 Economics, and ⚖️  Legal Theory.

This interdisciplinary effort would be the base for the creation of multiple policy-making frameworks.

🚨 Risk-modelling and safety analysis for a given use-case.

📈 Tools and metrics for articulating the expected benefits.

Context-driven checklists for successful implementation of digitisation.

📊 Audit standards for post-deployment monitoring and evaluation.

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka