Imagine a city with its vast network of roads, drainage systems, parks, and transit. These infrastructure elements are the ‘commons’ that are shared by the public. The commons serve a very useful purpose – they help facilitate a vibrant ecosystem of social and economic activity and improve quality of life. Over the last two decades, as technology has permeated every aspect of human life, there is a growing recognition of the need to create a similar set of commons for the digital realm.
These ‘digital commons’ also referred to as digital public infrastructure (DPIs) are population scale systems on which the digital economy operates. Examples of DPIs include India’s Aadhaar and UPI, as well as Estonia’s X-Road. Digital solutions of various kinds which serve end-users’ needs in different contexts are typically built on top of these DPIs.
If the technology used to create these DPIs are ‘open’ (open source, open data, open standards, etc.), and are highly relevant for public good use-cases, they are referred to as Digital Public Goods (DPGs). Examples include the FHIR standard, Beckn protocol, DIVOC software.
The Open Digital Ecosystem (ODE) approach is an evolution of the DPI and DPG concepts, and gives equal primacy to the ‘non-tech’ layers of governance and community beyond these ‘tech layers’. Put simply, an ODE is an ecosystem of digital public infrastructure and digital public goods where the potential of technology is bolstered through institutional support, robust governance structures and sustained community engagement to provide citizen-centric services at speed and scale.
For instance, the GitHub portal, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission’s sandbox and the Open Source Initiative are some of the various avenues through which the community can collaborate and contribute to building of digital solutions. On the other hand, institutions that provide robust governance frameworks for digital ecosystems include India’s National Health Authority and the multi-stakeholder ICANN Group.
In the ODE framing, the term ‘Open’ represents the openness that characterizes a participatory development process as well as the freedoms that stakeholders enjoy – to be able to easily, and at minimal cost, access, use and share technology - and the term ‘Ecosystem’ highlights the complementary elements that are needed to make digital interventions work for society’s well-being.