A public good is a good that is both non-excludable (no one can be prevented from consuming this good) and non-rivalrous (the consumption of this good by anyone does not reduce the quantity available to others). Extending this definition to global public goods, they become goods with benefits that extend to all countries, people, and generations and are available across national borders everywhere.
Knowledge and information goods embody global public goods when provided for free (otherwise the trait of nonexcludability could not be met on the basis of excluding those who cannot pay for those goods). The online world provides a great medium for the provision of global public goods, where they become global digital public goods. Once produced in their digital form, global public goods are essentially costless to replicate and make available to all, under the assumption that users have Internet connectivity to access these goods.
Internet connectivity is a prerequisite in the provision of global digital public goods. As of January 2019, the lack of connectivity is a limiting factor to nearly half of the world’s population. These limitations span the cost of devices and data, lack of literacy and digital literacy skills, lack of content in local languages and social norms, among others. Until these barriers are addressed, no digital good can be said to be a global public good in the sense of being non-excludable. Thus, physical connectivity is the underlying prerequisite to advance the provision of global digital public goods.
Types of Goods
Digital public goods can be classified in any of the following types:
- Software: Products and services typically in the form of websites and applications that offer a user interface through which the public good is provided to the user. Extensible to software libraries, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and other pieces of software that are designed as modular components to more complex programs.
- Data: information or knowledge that is either easily understood directly by people or coded into a form that is efficient for movement or processing.
- Standards: compendia of norms, laws, specifications and reference implementations.
Despite the important caveat related to Internet access, digital goods including data, content and services can be of benefit to many people around the world, particularly when they can be freely used, distributed, and adapted, not only today, but also in the future. Digital public goods are therefore in a sense goods with the potential for becoming global public goods if one assumes that everyone will eventually have access to the Internet.
The requirements for digital public goods are built upon the Principles for Digital Development, that are nine living guidelines designed to help digital development practitioners integrate established best practices into technology-enabled programs.
The two primary requirements for digital public goods are:
- Use Open Standards, Open source, Open Data and Open Innovation
- Use Open Licenses: Open Software Licenses (software), Creative Commons (content) and Open Data Licenses (data)
Depending on the type of digital public goods, there are additional requirements:
- For those Products and Services that handle user data: Address Privacy and Security
- For those Products and Services with user interfaces: Accessibility
In addition to the above requirements, digital public goods shall embrace as best practices the rest of the Principles for Digital Development, where applicable.