The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) held an online session on Thursday to educate journalists about the crucial importance of Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI). This initiative precedes the launch of its training and fellowship program aimed at 20 journalists from West Africa (Benin, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo). The primary goal of this program is to equip these media professionals to effectively address and raise awareness about PDI-related issues.

During yesterday’s webinar, David Eaves, an expert in digital policies, emphasized that the transition to digital government services should begin with a phase of public awareness. Before launching these services, governments should inform citizens about the benefits and importance of digitization. This would create a common understanding and consensus on the benefits of these new initiatives.

Eaves also highlights that the mere implementation of digital services is not enough. It’s crucial for governments to demonstrate the added value of these services for citizens. Practical benefits and efficiency gains must be clearly communicated to garner user acceptance and interest. A strong communication strategy can contribute to creating a positive perception and generating greater citizen participation.

The approach advocated by David Eaves underscores the need to avoid hasty and disorganized adoption of digital services. He said, “Coherencing people” into these services generally does not work well. Instead, an initial phase of awareness and value demonstration could facilitate a smooth transition to widespread use of government digital services, maximizing benefits for all citizens involved.

“Governments need to not just launch the service, that have to demonstrate how it has value to citizens. Coherencing people into services is almost never the right approach,” he stated.

The Importance of Digital Public Infrastructure and the role of the media

In his presentation, Professor David Eaves used two illustrative examples to demonstrate the importance of Public Digital Infrastructure. He mentioned a road that facilitates mobility for numerous users and a mobile phone allowing simultaneous access to multiple applications. This demonstration helped participants grasp the relevance of these public digital infrastructures.

The digital governance specialist, who is also the Deputy Co-Director of the Institute of Innovation and Public Policy at the University College London and a member of the investment committee of Co-Develop (a financial partner of MFWA for the fellowship program), emphasized that public digital infrastructures are “centralized digital systems usable by all.” Being powerful drivers of transformation, it’s imperative to raise awareness among populations about their existence, use, and implications. The Covid-19 pandemic imposed digital transformation on governments, prompting them to consider further centralizing public service platforms to optimize resources, enhance service efficiency, and promote inclusion.

According to David Eaves, the way these public digital infrastructures work, “has an impact on society.” It therefore highlights the crucial role of journalists in informing both the government and citizens.

“Organizing training like this to enable journalists to effectively do their job and encourage conversations with the authorities,” supports Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director of MFWA.

At the end of their training, the twenty selected reporters to join the fellowship, will be tasked with creating content related to digital installations in the public sector. The three-month training will begin in September and will take place online before continuing in person in the Republic of Ghana.