Co-designing Digital Interventions and Technology Projects with Civil Society

This paper explores the concept of co-design in partnership with civil society, using COVID-19 technology interventions as an entry point.

While media headlines often focus on the new technologies themselves, such as contact tracing apps, we are interested in the role of civil society in developing such technologies in collaboration with the private and public sectors. We examined this issue mostly through desk research, which was augmented by a small selection of in-depth interviews with six civil society organizations in India and two organizations in the EU, to gain a more nuanced understanding of the challenges and opportunities that arise in the co- design of COVID-19 tech.

Given the exploratory nature and limited scope of this paper, our analysis suggests that co-design today is aspirational when it comes to collaborating with civil society. Empirically, the examples we learned about did not t the ideal type of equitable co-design relationships, particularly among the organizations we spoke to in India. This paper is, however, a step towards thinking analytically, and therefore intentionally, about co-design as the practice continues to be explored. While we are cautious not to overgeneralize, we found that the ability of civil society to influence the development and impact of COVID-19 tech tools was made possible by access to resources, long-standing relationships with the private sector or government, and the capacity to be seen as a trusted expert.


Urvashi Aneja

Urvashi studies the politics, social impacts, and ethics of technology transitions in the global south. She has written extensively on the challenges and risks of AI in India, the emerging gig economy and labor well-being, data governance and gender and technology. She has served on government committees for artificial intelligence and frontier technologies. Urvashi is also an Associate Fellow at Chatham House, a Tech and Social justice champion at the World Economic Forum, and a former member of the T20 Task Force for the Future of Work in the G20. She regularly writes for national media publications and has been quoted in the BBC, Reuters, CNBC, Times of India, and Indian Express, among others. Previously she was a Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and Associate Professor at the Jindal School of International Affairs. Urvashi has a Doctorate from the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Oxford

Mark Latonero

Mark Latonero is a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies