10. Plan for the Long Term

This standard is linked to the following Principle for Digital Development: Design for Scale & Build for Sustainability.

Before you start a project, there are two key things that you need to consider:

  1. The plan for maintaining your product
  2. The plan for engaging the user who will use the product 

Part A: Plan for maintaining your product

First, the cost of maintaining and improving a digital product will be significantly higher than building the initial version. 

The reason is that digital products need continuous maintenance and need to provide a reliable service to end-users. There are technical bugs (errors in the code) to fix, underlining software libraries to update, and hosting/licensing fees for the website, app or platform. 

On top of technical updates, end-user needs will change, so their feedback needs to be implemented.  This is why we advise only building products from scratch if necessary.  

Ensure clarity in long-term roles and responsibilities. Who will fund the solution, who will maintain it, how it will scale, who is allowed to re-use it, how the data will be used/shared, analytics and success factors, and how end-user feedback will be continuously gathered and implemented?

If a partner organization will manage the product in the long term, this requires a clear set of documentation and a handover guide and plan. Only passing the source code, servers, access information, and vendor details is insufficient. A handover guide needs to detail the critical processes required to run the product daily. Ideally, the documentation should be clear enough that little-to-no communication should be necessary on an ongoing basis. 

When considering long-term funding, the costs to run the product are typically subdivided into maintenance, hosting/data storage costs, and licensing fees. Ensure that there are precise projections for these costs for the next 2-3 years so you understand the funding needs for the project. You may need to consider if there is a business model that can be created around your product. In addition, if your product is open-sourced and you work to replicate it in new countries and/or settings, you may consider if UNDP should be the long-term product steward or it should be handed over to another entity (e.g. a foundation, university, or social enterprise) to be the legal guardian, funder, and centre of operations and maintenance.

Part B: Plan for engaging the user

Second, creating a digital product or service is not enough; you need to ensure that end-users adopt it. 

This requires a robust user-engagement plan that includes how users will discover, adopt and use the product. This can be a digital engagement plan, a change management plan, or a communication campaign. 

The onboarding process and first-time user experience are fundamental to ensuring that users do not try your product once, have a bad experience, and then never use it again.  To prevent problems for first-time users, you need to design an onboarding process, trigger word-of-mouth referrals, and optimize user acquisition, engagement, and retention. With these considerations in mind, you can create products that are not just successful but also sustainable over time.​

The best strategy to enable word-of-mouth referrals is to solve a specific problem really well. But word-out-mouth is not a strategy that you can rely on. You need to have a plan that assumes word-of-mouth won’t work and find a way to reach your target audience regardless. 

User acquisition, engagement and retention need to be part of the product development from the start. It also requires a specific set of skills (you may need to hire for these skills). Be clear about who will design and implement the engagement strategy. The cost and the time to inform and engage end-users are likely more than you think.

One key element of developing digital products or services is building strong relationships with users at all stages of the development process. You must have a proactive approach to ensuring users get the most value from your product or service. It involves working with users to help them achieve their desired outcomes using your product. This could include providing training, offering best practices, or simply being available to answer questions. 

To be successful, customer success needs to be built into your product development process from the start. 



  • Store code in the UNDP Github repository
  • Ensure software code is documented
  • Check the skills that exist locally to maintain the tool in the long-term and support digital ecosystems 
  • Think about interoperability from the start
  • Ensure you have budgeted for a minimum six-month maintenance period 
  • Documentation needs to be available online, not as an email attachment
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities with vendors and implementing partners for ownership
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities with institutional partners for ownership
  • Design and implement a user-engagement plan from the start of the product development; and remember to adapt your plan often
  • Plan for time and budget for the user engagement plan
  • Have clear goals for the number of users who will use your product/service
  • Have a clear budget for growing your product/service
  • Track your cost per user acquisition for each growth channel
  • Consider the long-term business model of the product


  • Leave handover planning for later
  • Handover solution to partner without a clear capacity-building plan
  • Build it if there are tested solutions available to use
  • Store access passwords and documentation in emails
  • Be reliant on one vendor to improve or update your digital solution in future
  • Just believe that users will use your product because it is a piece of great technology
  • Rely only on word-of-mouth as a strategy
  • Leave an engagement plan for the end of the project



UN Resources:

  • UNDP Guide to Investing in Digital Technology
  • UNDP Digital Now Practical videos about how to use social media and online digital marketing to engage people


To Watch


To Read


Case Studies.