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The transformation of governance and policy systems in the digital age


I went for a run yesterday evening and listened to one episode of the World Economic Forum Series podcats series on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This episode (abstract and link to ScoundCloud below) focused on changes that may occur in the governance systems and to some extent the democratic principles that underpin them. These changes can be both positive and negative.

Here the points made by the guests interviewed for this episode that caught my attention while running in snowy weather here in Tampere:

  • Digital technology offers an unprecedented opportunity for citizen engagement and participation in decision making: problem identification, selection of solutions to be tested, validations of policy experiments, regulations, budget allocations, etc. (Listen about the citizen consultation on Uber in Taiwan)
  • National and local governments need a strong intent to bring more citizen into the policy discussion through apps and digital consultations. They need to want to do it, understand how to do it, and allocate adequate resources to do it.
  • According to a survey mentioned during the conversation, a large part of young people in Western countries does not believe in democracy as a political system.
  • In the digital era, it may be possible that our citizenship may not be defined anymore by where we are born or live. Todays’ elections and governance system struggle with the mobility of young generations. We may see a post-democracy system emerging
  • Policy decisions in the digital era will more and more rely on experimentation and participatory and engaged discussion about the results. The policy change will occur through an incremental process of change and learning about the solutions that work and the ones that do not. This reminded me about Duncan Greens’ How Change Happens
  • Evidence and knowledge will play an important role in the governance process and policy decision but the type of knowledge and evidence will change, maybe more than they do today due to the crisis of trust towards experts’ knowledge. However, the types of knowledge and the system that will generate it will be very different from today and be much more linked to citizen sentiments and perceptions, data analysis, and embedded in the experimental approach to required to test solutions to public policy problems
  • There are risks in all this as well. For example, few mega-corporation will own the digital technology that is used to inform policy and therefore have considerable influence and power on governments
  • Another risk is that countries and societies that have the human capital to develop, understand, and use these technologies will take off leaving behind the ones that are still trying to address sometimes first and second industrial revolution challenges.

The question I have are: how to ensure an equitable 4IR? how to develop knowledge systems that inform policy decisions in the digital era? how to ensure equitable citizen participation in governance processes and not limit it only to those with good internet access? what policy decisions and reforms are required today in middle and low-income countries to prepare the next generations fo civil servants and knowledge producers for the governance systems in the digital era?

Summary: The business of government has remained cautiously analogue as our lives have digitised, and perhaps there are good enough reasons for that. Nonetheless, a new generation of digital democrats is afoot, with plans to infuse legislatures everywhere with technological upgrades. If they succeed, governments of the future will be more open, more evidence-based, more data-rich and more responsive than ever before. The notion of representation could be changed beyond recognition, and legitimacy too will adopt a different hue. Are such changes necessary or welcome? And with filter bubbles and bots entering the lexicon, how does technology also threaten the efficacy of our governing systems? We filter the issues with Beth Noveck, Director of the Governance Lab; Carl Miller, author of ‘Power: Control and Liberation in the Digital Age’; David Binetti, founder of Votizen; Pia Mancini of Democracy OS and Democracy Earth; and Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s Digital Minister without Portfolio.

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