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The 4IR Is Here. Do We Need to Design Development Initiatives Differently?

I have written this blog post with Vanessa Weyrauch. This article first appeared in Helvetas Mosaic, a quarterly publication exploring new trends and fresh ideas of international development. Subscribe to receive more articles like this from Helvetas Mosaic.

It is easy to get carried away with the promises of technology when we read about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or 4IR.

In an earlier Mosaic article, Knowledge Systems and Policy Innovation in the 4IR, we wrote that, according to the World Economic Forum there is a good chance that by 2025 we will have: 1 trillion sensors connected to the internet; the first 3D printed car in production; the first government replacing the census with big-data sources and analytics; and artificial intelligence performing 30 percent of the corporate audits in the world. Jamie Susskind describes the mind-boggling possibilities offered by nanotechnology, with nanorobots able to swim through our bodies delivering targeted drugs, or the staggering increase in the number of people connected to the Internet, from 400 million in 2000 to an expected 4.6 billion by 2021. He writes that we are entering “a digital lifeworld characterized by machines that are equal or superior to humans in a range of tasks and activities; technology that is embedded in the physical environment in which we live; and digital technology that more and more records human activities as data and processes it through digital systems”.

There are risks of course, for example David Wallace-Wells writes: “Five years ago, hardly anyone outside the darkest corners of the internet had even heard of bitcoin; today, mining it consumes more electricity than is generated by all the world’s solar panels combined, which means that in just a few years we’ve assembled a program to wipe out the gains of several long, hard generations of green energy innovation.” Another example is OpenAI, the Elon Musk-backed non-profit set up to responsibly push the boundaries of what is possible with artificial intelligence. It has developed an AI system which generates coherent paragraphs of literary or news text (go to 19’45” of the podcast) which is so sophisticated that OpenAI has decided not to release it fully to the public because of the real risk that in the wrong hands it could generate very plausible fake news, spam or reviews. 

Reading about technologies of the future gives the impression that the technological changes we are witnessing have a life on their own. They promise a bright future of efficient production and an economic growth path that is at last within the natural limits of our planet. As argues by Susskind, these technologies are not exogenous forces over which we have no control. There are people behind these technologies and governments will need to strengthen leadership and develop human capital so that they are able to govern the techno-digital transformation in a way that leaves no one behind.

The challenge for results-based management approaches

In our discussion paper, State Capability and Policymaking in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we argue that the challenge for government as we approach the 4IR is to keep up with the pace of change and understand the likely social and economic impact of technological innovation to be able to regulate it. This represents a huge challenge for middle and low income countries, since policymakers are expected to resolve interdependent policy challenges that imply a high degree of uncertainty while facing significant capability and institutional barriers such as for example limited budgets, decision-making processes organized in silos, weak IT and knowledge management structures, and low investment in evidence generation.

At the same time, the technological changes that are emerging will change the way governments work and policies are decided. Processes that investigate specific problems, design the necessary policies and regulatory frameworks, and deploy them through top-down systems will struggle in this new technology-driven context facing increasing disruption. In the near future, government institutions will have to adopt policies that govern techno-digital transformation by testing technologies and experimenting to ensure they benefit their citizens on the whole, while trying to avoid intensifying inequalities. Agile forms of government will be needed to help regulators and legislators continuously adapt to a new fast-changing social and economic environment, without stifling innovation. This is likely to challenge the role of central government agencies as local institutions may be quicker in adopting and using new technologies and interacting with citizens. Policymaking and decision making are likely to become more decentralized and concentrated in new areas called mega-regions, which combine cities and metro areas and are increasingly powering today’s world economy.

This poses a challenge to the way today’s development initiatives, particularly around governance reforms and public policy, are designed, planned and implemented. Pablo Yanguas, in his Why We Lie About Aid, writes that everyone involved in public policy knows that definitive results are rare, and yet the vast majority of development initiatives are designed to follow a linear results-based logic of input-output-outcome-impact. Most of the evaluations commissioned today by development partners and implementing organizations are asked to verify this results chain.

If we accept that governance systems will fundamentally change as we enter the 4IR and that governments have to start preparing today, then we may need to rethink the way we design and implement development initiatives. This is particularly true for initiatives that aim to support the development of leadership and human capital capabilities of future generations of civil servants, policymakers and researchers to drive these processes.

What are the implications for development programming?

Program design: The emerging literature on adaptive development provides some interesting ideas about how programs can be more open to the uncertainty of outcomes and results, and how to build a more experimental approach into governance initiatives that will increasingly deal with it. The suggestions are to invest time and resources into developing relationships with local partners and discovering common interests around problems. Digital technologies and platforms can help with that. This can help focus on solving problems that are owned, debated and defined by local stakeholders and partners, and which are not predefined. In some cases it can be about identity solutions (also called positive deviances) that partners have been able to develop despite bureaucratic constraints they face daily, and which document and support those initiatives.

Investing in acquiring a good knowledge of the political economy of the space and context in which the development initiative operates can help to design policy solutions that are politically feasible and not just technically sound. To do so, it is important to work with local innovation leaders committed to testing new governance solutions. These are individuals whose leadership is not a side effect of their position in a formal hierarchy (e.g. their job title), but rather a side effect of the respect, appreciation and trust they receive from their peers as well as being lifelong learners, a fundamental skill required by the pace and depth of changes in the 4IR.

Program implementation: test new forms of knowledge co-production to inform governance innovation and policy experiments through greater access to and use of digital technologies to link a wider range of stakeholders as we suggest through the knowledge system pentagram in our paper. Linking, for example, researchers from universities with policy research organizations; or professional knowledge by technical experts and civil servants with citizen knowledge. Through an experimental approach the need for blending different forms of knowledge and apply a more interdisciplinary approach to knowledge generation becomes more prominent. So does the need to develop physical and digital spaces for collaboration that enable testing of solutions, learning, and building on what works while dropping solutions that do not. Program funders can support this adaptive process by allowing a space for experimentation, acceptance that some experiments may fail, and investments in learning to help decide on which solutions to support.

Program teams: An experimental and politically informed program implementation approach requires a program team with the capacity and skills to do this. This involves either finding individuals with experience in adaptive management, demonstrated capacity to understand and collaborate with local leadership, and the ability to support experimental approaches, or investing the necessary financial resources and time in building skills and knowledge within the team and providing them with the space required to maximize the experience they bring with them.

Impact, replication and scaling up: Every development program is under pressure to replicate and scale up sustainable approaches and solutions. But what does sustainability and scaling up mean for a program adopting adaptive and experimental approaches to testing solutions? Replication and scaling up can refer to the uptake of adaptive and experimental principles by government partners to explore the opportunities and challenges that new technologies bring to governance, social and economic systems. It can be useful to explore the opportunities provided by the principles of innovation diffusion, which state that innovation emerges through initiatives designed and implemented by a small number of innovators. The tested solutions are then gradually taken up by a group of early adopters, followed by a larger group of adopters. In this context, innovation leaders can be catalysts for change from within a policy community. The scaling up can be accompanied by investment in documenting the successes of the partners more than those of the project, even though the two may be interlinked. In our opinion, it is a subtle but important difference.


Governance and policymaking process will be different in the 4IR. They will rely more than today on digital technologies and in the co-production of new forms of knowledge, within areas that bridge innovation, research, higher education, and local and professional knowledge.

These changes will not emerge overnight, they will evolve incrementally. Governments have to start preparing today human and governance capabilities that will be required in this imminent future to take advantage of the changes that are emerging and minimize the possible negative outcomes. Similarly, project and programs aimed at collaborating with national governments to support these change processes will need to evolve their approaches to design, implementation, and evaluations of results. In this article we have provided some initial ideas on how to do so.

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The Fourth Industrial Revolution needs strong foundations in the education system. The comment from Jonathan Pincus on our new discussion paper

I am getting more feedback about the discussion paper published by Southern Voice that I have co-produced with Maria Malho, Vanesa Weyrauch and Fred Carden with support from HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, State Capability, Policymaking and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Do Knowledge Systems Matter?.

The aim of the discussion paper is to identify the key questions we need to ask about the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for policy processes, governance systems and the ways knowledge will inform policy decisions.

The comment I post today is from Jonathan Pincus, an economist specializing in public policy and Southeast Asia, who is currently President with the Rajawali Foundation in Jakarta.

Jonathan raises two important points about the 4IR in the context of emerging economies such as Indonesia. The first is about the extent to which the 4IR can be a factor of economic change. The second is about the foundations of any technology change and whether the technology changes that are associated with the 4IR can actually take place in countries such as Indonesia that are trying to address problems of quality of teaching in school and low quality of research.

‘I don’t really buy into this Fourth Industrial Revolution idea. Technology and production systems (and knowledge systems) are always changing but within frameworks shaped by economic and social power structures. I don’t think that big data has made the old Marxist debate irrelevant about the forces and relations of production. Remember we used to argue about what was the driving factor in economic change: relations of production (feudalism, capitalism) or forces or production (the handloom or the mill)? Or was there an indeterminate dialectical relationship between the two? Much of this 4IR literatures implicitly assumes that it’s the forces of production that are dominant: AI, robotics, nanotechnology give us a different kind of economy, society, politics. Well, yes. But mediated by relations of production, which are themselves a product of power relationships.’

Photo: Sentarum elementary school (CIFOR, CC)

‘I work in Indonesia which still struggles in terms of education indicators among middle-income countries. The law that mandates the government has to spend 20% of its budget on education [Law on National Education No.20/2003] has contributed to a rapid increase in enrolment, including at the tertiary level. But the quality of teaching and learning has not improved. According to the OECD, the education system does less to promote social mobility in Indonesia than in other middle-income countries. In other words, if you are rich you will attend a good school, and if you are poor you will not. The curriculum needs to focus more on math, reading, writing and science and encourage students to analyze and solve problems.’

‘Does technology have a role in changing this? I’d like to believe that digital technologies can reduce barriers to entry to education an improve quality. Not much evidence for that yet in Indonesia, but I think it is still possible. And there are schools where teachers and headmasters are committed to improving the way the students learn.’

‘At the same time, there is a political problem. The governance and accountability systems in the education and higher education sectors do not yet prioritize merit-based recruitment and career progression. Teachers do not have the proper math and science skills required to teach students and prepare them for a technology-driven future. And so Indonesia’s math and reading scores continue to be among the worst in the world, at least among countries that routinely measure them using international metrics.’

‘We can have an interesting discussion about technology and governance but if people cannot do basic math or read and understand a short paragraph in their own language it isn’t going to matter all that much.’

‘Universities face challenges as well. The research sector is generally weak in Indonesia. Moreover, the incentives and drivers of career progression are not yet geared toward doing good quality research published in good national and international peer-reviewed journals. In other words, you cannot have high-quality think tanks and research institutes if you don’t also have good public universities.’

‘I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but I don’t feel we are on the cusp of anything. Indonesia needs an education revolution. I don’t know how to get one. In the context of the current presidential election, campaign education has hardly been mentioned. Perhaps the movement for gender equality can inspire women to fight for better schools to educate girls and young women and overcome the barriers that women face in the labour force. Concern for the quality of education does not seem to be very important to nationalist or Islamicist parties.’

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Will knowledge systems matter in the Fourth Industrial Revolution? The comment from Beatriz Kira from the Pathways for Prosperity Commission in the UK on our new discussion paper.

Klaus Schwab defines the Fourth Industrial Revolution as ‘the confluence of technological breakthroughs, covering wide-ranging fields such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, internet of things, nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy storage, and quantum computing.’ It will change economies and societies. Some write that Everyone Must Get Ready For The 4th Industrial Revolution

Together with Maria Malho at Demos Helsinki, Vanesa Weyrauch at Politics and Ideas, Fred Carden of Using Evidence, Andrea Ordoñez at Southern Voice, Luis Carrizo at UNESCO Latin American and the Caribbean Office, and Helvetas we have co-produced a discussion paper State Capability, Policymaking and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: do Knowledge Systems Matter? to identify the key questions we need to ask about the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for policy processes, governance system and the ways knowledge will inform policy decisions. The discussion paper is a concrete step into co-designing a project with partners in different parts of the world. You can find more information here, including the date for a webinar that we are planning in early March.

In the meantime, we have reached out to colleagues in our networks to provide us with a comment and feedback on the paper. 

Today I post the comment from Beatriz Kira. Beatriz is a Senior Policy Research Officer at the Pathways for Prosperity Commission at the University of Oxford where she works with the team responsible for content development, policy analysis, research, and outreach. Prior to joining the University of Oxford, Beatriz worked as a researcher in Brazil, conducting research on a wide variety of topics in the intersection of law and technology, such as privacy and data protection, freedom of expression, regulation of sharing economy platforms, and copyright. She has also acted as a consultant for the Brazilian Competition Authority, providing advice on competition policy and the digital economy.

Here is Beatriz’s comment.

‘This discussion paper explores a pressing question in the developing agenda: what are policy priorities for middle-income countries as they transition to a knowledge economy during the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The issues addressed in the paper are closely related to our work at the Pathways for Prosperity Commission, a two-year commission on inclusive technology headed by Melinda Gates, Sri Mulyani, and Strive Masiyiwa devoted to making frontier technologies work for the benefit of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people

Recent research published by the Commission identified that global discussions about technology policy are often dominated by a small number of countries and lack a more nuanced understanding of the reality facing developing countries. Advancing towards tech-enabled development, thus, requires stimulating research on the impacts of the 4IR in developing contexts. ‘State Capability, Policymaking and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Do Knowledge Systems Matter?’ is a welcome contribution to these efforts, exploring opportunities and concerns in middle-income countries.

As the authors highlight, the 4IR is unique in terms of the breadth of its scope. While the pace of change will undoubtedly bring significant change across a wide range of areas, none of the policy implications associated with ‘job destruction’ from accelerating automation are certain. Governments, citizens, civil society organisations, academics and the private sector all play important roles in identifying opportunities for inclusive growth and determining how the transformation will affect our societies and economies. This is in line with our work at the Commission, which has emphasised that there are pathways that developing countries could adopt for future inclusive growth and jobs for people living in poverty.

Grounded in extensive review of recent literature, the paper discusses the importance of strong capabilities in order to enable the use of technology to address policy problems. Indeed, policymakers are often faced with the need to balance various and sometimes competing interests, but they often lack the capabilities to do so. The report also identifies that many of the issues arising from innovation and technological advances are transnational in nature. Harnessing the potential of new technologies for inclusive growth will be a global endeavour, which may require internationally or regionally coordinated responses.

Overall, the paper provides relevant contributions to the discussion on the changes that the 4IR will bring to bear on the economy, human agency, and knowledge systems. As argued by the authors, developing countries face multiple challenges to get digital ready and to adapt policymaking to cope with emerging technologies. Our work at the Pathways Commission echoes this diagnostic. We believe crafting solutions will be a joint effort, gathering multiple stakeholders to co-design country-level solutions for inclusive growth.’

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Were the seeds of human-centered design being planted by the Bauhaus movement 100 years ago?

I was wondering about this while reading the article by Rowan Moore in the Guardian this morning: Bauhaus at 100: the revolutionary movement’s enduring appeal.

‘The Bauhaus, simply put, was a German school of art and design that opened in 1919 and closed in 1933. It was also very much more than that. It was the most influential and famous design school that has ever existed. It defined an epoch. It became the pre-eminent emblem of modern architecture and design. … It is coming up for the centenary of its founding, which shows both that what was called the “modern movement” is now part of history and that its influence is very much still around us.’

Architect and artists offer some brief testimonies in the article about the influence that the Bauhaus movement has had on their work. The testimonies are all interesting, but the one by architect Daniel Libeskind (My professor was Bauhaus-taught, so I had the real thing), has a paragraph that is quite illuminating and made me think about the question I pose the title:

‘Bauhaus, at its core, is about understanding the world and its wonder. It’s the fact that everything to do with design – from the small to the large to the horizon – is something beautiful and worthy of the word wonder. I think Bauhaus has a strong ethical and political dimension – it strives for equality. It was only later on that it became minimalist and reductivist in its ideas. The true, original Bauhaus was about the eternal human spirit. I think the Bauhaus has a global impact – in Russia, the United States, Japan – because of what it sought to do – to illuminate the world of design with powerful concepts and the notion of beauty. It was to get rid of the junk, the accretions of time, to clear up the environment and see how it could be designed in a way that was not just functional but created a community.’

What do you think, were the seeds of today’s human-centered design being planted 100 years ago at the Bauhaus Meisterhause?

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Measuring Impact for Development Mutants, An Ongoing Conversation

The original version of this article can be found here on the Pulse Lab Jakarta Medium account.

A Google search for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” will produce millions of results in a speed that seems like the blink of an eye. These results include books, articles, academic papers, information about conferences and workshops… the works. As one author puts it, this revolution brings with it technological breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics, internet of things, nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy storage, and more.

These new technologies are evolving at a very fast pace and will have a strong impact on our societies. For governance systems, they pose two sets of challenges: 1) governments have to keep up with very fast technological and knowledge advances; and 2) these changes occur simultaneously in multiple areas of the economy and society.

In order to deal with the uncertainty that these changes are already bringing, experimentation is gaining traction in government agencies around the world as a way to test public policy solutions. As a result, new organisations are emerging which are actively involved in funding and testing technology-led public policy experimentation.

Over the past few months, Arnaldo Pellini, Research Associate at the Overseas Development Institute and founder of Capability, has been working with Pulse Lab Jakarta (PLJ), a data innovation lab established in 2012 as a joint initiative via United Nations Global Pulse and the Ministry of National Development and Planning (Bappenas), to explore different methodological approaches to measuring impact for this particular type of organisation. With the goal of systematising this in a discussion paper, along the way he had several discussions with Diastika Rahwidiati, our deputy head of office, on the topic. Here we share some snippets from their conversation:

On Defining the Lab

Arnaldo: We have written together about Pulse Lab Jakarta (PLJ) in a book chapter and now here we are writing about the Lab for a discussion paper. Every time, I found it very interesting to reflect on the nature of PLJ and whether it falls in some sort of organisational category. It is not a project or programme in a traditional sense. It is not an NGO. It is not a think tank. It is not a company. To me, it defies these categories because it belongs to a new wave of organisations whose emergence is closely linked to the digital revolution. The digital revolution demands different ways of working to solve problems. New organisations emerge that can do that: policy hubs, policy labs and data innovation labs. What do you think?

Diastika: I think some of the things that Brian Robertson pointed out in his Holacracybook resonate with us as a lab. In a world where changes happen rapidly and knowledge of those changes are at our fingertips, the conventional “predict and control” model that powers many development organisations and initiatives is woefully inept in dealing with this kind of environment. The whole purpose of setting up PLJ was to continuously experiment with new development insights that can be gained from different sources of data. I feel that this approach of continuous experimentation is not just about how we work, but is encoded into how we are as an organisation: we try things; we ditch things quickly if they don’t work; we learn from our successes and our failures; and we integrate these lesson into how we operate.

In this context, I also like Giulio Quaggiotto’s definition of development mutants: new players in the peripheries of the international development sector that freely borrow across different disciplines and recombine elements, because they are “unfettered by legacy”. Going back to the topic that triggered our conversation, though, this sense that we are more like organisms that continue to evolve rather than a development initiative with pre-defined end-of-program outcomes provides an interesting tension in how we define and evaluate the impact of an entity like PLJ.


Arnaldo: An interesting point about PLJ is also the fact that the lab is under the umbrella of UNDP and receives its core funding from a bilateral donor. Both, UNDP and the funder, have subscribed to various international agreements on aid effectiveness and apply a results-based framework that defines certain accountabilities about achieving development outcomes. On the other hand, as you mentioned earlier, the work of PLJ involves designing prototypes, testing possible solutions to data and information problems. Some succeed, some do not. I think it is difficult for this way of working to fit into a results-based framework. Duncan Green, in his book How Change Happens, has written that a process of testing, failing, learning, re-testing, and (maybe) succeeding is a nightmare for the current donor’s systems. In my opinion, data innovation and technology advances will require more and more these adaptive and experimental approaches. In other words, the accountability systems will need to change and adapt to the development of tomorrow.

Diastika: Love Duncan Green. I very much agree with you, Arnaldo. Lest we forget, PLJ is a joint initiative of the United Nations and the Government of Indonesia. So on top of the accountability requirements of the UN and our donors, we also need to meet those of the Government of Indonesia. It is easy to get lost in the myriad of forms, tables and briefs from three different bureaucracies and perhaps complain once in a while about having to meet these, but as Green advocated in his book, it’s also good to take a deep breath and reflect a bit. What is the basic ask here?

My feeling is that the basic ask from all three institutions is whether the resources given to PLJ is being put to good use. The next step would be to discuss with each organisation what “being put to good use” would look like for them, and what evidence they would require to back this claim. For several months now, PLJ has been discussing with the Government of Indonesia a new set of operating guidelines that would allow us to balance the need for accountability with our inherent need for flexibility and freedom to experiment. We’re at a point now where almost everyone involved feels comfortable with these guidelines, but I think one of the biggest learnings for us was that the collaborative (and at times, super-intense) process of developing the operating guidelines themselves was invaluable in building mutual trust. Through this process, we clarified assumptions, expectations, ways of working, and most importantly, the needs that drive accountability processes.

So, while I wholeheartedly agree with you that accountability systems will need to change and adapt to the development of tomorrow, I think we also need to get off our ‘innovation’ high-horse a bit to recognise that our partners and funders have information needs that need to be met today. I think helping them meet those needs would go a long way towards creating a conducive climate for conversations about putting in accountability measures that are as adaptive as the initiatives they are meant to safeguard.

To measure or not to measure?

Arnaldo: This conversation made me think about Pablo Yanguas latest book, Why We Lie about Aid. In it, he mentions several times Andrew Natsios, who served as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development from 2001 to January 2006, and who, in a paper written for the Center for Global Development, wrote: “Those development programmes that are most precisely and easily measured are the least transformational, and those programmes that are most transformational are the least measured.” The conversation we are having about the meaning of impact of the work done by PLJ, is part of a wider conversation about whether the measurement of development initiatives in general needs reforms and whether the drive to measurability and certainty we have today for all sorts of programmes is actually helpful. I think it isn’t.

Diastika: PLJ has written on its current approach to measuring impact, but I think this will be a challenge that the Lab will continue to explore and grapple with. My feeling is that maybe some of the questions that we are asking about measurement will need to change. For instance, rather than trying to demonstrate how our work has contributed to certain predetermined outcome areas, should we instead reframe this into exploring how we will know whether as a lab, PLJ is effectively expressing its purpose?

In his new book, Principles-Focused Evaluation, Michael Quinn Patton posits some really interesting ideas. To evaluate the implications of innovations and adaptation in complex systems, Patton recommends focusing on principles as a distinct evaluand. Patton’s premise is that principles provide guidance to decisions, choices and actions — and we can evaluate whether they work, whether they are adhered to, and whether they are achieving what we want them to. PLJ probably needs to explore this further as a team, but some of the concepts in the book might be useful in answering the question of whether PLJ is effectively expressing its purpose as a lab.

This conversation between Arnaldo and Diastika is part of a broader ongoing discussion about how we measure impact as a data innovation lab. Based on reflections alongside our partners and stakeholders over the years, we have come to describe our impact through the lens of operational, methodological and ecosystemic contributions (read more here) rather than categorising our work as direct impact in the common sense of quantitative measurements and predefined rubrics. Our Stories of Change reflections on two of our data analytics tools that have been adopted by the Government of Indonesia are also part of the discussion.

Exciting times ahead as we continue to transform as a Lab, as well as experiment in new areas with the needs of our direct stakeholders and the wider public in mind. The conversation on impact goes on, please jump in if you have new insights to share. We’d love to hear from you!

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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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Policymaking by androids?

Erica was born in 2016. The day she was born she was already 23 years old. That is because Erica is an android. The most advanced humanoid or android to date developed through a collaboration between Osaka and Kyoto universities, and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR). Prof. Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory is leading the team that is developing Erica and which continues to work to increase her capabilities.

Erica, like a human?

The video documentary posted by the Guardian has an interesting session where Erica responds to the questions sent by Guardian’s reader.

In one of her answers Erica asks a question in return: can we [humans] imagine androids making policy decisions in the future, being able to assess data and facts without being affected by ego and corruption? Would androids do a better job than humans do on, for example, climate and nature conservation? Erica thinks, they would.

I learned about Erica by chance. I was searching for a podcast for a run and stumbled upon the Guardian’s Science Weekly. I run along the lake in Tampere while listening to Erica’s answers. It was really strange to listen to Erica’s answers and realise that it was not an actor reading a script. It was an android answering. A programmed android, although not programmed to give those exact answers in those exact words. That was the result of Erica’s learning.

There is, I think, a concrete possibility that androids like Erica, a few decades from now and with much-advanced capabilities than Erica’s, will be able to process at an unprecedented speed data and design scenarios, policies, and public programmes.

What do you think? Is it science fiction or a not too distant future?

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The future of education and education for the future

Here my takeaways from two great days at the University of Oulu where I attended the Burning Questions 2019 event to discuss and challenge the status quo of education systems and education in international development.

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What bees have to do with the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Quite a lot, it turns out.

Bees and the genetic technology that underpins research on bees is an illuminating window on our future and the complexity, politics, and uncertainty of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, has defined the 4IR as “the confluence of technological breakthroughs, covering wide-ranging fields such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, internet of things, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy storage, and quantum computing.”

This new industrial revolution challenge political and social systems because is of its transformative scientific and technological advances, its transnational nature, and the very rapid pace of change it brings.

What this new revolutions also brings is a considerable uncertainty about the economic and social impact of these advances. With uncertainty, divisions and the politics between supporters and opponents of the change emerge quickly.

A good example of this comes from beekeeping.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

In the Guardian long read Invasion of the ‘frankenbees’: the danger of building a better bee (and accompanying podcast), Bernhard Warner describes the incredible biotechnology advances that allow scientists to essentially copying and paste sections of bees’ dna; the chemicals use din agriculture that are threatening bees; the catastrophic consequences if bees were to reduce dramatically in number or even disappear; the power of agricultural industries and multinationals to push certain technological solutions; community and farmers’ initiatives which try to protect their business but can also miss the opportunities that new technologies can bring; the design and testing of micro-drones to conduct artificial pollination of crops; the struggle of legislators and policymakers who either cannot keep pace with the technology changes and their implications or are under the influence of economic powers and lobbyists.

A complex picture indeed, and in just one sector. A snapshot into the complexity of the imminent Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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The evidence on Climate Change is overwhelming, but ….

UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published its latest report. The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.

Leading scientists warn that there is only 12 years to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C and avoid catastrophic environmental breakdown.

The Guardian reports that Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief who led the historic Paris agreement of 2015, said: “There is nothing opaque about this new data. The illustrations of mounting impacts, the fast-approaching and irreversible tipping points are visceral versions of a future that no policy-maker could wish to usher in or be responsible for.”

The scientific evidence is overwhelming but the political will struggle to match it. If climate change becomes the biggest failure of evidence-informed policy making ever, the costs will be incalculable and for generations to come.

Great if we manage to change our individual habits to live more sustainable lives and  pay greater attention to renewable sources of energy. That, however, in itself is not enough. Those individual changes and actions require the support from new policies and new laws.

More articles:

Nicholas Stern: We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero or face more floods.

Christiana Figueres: Limiting warming to 1.5C is possible – if there is political will

George Monbiot: We won’t save the Earth with a better kind of disposable coffee cup