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Thursday, June 20, 2013

ICTs Will Make Governments Unrecognizable by Today's Standards

John Wilkins writes in an article entitled Modern Times: Harnessing ICT for development in the Canadian Government Executive that game-changing outcomes are at stake in the headlong rush by governments towards increasing ICT saturation levels:

• ICTs as a means for achieving government ends, not an end in themselves.

• ICTs as tools for managing information and disseminating knowledge.
• ICTs that enable accountability by promoting transparency.
• ICTs that protect privacy, as well as catalyze open government.
• ICTs that extend the reach of public consultations and inform good policy.
• ICTs that close the digital divide by bridging gaps in global, societal, and cultural access.

However his piece raises even more profound questions.

If people can self organize using the internet to produce collective goods and services (think MOOCs and education) what will be the new role of government? If we can finally give up on the notion of privacy because perfect privacy is neither technically feasible nor socially desirable, then how can we protect ourselves against the harms that may befall us from individuals, organizations and governments who try to use technology against us while remaining anonymous? If we democratize knowledge and enable everyone with very sophisticated technology, how do we protect ourselves from those very few disturbed individuals who just want to do others harm simply because they can?

In a fully transparent world, can we finally move to an accountability framework that's about learning instead of the current one of blaming and shaming? Can we finally recognize that democracy is a mechanism for the shared ownership of all citizens and not some modern version of entitled aristocracy?  Since we are all connected, can we reorganize our public sector around scalable learning rather than avoiding waste (which current governments do very badly at any rate)?

Any one of these notions would be totally transformative for a modern government, but the technology is pushing all of them into public consciousness at once. Since we can't count on leaders who are not in control of all the necessary change levers (including resources, knowledge or power) AND who are also wedded to the status quo, what collective processes might be put in place to facilitate the needed transitions?

Maybe the question to ask is, what is the most ideal form of social coordination that we can imagine, use the technology to help create it and then call that government.


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