Have we been doing it wrong?
As activists, experts, citizens, entrepreneurs, academics and students, we are always trying to find a way in. A way to influence governmental, decision-makers, policies. But have we got it the wrong way around? What if we’re just chasing our tails, and the real task is to change how policy is done in general and not how a specific policy is worded.
The policy-making and the decision-making of and for the 21st century is clearly in need of a Copernican revolution. The idea that we need to rethink and redo the relationship between the government and the citizens was the very core of the Open Government Partnership launched by President Obama in 2011 at the margins of the UN but also a part of many many open government, open data, policy lab and social innovation endeavours.
In the anti-establishment context of our matrix crumbling before our very own eyes politicians are struggling to find a way to convince citizens why they should keep voting, and paying for them. If they are unable to provide a more open, fast, user-friendly, deliberate democratic, inclusive and digital way for the citizens to engage, the only option they are left with in order to keep their votes and their position is fear-mongering and very often right wing extremism, or clown like, anti-establishment, often unstable individuals, to amuse and distract the citizens while the political elite regroups. Not to name any names.
No time like present…
This is why there is no time like present to change the way governments interact with citizens, and this should always be our starting point, even if, we take a couple of back roads to get there. Here are two main areas of goals and practices in this field:
1. Openness as a two-way street between proactive transparency and citizen participation/engagement
- Proactive transparency, open by default etc, means that public institutions publish everything BUT what is forbidden by law (for example national security, persona data etc). They do so in order to allow access to citizens as well as oversight and participation as three main benefits of proactive transparency. In addition, by opening up in the area of open data they provide social and financial raw resources for creating either public good or commercial value. In best case scenario, both. Usually the very basis, if you are looking where to start, is publishing who is doing what, when how and with how much money.
- Citizen participation means proactively involving citizens at the earliest stage of policy making and decision making as possible. The benefit, besides getting fresh and diverse ideas, is dealing with conflicts in the society early on in the process when stakes are not so high, passions are not running so high and conflict can be framed in a constructive way. This includes many diverse practices such as crowdsourcing our resources (organising challenges, hackathons etc) public consultations (Croatia has one of the best online systems of e-consultations that has raised participation by several hundred percent!) participative budgeting, policy-labs, etc. While doing all this, and especially doing crowdfunding we must be very careful to keep the boundaries clear and not to do government’s job as a citizen nor provide the governments with an excuse not to act.
2. Technology, digital era and social innovation or “The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles” (Oren Haran)
In this area we are speaking of two sides of a coin that’s sometimes aren’t very clear. In the above described period of crises people very quickly get fed up with ideas, ideals and values, consider them proved useless or even as dirty as they perceive their politicians and politics. This fosters an obsessive love of technology and a misguided belief that it, in itself can resolve social issues. It can’t. It can help, to a great or small degree but values are our compasses, and technology cannot replace that. Social innovation is our blueprints, and technology cannot replace that. In the age where youth uses digital technology as the go to tool for political change and where governments are rightly so, required to make a shift towards e-services we must keep that in mind. We do need programmers and techno mediators, apps and digital single market, but we also desperately need sociologists and philosophers and historians and political scientists and journalists.
These are just some of the practices and principles we should integrate into our governments and democracies. It’s a long and complicated endeavour, but one we should all undertake. If all else fails, infiltrate and think about serving. Becoming a civil servant or looking for a position on the inside is an option. Seriously. I did it and lived to tell the tale…
Policy, Innovation, Openness
P.S. Changing the world has a tendency of making one crazy, so it’s always best to take small steps and change and build little ecosystems that will eventually take over the big mothership. To that note, next time we’ll share a list of things that are useful to keep in mind while chasing an Open Government Agenda.