Open Governance and the definition of eDemocracy
- Monday, 01 August 2011 15:00
It is in our line of work to argue in favour of open-governance; this is what we do! And we do it, because we believe that it is the only way to have governments which are truly agile, transparent, efficient and responsive.
To find out why, we invite you to read the text below. It reflects on the importance of bottom-up open-governance and on the definition of eDemocracy - it is an abstract taken from our latest published article. This one features in a book entitled.., well, just look at the cover above. The article is as fresh as it could get! The book's just out!
The move towards a different model
Tim O’Reilly referred to our current perception of the government’s function as a service provider by comparing it to a vending machine scheme— where citizens’ insert money in the form of taxes, to extract public services. When this rigid metal box cannot deliver properly, unhappy customers protest by shaking the machine.
This is hardly what citizenship is about. Modern political democracy emerged at a time when most people were distanced from the decision making centers and, in tandem with declining levels of government responsiveness, led to what has been referred to as a ‘spectator democracy’. The limited opportunities for public debate have not only contributed to a decline in turnout but in a growing disengagement of the ‘demos’ from the democratic process as a whole.
Crucially, such apathy prompt us to question the effectiveness of our current democratic model and leads us to the realization that this ‘crisis’ can only be resolved by adopting a new operating model from one where citizens are viewed as customers, to one where they ARE the government. We are in need of initiatives that anticipate the move towards this new model, one that is governed from the bottom up, bringing citizens’ ideas and priorities directly into the process of governance to create a government that is agile, transparent, and responsive and to start filtering input based on value rather than origin.
More Information, more Participation, more Collaboration
The fundamental driver behind citizen engagement is that only those with access to knowledge are truly empowered. Obama’s recent Open Government Directive recognizes that “transparency promotes accountability by providing the public with information about what the Government is doing”. However, the great democratization comes not only from allowing people to access data. The process needs to become two-way, and lead to a dialogue not only with the agency but also between the citizens and other stakeholders; hearing a plurality of views is important in any evidence-based decision-making, and if a balance can emerge that commands broad support then the eventual decision will be more sustainable.
Participation enables the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that the government can make policies with the benefi t of information that is widely dispersed in society. In essence, therefore, engagement is about turning communication into collaboration – collaboration in which citizens can make their voices heard, policy makers can detect areas that really concern the public, service administrators can streamline delivery, and the leaders of government can use these new channels to work across organizational and geographic boundaries.
Collaboration improves the effectiveness of Government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation, across different levels, and between the Government, private institutions and civil society. The idea is that solutions emerge from the interaction and participation of lots of people, not by central planning. As Rushkoff wondered, what would happen if the ‘source code’ of our democratic systems was opened up to the people they are meant to serve? What is the true meaning of by the people, for the people: an open source model for participatory, bottom-up and emergent policy to confront the issues of our time. Open governance enables civil society, citizens and key stakeholders to be part of the decision making process, even to formulate propositions itself’as a direct product of a complex system of interactions among all stakeholders, and at all levels.
In the broader sense E-democracy aims to strengthen constitutional principles, elements of ‘direct’ democracy, and citizen engagement, primarily in the form of opinion shaping and self-organizing processes. Democracy is the fundamental workflow of participatory Governance. Therefore, e-democracy is not only a way of using ICTs to support democratic processes and institutions necessary in lawmaking, jurisdiction and administration, but is also a way of enhancing and facilitating democracy itself by passing the baton of participation on policy making to the grassroots. The use of electronic technology in all public activities and societal processes, including participation in political opinion shaping, decision-making and the provision of public services (‘e-services’) is able to strengthen constitutional principles and public engagement.
Digital networks enable new forms of collaboration and ways of working together in public administrations and political environments. Promoting close online engagement also creates better decisions by capturing local knowledge, increases capacity of society to understand complexity of problems, and increases public support by legitimizing the solutions. Feedback encourages the transformation from a monolithic state to a pluralistic network, and in the future, cooperative networks will provide public services and influence political processes.
The social media culture in particular is driving governments to open up, while offering the imagination and expertise necessary to improve public services. Change occurs because connected people start speaking up. When the state representatives get 50, 100, 200 messages from different people — of which maybe half of them are constituents who can vote — then their staffers have to do something about it. So open source governance is not about reinventing democracy or replacing traditional forms of representative democracy, it is about modernization and endorsement of an interactive democracy. In this sense, ironically, e-democracy is seen as the means to effectively reapply the initial definition of citizenship, in today’s world.
The aticle goes on to a specific eGovernance initiative in Africa (One of our own in particular), how to bypass the digital divide, and ends by outlining the current obstacles to Open Governance. To read it follow this link - we're on page 153! This book is licenced under the Creative Commons, which means that it's free - as all information should be.
We would like to give a BIG thanks to the Cibervoluntarios for inviting us to this wonderful initiative!