Monday, April 24th, 2017
3rd annual International Youth to Youth (Y2Y) Summit
General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare, Dubai, UAE
Today, it is virtually impossible to speak about governance without the mention of information and communication technologies (ICTs). They are often the vehicle of innovation, the reason behind progress, and the generators of efficiency. Many governments have been working with software engineers and IT experts on improving the way they deliver services to their citizens and communicate with the electorate.
With academic background in political science and experience in non-profit and public governance, Y2Y gave me a wonderful opportunity to speak about my slightly unconventional and seemingly unexciting passion in the context of the Summit’s overarching theme of ICTs in social innovation.
Perhaps I underestimated the level of interestingness that the workshop would resonate with the conference’s participants because it was surprisingly well-attended. This gives me hope that more people out there realize how important and crucial governance is to carrying out the mission and vision of any organization, be it corporate, non-profit or public.
And because if there is anything I enjoy more than talking about governance it is writing about it, here is a recap for those who attended and an overview for those who missed it.
The first mention of governance as a concept or a coined term dates back to the 15th century Latin work The Difference between an Absolute and a Limited Monarchy of John Fortescue, the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in England. However, governance as we comprehend it today is only around 20 years old and stems from the context of institutions like the United Nations or World Bank.
Information and communication technologies as a term have been used in academia since the 1980s. It hasn’t caught on in its abbreviated form, ICTs, until 1997 in Dennis Stevenson’s – Baron Stevenson of Coddenham – report to the UK government and further on in the revised National Curriculum for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2000.
Strictly looking at the facts above, one is almost tempted to say that democracy originated in ancient Greece while governance in modern England; however, that conclusion would be flawed (for more than one reason) since the term governance itself comes from the Greek word ‘kubernao’ which means ‘to steer.’
- Ensures sustainability
- Is contextual
- Articulates what the organization is accountable for
- Makes it clear who the organization is accountable to
- Aligns and prioritizes diverse and sometimes conflicting interests in order to avoid mission drift
- Asks all the right questions
- Who do we serve?
- How do we ensure we deliver?
It is important to understand the distinction between ICT governance (governance of ICTs) and ICTs in governance (use of ICTs in governance). The former is a corporate term and it is around 20 years old. The focus here is on business strategies, on setting out the framework for the behaviour and on regulations around the use of IT in a corporation or institution. The latter (the topic of the workshop) has been widely applied in the last decade and represents the variety of ways in which ICTs are used to enhance governance mechanisms and improve government services.
The goal of my workshop was to get the audience to look at governance as something evolving and constantly developing and to think about how ICTs can enhance and positively contribute to this growth. Governance is naturally contextual, it differs from from one institutional context to the next and it depends largely on the goals and mission of the organization. To ensure one’s governance framework is up to date and conducive to goal achievement, it needs to accept change, adapt and most importantly innovate.
DIGITIZATION has inevitably made our society more fluid and penetrated virtually (pun intended) every aspect of our lives, from education to security and healthcare. The world of work, for instance, has forever been transformed by the phenomenon of non-localization (enabled by digitalization) whereby working from one country for a company based in another country is becoming the new norm. Collaborating on online platforms and in online marketplaces is becoming a strain on national taxation policies and the relationship between corporations and governments has blurred significantly.
There is a logical tendency to consider the interconnectedness of people, workplaces, people and ideas as a phenomenon with a positive connotation. People can communicate more easily, ideas can spread faster, work-life balance is (or should be) easier to attain as working remotely is no longer an obstacle, etc. But does digitized interconnectedness necessarily mean increased efficiency, improved effectiveness, enhanced communication, positive impact, wider openness, more transparency and accountability, and ultimately better governance of people, resources, and services?
One of government’s most straightforward ways to communicate with its citizens is making information openly accessible. In this digitized day and age there really is no obstacle to free release of data from public institutions, corporations, international organizations, civil society and NGOs. What’s often missing, however, is the willingness and desire to do so because opening one’s data inevitably means opening itself to greater scrutiny. A joint report by Transparency International and World Without Borders Foundation summed it up well: “Open data is an ingredient in accountability interventions.”
In a nutshell, open government is transparent, accountable, participative, and accessible. It is a government that makes all information and data publicly visible but most importantly comprehensible to a versatile and wide audience so that it enhances and improves the interaction and communication with the citizens. It is important to realize that an embrace of technology and of innovative ways in which information can be presented to the public does not necessarily equate government openness. The use of ICTs does not ensure but rather facilitate public engagement. Moreover, it is crucial to establish an information governance framework which will aim to present the data to the citizenry in a way that will lead and inform, not mislead and misinform.
Andrew Stott of the UK Transparency Board pointed out the importance of blending techniques with technologies, meaning to express that new technologies alone do not necessarily advance open government. Taryn Roch of the US Open Government 4 Us believes that it is all about citizen engagement and that while technology is a powerful facilitator, it is the mere beginning of open government.
Innovation plays an important role during and after the launch of open government efforts. If applied correctly and successfully, it has transformative effects on the system and citizens’ trust towards it. Similarly to any other sector or field, innovation in the government and public sector is about implementing a new idea, product or method; it needs to be considered carefully, it must be concrete, and it cannot be too broad. Vowing to make government more open is not sufficient; the team in place must outline specific ways in which this can be achieved. Innovation isn’t linear and while learning from successes as well as mistakes of other contexts is crucial, one will also soon recognize that one size won’t fit all.
Keeping up with the spirit of Microleaders, less is more and when it comes to public sector enhancements and progress, incremental steps are usually more viable and impactful than breakthrough innovations. In the end, as Frank Hebbert of Open Tools advises, it is all about building “tools that transform the experience of being an engaged citizen.”
In conclusion, let’s remember a few fundamental rules:
- Applying ICTs in governance is not the end game; it is merely the beginning.
- Technology facilitates.
- Identify a need.
- Innovate with impact in mind.
- Fill a gap.
- Observe and listen. Open government is citizen-centric.
- Build a collective voice. Make citizens want to participate.
- Less conversation (information), more action.
- Accessibility + Awareness + Capacity + Interest + Usability = Impact