Political activity spurred by bytes not ballots
In a radio interview on Campus FM (stream above, or here) I discussed the key concepts behind the short article I published in the Sunday Times of Malta entitled: “An Alternative Future for Malta” (full text here).
The elements reviewed in the interview are:
- Inspiration: The article’s title and framework are inspired by a seminal piece written by Fr. Peter Serracino Inglott in the 1980s. In this article, Fr. Peter (arguably Malta’s sharpest contemporary philosopher and political theorist) discussed two key tenets: (i) subsidiarity, and (ii) institutionalised dialogue. Building on these concepts I argue that technology is not merely an additional level in our communication hierarchy, but is a tool to change the fundamental realities of a society such as politics and governance.
- Inversion of roles: Technology is promoting the inversion (or at least re-definition) of the traditional roles of government and the governed. Unlike the sixteenth century Machiavellian depiction, today’s reality places both roles in closer proximity. Wael Ghonim’s remarks in the Arab Spring resonate here: “If you want to liberate a society, all you need is the Internet“.
- Trust: As early as the sixteenth century, John Locke, discussed the notion of a social contract underpinned by trust. However in today’s global society, trust in government is at an all time low. The Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that government is the least trusted out of NGOs, Business and Media. Social networks and digital technology are allowing the formation of new trust networks as well as consolidating existing ones which deepen the influence of ‘friends and family’.
- Integration & Empowerment: The concept of digital integration hinges on the notion of solidarity and seeks to create an inclusive society in which no one is left behind. The most ubiquitous tool: the smartphone, should thus be the simplest way to participate in Government and should empower citizens to shape their future through bytes not ballots. In policy-making, the concept of digital inclusion is based on wide access (here I mean availability and affordability) and wide adoption (and use).
- Agility: The term (borrowed from the software development industry) is put into the context of political dialogue and hints at promoting a pro-experimentation culture in government. Presently instead of promoting inventiveness, we focus on preventing mistakes. The article proposes twinning scientists with policy-makers, creating pop-up policy trials and de-regulation to stimulate competitiveness, innovation and simpler collaboration between academia and enterprise.
- Distribution of knowledge: Billy Joy (founder of Sun Microsystems) is famously quoted for saying that: “No matter who you are, the smartest people work for someone else”. Frederich Hayek an Austrian economist argued that the distribution of knowledge is nor equal and neither linear, and that knowledge is fragmented amongst many members of society and often quite hidden. Presently Government goes about its business without tapping into the huge knowledge capital that lies beyond its bastions. The utilisation of this public resource does not erode the state, it legitimises it further, by providing access to the distributed knowledge that it represents. Technology is the key method to discover and tap into such talent.
- POP (Personalisation, Openness, Proactivity): The way government delivers its services and interacts with citizens should be influenced by the POP method. Citizens expect government to know who they are and personalise digital communication to fit their expectations and needs with an element of immediacy and efficiency. Government needs to be increasingly Open & Transparent and must commit more of its data to open-standards whilst using tools to promote accountability of its actions. Lastly government should be proactive. In the same way that Google can predict my search needs, Government should predict my needs as a citizen and should react to the ‘digital signs and footprints’ which I publish.
- Digital Rights: The internet and access to it is seen as a quasi-fundamental human right. Indeed in 2011 the UN declared that any ‘disconnection’ from the same is a direct violation of hitman rights and against international norms and law. Malta must be more vociferous in the protection of Internet rights and Freedoms and should legislate in favour of enforceable rights with respect to internet access, informational access, informational freedom and informational self-determination.
Digital is not ‘technology’ and ‘technology’ is not just a way to communicate.
It is a voice for our voters; the ability to innovate and learn, discover, create, build and stretch the boundaries of what is possible.