Better governance through Direct engagement: Get the gist on using IT to consult citizenry

JRC’S Scenarios of Engagement

The EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) in 2010Footnote 7 identified possible futures of public engagement in governance based on two critical uncertainties: the degree of openness and transparency; and the degree of integration in policy intelligence. They identified four scenarios that could emerge over the next two decades.

Leviathan Governance

The Leviathan scenario (low openness/ transparency and high integration in policy intelligence) assumes the emergence of an “enlightened oligarchy” that will use high-tech tools and systems to collect and manage public information and services. Policy would be decided by an elite group of bureaucrats and passive citizens would attempt to implement these policies under the guidance of the elites. Traditional deliberative democratic systems would no longer be required. Machine intelligence (based on the collection and use of big data) would allow public service delivery to be personalized without people having to ask. As a result, citizens would trust their governments and willingly delegate their right of initiative.

Privatized Governance

The Privatized scenario (low openness/ transparency and low integration in policy intelligence) envisions a society shaped by decisions taken by corporate business representatives. As the gap between rich and poor widens and wealth becomes more concentrated, self-concern characterizes most of society. As citizens would largely serve as pawns of large corporations that manage their needs and desires, interactive and participatory governance—and participatory democracy—would essentially fall by the wayside. Decisions on social issues would depend on highly developed ICT-enabled modeling and decision-support systems. The growing role of large corporations in implementing autonomous policy mechanisms based on proprietary ICT-enabled systems would make it increasingly impossible for citizen involvement in any roles other than as employees or consumers. Both participation and governance itself would deteriorate, allowing established actors to take power and create a clientelisticFootnote 8 polity.

Self-Service Governance

The self-service scenario (high openness/ transparency and low integration in policy intelligence) involves citizens empowered to play the role of policy makers. Self-organized and self-governing communities of citizens, based on online reputational management systems, replace most institutional governments. DIY-style, citizens would choose their own service options, and responses to emerging problems may develop quickly. Yet a lack of engagement culture would result in disinterest in participating in governance on the part of the majority of citizens. And a lack of social cohesion would make discrete communities increasingly insular and deepen existing divides. Migrant and ethnic minorities, who may lack local social networks, may become more isolated and powerless.

Open Governance

The Open scenario (high openness/transparency and high integration in policy intelligence)—the scenario preferred by advocates of participatory governance (including the JRC)—envisions a society with unprecedented access to data and knowledge—and new ICT-enabled opportunities for people to interact with and influence governance and policy-making processes and make progress in solving societal problems and global challenges. ICTs would open up possibilities for the provision of personalized and real-time public services.

As connectivity increases, more people would participate actively in online political, educational, and social activities—and the relevant information needed to make informed choices would become more accessible. As ICTs increasingly function as an extension of individual and collective human intelligence, citizens would be increasingly well-informed, empowered, and enthusiastic—as both individuals and members of social networks and third-sector organizations—about taking part in networked cooperation with both the public and private sectors.

Widespread accessibility not only to online sources but to ICT skills would enhance the inclusivity of governance, inviting and enabling the participation and integration of senior citizens, migrants, and ethnic minorities alike—facilitated through the creation of ICT-enabled diaspora networks.

A new participatory model of governance would fully integrate online citizen engagement, co-creation, and feedback loops into policy and decision making. Decentralized agencies would involve citizens directly, closely cooperating with private actors and social movements to perform public services—making governance processes more user-centric and cost-effective. Governments would make better and more transparent decisions.

By improving personalized service delivery and increasing individual’s freedom, ICT-enabled applications would enhance social cohesion. This would help create a strong civil society that supports the representative model—and new types of alliances between citizens, private companies, and government.