‘Fracture’—an overview

I thought I’d add a bit more detail about my next book exploring the interplay of politics, policymaking, and digital, data and technology. Right now, it’s in three sections: ‘The backstory’, ‘Digital trends’, and ‘Policy and technology’, plus a concluding summary with some ideas for action. Here’s a brief insight into the current scope and content—although it’s still all very much an early and incomplete draft:

The backstory

Since at least the early 1990s, governments have understood the opportunity to make better use of technology and data to improve transparency, participation, and collaboration. The backstory explores these regularly repeated political ambitions to redesign and improve democracy to understand why they remain largely unfulfilled.

22 years of repeated UK Government ambitions

Government’s administrative boundaries complicate the design and implementation of cross-cutting, integrated policies. They propagate the fragmentation, duplication, and overlap of public services that lack consistency, often robbing citizens of dignity and agency … nowhere have we seen at any scale the expected fruits of “digital transformation”: new, more effective approaches within and between policy areas such as social care, welfare, tax, poverty, education, and housing; approaches that place people at the centre, listening to and engaging and co-creating with them to rebuild services around their needs, breaking down the artificial divisions between government policies and interventions, and civic action.

Fracture: the collision between technology and democracy—and how we fix it

Digital trends

As the section title suggests, it explores digital, data, and technology (DDaT) research, trends, and themes, along with the many political and policy issues arising. It starts with a high level map of the technology research landscape.

Technologies

This baseline provides the springboard for a wider-ranging discussion and analysis of technological trends and their implications—societal, economic, and political.

The wider implications of digital, data, and technology

Governments remain reactive and outdated when it comes to the strategic use of DDaT. They belatedly panic about the misuse of social media, artificial intelligence, AdTech, the gig economy, and hybrid warfare long after they—and many other developments—could have been anticipated, understood, and planned for in terms of direction, regulation, and legislation. At the other end of the spectrum, and equally concerning, is the knee-jerk tendency for some politicians and officials to believe the spin of the technology spivs and tech bros, rushing to acclaim ‘HypeTech’ such as blockchain or cryptocurrencies or the fourth industrial revolution (sic) as the big new thing that will change the world.

Fracture: the collision between technology and democracy—and how we fix it

Policy and technology

Politicians and policymakers can use DDaT to better anticipate and adapt, making policies more timely, relevant and effective. This section considers what makes for good policymaking, and how democratic politics and policymaking can benefit significantly from digital, data and technology with their processes of user engagement, discovery, continuous feedback, and improvement.

Fusing policymaking and DDaT

It describes the need for improved processes of adaptation better able to handle uncertainty and discontinuities, the interplay of technology and policy, the role of design thinking, and a range of related issues, including futures thinking and strategic foresight.

The need to understand and act on evidence in preference to ideology and dogma is another factor in favour of open government and transparency. It will improve the evidence base, and hence the understanding and modelling of policy issues and options. And it will also deliver a more inclusive, participative and collaborative—and hence more democratic—approach. It will help embrace the needs, voices, and opinions of those who are otherwise ignored, marginalised, or entirely absent from the current policymaking process, helping move it away from the top-down, paternalistic, hierarchical model of last century, and towards a more networked and inclusive one.

Fracture: the collision between technology and democracy—and how we fix it

Summary

‘Fracture’ concludes with a summary that brings together content from ‘The backstory’, ‘Digital trends’, and ‘Policy and technology’. It sets out some practical ideas to help governments become more effective at delivering better policy outcomes by integrating digital technologies and practices into the policy lifecycle, forging a new and more effective hybrid policymaking.

Hybrid policymaking and DDaT re-establishing democracy by design

It’s time for democratic governments to take digital, data and technology, and their associated practices, into the heart of the political process. To use continuous feedback and data to inform and update policymaking, employ rapid experimentation to learn and adapt faster, relentlessly pursue improved organisation design and processes, implement participatory ecosystems for co-creating services, and utilise platform technologies for efficiency, agility, and scale.

Fracture: the collision between technology and democracy—and how we fix it

Next up …

I’ll post more working extracts from ‘Fracture’ over coming months. I hope they’ll provide insight into why democracies urgently need to rethink the failed approaches to e-government and digital government of the past three decades—and how we can work together to make that happen.


Fracture: the collision between technology and democracy—and how we fix it‘ will be published in autumn 2022.

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