More Inclusive Governance In The Digital Age

Photo credit: Ryoji Ikeda 2013

By: Dr. Hollie Russon-Gilman, Beeck Center Fellow.

Original post appeared on Open Technology Institute on June 22, 2015.

A new policy paper as part of Harvard's Data-Smart Solutions

As part of Harvard's Data-Smart Solutions initiative I recently authored a policy paper reflecting months of research undertaken at the Open Technology Institute to assess the new opportunities and challenges for inclusive governance in the era of digital tools. This paper examines a wide set of examples from opportunities to engage citizens in civic crowd funding to co-produce public goods to opportunities to directly engage citizens to envision the new direction of city policy. It ends with a series of recommendations to engage a new multi-stakeholder model of governance where public institutions, civil society, and every day people can work together. The entire policy paper can be found here.

Excerpts of policy recommendations:

No individual locality, civic association, or government (regardless of scale) can do it alone. However, resources, conveners, and champions can go a long way. Both of these examples involve public-private partnerships. Resources need to include a multi-sector approach leveraging the private sector, universities, and the entire civil/social sector, broadly defined.

Governments should create channels to empower existing communities and their networks. Networks are digital, hyper-local, and at the same time, global. High levels of experimentation are necessary to test and pioneer diverse strategies in cities of different sizes.

States and cities are in fact the "laboratories of democracy." The locality is re-emerging as a sphere for inclusive governance.[4] One challenge is ensuring these local initiatives can be greater than the sum of their parts. Inclusive governance is not bound to only urban areas. The local level of government, broadly defined to include rural and exurban areas, provides a more manageable size for citizens to be more closely connected to the policies that impact them the most. Connecting local initiatives to the framework of national and international policy could create significant social value.

Civil society can work to support the state and local efforts towards inclusive governance. For example, there are potential criteria for "inclusive governance" in the post-2015 sustainable development goals. A strategy can engage local officials, from municipal leaders to mayors, as well as federal officials working in parallel. Civil society can engage public officials as genuine partners and create mutually agreed-upon timelines and deliverables - with opportunities to revise them.

Many governments fear that engaging citizens will lead to further vulnerability - heightened criticism and an influx of demands with reduced resources. How can inclusive governance enable and build support for choices, rather than the presentation of demands? Civil society can construct coalitions to build up resources, including partnerships with the private sector. Additionally, civil society can work to reduce the perceived political costs of inclusive governance: for example, by publicly acknowledging the limits inherent to government and working to buttress, not just critique them. Creating metrics and indicators of success that reflect process outputs, not only outcomes, can address this. For example, a metric of inclusive governance can include ways in which elected officials genuinely engaged with the public, the availability of accurate information, and the creation of timely accountability channels. Metrics can underscore that sometimes outputs are important outcomes that can lay the foundation for deeper civic participation.