There has been a steady trend towards the integration of technology into the process of governance. Technology is used to manage campaigns, procure funding, organize data and manage city hall meetings. However, despite the variety of uses of technology in government, the most exciting element it provides is a modern platform for engaging citizens.
In an era when you can remotely view city hall meetings from the comfort of your home and tweet to your representatives via smartphone, citizens have the capacity to be more directly engaged with their representatives than any other time in history. Take one look at the organization of any protest in the last year and technology will have played a vital role. In Hong Kong student protests were coordinated through mobile app FireChat, long after conventional communication methods such as mobile connection toppled under concentrated demand and government throttling. Technology is changing democracy in the 21st century and the true promise of eGovernance is in the acceleration of information flow between citizens and their governments.
When utilized correctly big open government data promotes transparency and accessibility. William Ross Ashby’s law of requisite variety states, “mechanisms must equal in their complexity those of the system that they are meant to control.” When information is publicly available and easily downloadable, suddenly auditing is no longer left to the watchdogs. It can be conducted by anyone with an Internet connection. Ensuring that data is publicly available not only amplifies the number of eyes on the page, but also brings in stakeholders with complex understandings and backgrounds. Making government data public can be seen as a risk aversion strategy tailored to shed light into the dark corners of government under which the conditions corruption previously existed.
However, eGovernence is not without its downside. Getting citizens to use the systems created by governments may be the biggest challenge for government tech programs to overcome. As with any new technological release, it must be utilized to have value. Governments are entering a new role in which they not only have to compete for citizenry approval but also for their time. A well-designed I-Phone App alone isn’t going to revolutionize democracy. The requirements for true innovation in civil engagement must also capture specific issues and geographies that resonate with citizens to have any staying power. As the trend towards eGovernance grows, governments will continue to look to the private sector for solutions.
Making the government tech conscious will require the utilization of skill sets and talents that governments have not had to use before. While presenting an adoption challenge, the injection of technology into government will bring in new employees and public sector thinkers. Their vision and experiences promise a different approach to governing and entirely new definitions for the role of government and citizenship.