Opening Day 2: Governance in the Digital Age

Peter Parycek opened the second of the conference by talking about trends in e-government and the impacts on society and citizenship with reference to the previous day of the conference.

In the first period of e-government, public authorities digitalized processes and moved from paper based registers to electronic databases. Nowadays technology impacts all sectors of life, from personal life to business, society and government. The main question is: How can e-governance create more public value under these circumstances and re-think government fundamentally?

Triangle of Change

Peter picked out three elements which are the main drivers of the change. Firstly, Digitalization: Our whole life is almost totally digitized. When we started to do research in the field of e-governance, paper was the standard and the default setting for the most actors. Today, the default setting is digital whilst analogue is the exception. This leads to a growing pile of data, which could be used for data analytics. Secondly, Connectivity: We are almost connected 24/7. We have heard Hong Kong has more than 200% mobile phone penetration and even in BRIC countries like India, Dehli has more than 200% mobil penetration. Mobile Internet traffic has grown exponentially in the last year and doubled on almost all continents. In addition, social media usage grows quickly. So we are digitally connected and based on that we are socially connected via social networks. Additionally, the second phase of connectivity just emerges: The gadgets for daily life usage are increasingly connected the create the so called “Internet of things”. The discussion about the Internet of things mainly focuses on consumer products, but beside that there is a huge potential for using resources in much smarter sustainable ways in cities and regions. Thirdly, these developments lead to more Intelligence in two kinds of ways: data driven Intelligence and people driven intelligence.

Data driven Intelligence: Based on data we can forecast the near future, build self-regulated systems, provide scenarios for decision makers, provide real time monitoring, real time self regulating systems und even more; for any particular part of government and administration – and currently we just scratched the surface. The only sectors in democratic countries which already gained experiences are secret services; or technocratic states like Singapore.

People driven intelligence is the opposite of data driven intelligence, because data is a technological and technocratic approach for solving political and administrative problems, whilst people driven intelligence is about collaboration of human beings. Technology enables us to collaborate on a large scale, like Open Source, Wikipedia, Open Street Map, 3D-Printing Communities that share blue prints and so on. In the field of people driven intelligence openness is one of the main success factors. Looking at the success stories it becomes obvious that they follow an open approach. The combination of Openess and People could lead to rapid innovation and real problem solving.

How can we use these changes for improving governance? The first thing is that we have to focus on the full policy cycle. E-government projects mainly focused on the improvement of services, whilst e-democracy focused on policy making. In the future we need a holistic approach and consider all stages in the policy cycle. As starting point, Peter referred to a traditional policy cycle(Nachmias and Felbinger 1978). One hypothesis is that the policy cycle will remain stable, but the two main questions are:

  • How can we integrate data driven and people driven intelligence into the policy cycle for a more efficient processes and more effective decision on all levels and domains in the state?
  • How can we increase the innovation speed in the policy circle and the administrative decision circles?

CeDEM Asia 2014 parcek

Data in the Policy Cycle

There are different data sources which can be used for data analytics and artificial intelligence. The first main source can be the existing internal databases which offer highly structured data. E.g. in Austria, we moved from paper based census to a databased census in 2011, because government has all the necessary data in different databases. The second internal source could be the unstructured data which is stored in file systems At the moment we have no solution for that but all of have to work on that; like e-mail servers and many more.

High potential of data analytics is predicted in mixing external and internal data. Therefore government needs to build up a data platform for internal data, to provide an overview about the available datasets and also external data sets. There is also different kind of external data: Open Data from the own country and worldwide – open data means not only open government data; it includes also data from society and companies;Austria launched a portal for these kinds of data in June this year. Third Party Data like Social Media Data, which could be selected and stored. Governments could also regulate that companies like Facebook, Google and Co. provide anonymised data for data analytics to the governments – user generated data, which is provided by people.

Related to the policy cycle, the question is: at what stage of the policy cycle and for which purpose what kind of question should be solved? What should be decided by the machine itself, or what kind of data should be used for the activity and what kind of tools are appropriate?

One fundamental factor is Openness. Governments have to ask: What kind of data and information should be publicly available as open data and information that can be used by everyone for free? The hypothesis is that more data leads to more innovation and economic growth; and it leads to trust in government and could strengthen democracy.
One of the questions on the first day of the conference was, if there was a difference in developing e-governance for democracies or autocracies? In general autocracies and technocracies are more easily capable of data analytics, because they have almost no legal hurdles like data protection issues. Democratic states will have long discussions what kind of data shall be allowed for further use and for what kind of propose; this is almost impossible in the field of big data analytics. On the other hand, open data has been seen as a primarily option for democratic countries. In the meantime we know that this is not the case. Autocracies can use the potential as long as they do not publish sensitive data which could be used against the government. In European open government data portals there is usually politically non-sensitive data. However, democratic states have an advantage in offering more data for the people. As we can see data offers both systems high potential with different possibilities based on the political framework.

People in the Policy Cycle

The second main question is: how can the people be integrated in the whole policy cycle? Compared to data the circumstances are completely different. Whilst data analytics focuses on technology and traditional policy making, people integration and engagement is mainly a cultural and organizational question. But these complete different aspects are linked closely together, because engagement of people is not possible without proving transparency; the Yin Yang of data and people.

In the keynote on day 1, Tomasz Janowski mentioned government as platform, which means government does not provide and control all services anymore and transforms into a platform; government becomes an enables for cooperation and service delivery. So, the clear boundaries between government, administration and society vanish, which makes administration more complex than before, because clear boundaries offer security, responsibilities and accountability.

Participation itself can have various goals. like to solve the problem of resources through integrating knowledge into the processes (more service with less resources) and to foster legitimacy trough open processes, discussions, participation and also include people into the decision making process.

The main obstacles are: Cooperation in political topics often needs internal cooperation of different departments or ministries. Therefore the department silos must be broken down, and the current standard remains separation and not integration even in developed democracies. One of the main internal challenges is to break down the walls between departments and foster cooperation across departments. External cooperation and participation is a new field for governments and especially administrations; also for well-developed democracies. Governments and administration have to learn how to build communities or be part of communities, use communication as dialogue, and how to build up trust for sustainable cooperation and communities.

Participation could be separated into two sub-categories: Traditional (e-)participation and new forms of collaboration and cooperation.


We can separate traditional e-participation into two main forms: one is the bottom up movement and the other is the top down movement. What works well is the bottom up movement where people can easily use social media to organise themselves and to have impact on policy making. The idea of traditional e-participation in general is to establish legitimacy for political decisions through high participation rate of the whole society. If we measure top down e-participation projects based on participation rate most of them failed completely. Whilst bottom up projects are quite successful in mobilizing people but lead to other problems: First, there are possibilities to simulate opinions as described by Yannis Charalabidis yesterday, so called astroturfing.; people with various profiles try to manipulate the discussion. The second issue is that well digitalized and organised minorities could drive policies, which fosters the fragmentation in society, which was also mentioned yesterday by Jörg Hebenstreit.

Cooperation and Collaboration

New forms of engagement and interaction between government and people do not seek for high participation rate. Even a single person can have huge impact and create public value: Apps based on open data, innovative ideas for the administration or working as a resource for the administration. These new forms of cooperation need intermediaries or small groups of people who provide their knowledge for creating value. In the field of open data, these people are the new intermediaries, who create the value through one single app for the whole society. The main issue is to build up trust and communities (inside & between) and learn new forms of communication.

Democracy vs. Autocracies

These are the new forms of collaboration which can be used in autocratic systems too, but Peter’s hypothesis is that the potential in democratic systems is much higher because the relationship between administration, politics, and the citizens is more intense and open-minded. All forms of government have the possibility to use these new forms of data driven and people driven intelligence. Peter expects a competition of governance systems between democracies, autocracies and technocracies.

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