Government in an Internet Age

Political parties, governance and policy making have hardly changed to adapt and take advantage of the Internet. It is an age which is far more bottom-up, networked and working at scale.

The UK MP Jon Cruddas recently gave a speech about building a digital state that lays out the (UK) Labour Party’s understanding and intentions on this topic. It is worth reading.

On the problems side of things, he notes:

Never has government felt so inadequate, nor our politics so small…

I have taken two lessons from Labour’s Policy Review.

The first is that politics across our Union is about power and control.

People are asking: ‘Who controls our country, who has power and who doesn’t?’

What is the price people pay for being powerless?

And the second is that the old model of party politics in which things are done to and for people, rather than with and by them, is part of the problem.

It does not now know how to answer these questions.

We will not build a better system of government with the old politics of command and control.

And the solution? “It requires the wholesale reinvention of the way government operates… at some point in the next 10 to 20 years every developed economy will have to reinvent the state to be truly digital.”

His party’s plans to start the transformation process include:

Simplicity matters.

No more big bang policies.

We copy the internet.

We build networks of modest achievements rather than grandiose projects.

Digital reform means human-scale communities in control of their own services, continually able to make small, focused improvements.

Policy making means experimenting to see what works in practice.

Investing to prevent social problems at source.

Collaborating to save duplication.

Give the keys to a new generation of digitally-literate civil servants.

Try a new feature,  watch and see what happens.

Rapid, small steps of change.

If it works, use  it.

If it doesn’t, think again.

Put the front-line staff and the people who use the services in control.

Let them work together to decide what improvements to make, and how best to use their resources.

People stop being cogs in a machine and they start driving it.

Services will get designed by people who actually work on them and use them.

He notes that putting people first requires digital inclusion, open data, and digital democracy.

Let’s step up the conversation in New Zealand by a notch too.



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