The Governance Renaissance - reimagining policy open to all
Policy built by people, for the people
Sometimes it feels as though our governance structures are stuck. And worse, that the way they make us feel, is an inevitability that cannot change.
We’re here to tell you that there is a better way.
The shift in global governance
The relationship between government and citizens is undergoing fundamental changes. Not only do these have the potential to radically transform how we interact with our politicians and government but they will change the way we interact and govern with each other. As digitalization increases our ability to leverage technology to collect data and make better decisions, governments are leaning into new approaches to enhance citizen engagement. Evidence suggests opening the decision-making process increases effective outcomes, this is a pathway to developing and delivering policy that provides a sense of ownership whilst building a vibrant community.
These new shifts in governance are the way we change how governance feels.
These changes are the Governance Renaissance.
- Introduce the open-source movement -
Following the rise of the World Wide Web and early days of software development, the open-source movement began as the idea that programmers could voluntarily write, exchange, and produce high-quality programs working cooperatively. Computer services were the first to see this as an opportunity to improve source code, the principles surrounding community and shared ownership soon surpassed the digital realm. The once ‘limited’ approach in the use of open-source initiatives by governments shifted as the accelerated pace of technology improved their interactions with citizens and businesses. Fast forward to today, the open-source movement has begun to transform public sector infrastructure, introducing an era of openness and collaboration towards a shared vision of policymaking, a governance renaissance.
Open-source governance vs. open government
Notions of openness have become increasingly visible across political movements, activist groups, software projects, and government institutions. You may have heard of terms such as open government and open politics, yet there are limited sources providing their definition, reflecting on what they mean, and more importantly how they work in real life. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on two key concepts: open government and open-source politics, specifically looking at their application online rather than the use of open-source software in politics.
Open government - Open Gov- is a new model of state reform and modernization of public administration intended to improve public service delivery by innovating the channels for citizen participation and coordination between stakeholders. Initiatives in this space focus on the pursuit of government transparency and accountability, allowing for effective public oversight. While the concept is broad in scope, ‘Open Gov’ initiatives are largely focused on four areas :
1) Cataloguing sources of data
2) Aggregating raw data into a designated platforms
3) Encouraging the development of nontraditional applications with government data
4) Making data more meaningful for users
In the U.S., websites such as ‘Data.Gov’ and ‘USAspending.gov’ have made datasets and public spending information accessible while sites such as ‘We the People’ have been set up for citizens to review and provide feedback on the administration’s agenda. Traditional open-government mechanisms of public participation and engagement have also been influenced by the private sector, civil society, and citizens with platforms such as ‘GitHub’ and ‘Opengovpioneers’ calling for open gov methods as a more sustainable way of working on decisions that shape a common future.
Open-source governance, also described as “open politics” links the open-source movement to the principles of democracy such as citizen participation and decision-making. The concept suggests becoming involved in the policymaking process can be democratically open to the general citizenry, improving society through a collective decision-making process. Political scientists have long examined theories on how to best enable and limit citizen participation while refining the approach to legislation. In traditional forms of government, policymaking sits at the intersection of three major components: analysis of the evidence, understanding of the current agenda or political context, and an assessment of whether the policy can actually work.
It involves multiple actors across the different stages, clearly defined roles, and a streamlined process of problem identification, agenda-setting, policy formulation, adoption, implementation, and finally evaluation. Open-source governance advocates suggest building up initiatives in a shared environment not only accelerates the process but improves the success rate of initiatives. Despite the early stages of exploration, successful case studies can already be seen across government work. The vTaiwan process, an online-offline consultation process, is bringing government officials, academics, civil society and citizens together to work on local policies. In New Zealand, open-source models are being used to evaluate government policies.
Open Gov and Open Source Governance have become essential to conversations on the future of democracy alongside open-ended questions on setting ownership of government policies, initiatives and data in the hands of the citizenry. Furthermore, they also suggest these interactions can occur in a space with fewer barriers to entry by using technology and government oversight to moderate these interactions.
Guiding Lights - the trends that are here to stay
Decisions are more effective when more people are involved from the beginning. Opening the decision-making process is proven to work and recent trends in the policymaking space support the transformation. We have identified a couple that are here to stay.
Evidence-based policy. Evidence-based policy has risen in popularity not only because of its technicality but because it works! Data has been critical to decision-makers as evidence it supports program evaluation to continue what works and informs future decisions by building more knowledge to compare and contrast options. Ensuring a variety of sources for data input can dramatically shift the political salience of an issue and shape the indicators to measure outcomes, furthermore comparing expectations and outcomes of policies supports decisions on how to restructure to address past or emergent challenges.
Collaboration. Experts, grassroots orgs and policymakers are getting better at working together and exploring fresh ideas across policy contexts; abundant public policy literature advocates collaboration and open knowledge mechanisms such as open-source platforms. ‘Open knowledge’ enhances collaboration and enables the design of cross-sector solutions.
Accelerated digital government: COVID 19 accelerated the rate of government digitalization or the use of online platforms to manage services, processes, decisions, and share data with the population. To meet the demand for public sector delivery, governments rolled out large-scale digital innovations at an unprecedented rate. The use of digital tools to improve interactions with citizens and businesses has become the base for the digital government of the future.
Location liberation - the ability to work from anywhere is altering how we work, where we work, and what we need to work effectively and collaboratively. It is also reducing the misconception that we only hold agency over things in our vicinity. Global challenges such as climate change and healthcare have proven geography poses no limits. Furthermore, the open-source movement is allowing us to take responsibility for our individual and collective roles in shared challenges.
More importantly….citizens are changing
If there is anything we have learned thus far, it’s that policy is constantly evolving but so are the stakeholders. Access to new technologies, economic growth, and an increase in overall levels of education have created a more involved citizenry, interested in how policy affects their lives and increasingly demanding of their representatives. The search for accountability in the application of the law, transparency in public spending, and increase in speed and amount of information accessible to the public have equipped and incentivized citizen involvement.
This paradigm shift has transformed citizenry, from passive consumers of government services towards agents with the capacity to contribute value and knowledge throughout the policymaking process. Citizens are at the forefront of most policy problems, each holding a unique perspective as the direct recipients of major policy decisions; they need to be able to reflect on their agency and impact. The open movement is possible because of the rise of evidence-based policy, collaboration, accelerated digital government and location liberation. Nevertheless, civic engagement is critical to enhancing a sense of ownership over government initiatives and building a vibrant community built on trust. In order to do so, governments must adequately equip their citizens not only on how to participate in open initiatives but on how to think critically about their role in a more equitable society.
The Future is Now
Openness in government and policymaking has the potential to support more integral public governance, reinforce democracy, and pursue inclusive growth. A 2016 OECD Report underscores how open government principles are changing the relationship between public officials and citizens, towards a more dynamic and vibrant society. Specialized think tanks such as The NYU Gov Lab and Oxford Digital Pathways are focusing their work towards understanding the government's relationship with technology. Similarly, Open Policy Making Toolkits are also being created to provide step-by-step guidance and techniques policymakers can use to create more open and user-led policies. The open movement has come a long way from software code; in a fast-paced and increasingly networked digital world, it now provides a channel to provide the sense of ownership and community needed to develop and deliver policy. Open-source initiatives are a tool to achieving broader government and policy objectives by meeting citizens and their evolving needs. Coordination tools and shared knowledge are coming, but they will only get us so far.
The truth is, the governance renaissance only has a little to do with the technology tools we're building. The real cause is a citizenry, empowered by open movements, acknowledging the power they hold and leveraging these tools to reimagine policy open to all.
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