Through social media citizens have been given a more and more powerful means to express their opinion directly and exercise their influence on political decision making and government policy. In the future, these possibilities will only increase due to technological developments. This asks for a new design of government and politics.
The impact of social media
In the previous years, politicians and governments on several levels have initiated small scale policy experiments in order to reach out to citizens and get them involved in policy making through social media. It may seem that the gap with citizens is almost automatically bridged through these developments, without a real change in the traditional way of working for governments and politicians. But my own research on the use of social media by government en politicians shows that it is not that easy.
The number of citizens that is being reached is limited and on top of that, these citizens are not very interested in the information given by government and politicians. Most citizens on Hyves (Dutch social networking website like Facebook and MySpace) and Twitter are hard to mobilize for political goals and very often the information is only one way street. If a citizen is fanatically supplying new ideas, government is very limited to react, due to its narrow playing field given by political reality, or it dies in existing bureaucratic rules and procedures.
While the government is very busy learning how to effectively deal with social media, developments continue. Internet is rapidly breaking into our daily lives. The web will more frequently defines our view on the World , the information that we do or do not see, the contacts that we will make or will not make, the way we make our choices. The web will take over part of the role and function of organisations and it will strengthen even more the possibilities for self organisation by citizens. To render these (future) new and powerful possibilities for citizens to participate in their own environment, the political-governmental system needs a far more drastic change.
Government and politics need a make-over, a redesign. This new design of government should entail the following elements: a co-creation of services by government and citizen, an intelligent surrounding to promote participation and a new political system to facilitate decision making.
1. Co-creation between government and citizen
The first element of a new government is a government that works together with citizens through co-creation and thus develops services together. In that case government is making more use of the initiative and self organisation of citizens. We already see examples of that in the area of local safety, at schools and in neighbourhood care. By working together citizens and government can tackle all kinds of communal issues. Till now we put the responsibility solely with the government. However, we could do much more together. This asks for planning, coordination and the bringing together of tasks and people, but technology can help with that. A technology that becomes more and more powerful in the future. It enables us also to combine our work and private life, that are already more entangled than before. Like teaching music at the school of your son in the morning and having a meeting for work in the afternoon.
2. Politics: focus on the big picture
To enable co-creation, it is necessary that the political system and governments make room to complete services and tasks on a local level, without filling in the details ahead of time. This doesn’t mean that politics is becoming unnecessary, rather it has to focus on the main line of policy making and within that frame empower citizens to become active in their communities. The political system is actively giving more space to citizens and is focusing less on detailed regulations or daily illusions. On several areas politics leave the decision making over to citizens, instead of pushing it on citizens. This step is perpendicular to the current trend in which politics is becoming more determined by populism and ruled by individual tweets.
3. Real time citizen’s participation in the smart city
A third element of new government is aiming at the development of intelligent cities, to enable easy accessible participation for citizens. In the ultimate scenario for cities of the future we see that in twenty years all buildings and objects are connected with internet (‘internet of things’) and have sensors in order to retrieve information from the surrounding. These intelligent cities can on the one hand be used by government to follow all processes in the city as well follow all its citizens. A government that follows from a ‘control room’ all citizens and processes in the city. On the other hand the same intelligent cities could be a ideal environment for a improved participation of the citizens. Especially on local level and the physical location, where people come together, the surrounding is tangible and where citizens are directly confronted with the choices that have to be made. Government could use citizens much more effectively by working together with them on public tasks such as safety, a healthy and clean environment and spatial planning, and do this through co-creation.
This article was published by trend magazine Second Sight.