I wrote this piece earlier this Summer for the Lower House of Congress in Mexico in anticipation of my publishing deal for my upcoming book, “Rebel Technology”. I wanted to publish it again given the events in Libya and what will potentially be ongoing events in Syria, Myanmar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere as the Arab Spring becomes a Global Renewal. This is given away as a free chapter of the upcoming book.
Taking Rebel Technology and Turning it into a Brave New Paradigm
The world has been tuned in to technology as rebellion breaks out around the world recently. Twitter and Facebook have been active parts of the process to bring change in Egypt, attempts at large scale political change in Iran and Libya, tackling budget woes in the UK and highlighting cloud computing in the USA. This “Rebel Technology” is the darling of the global news channels with tweets from the front lines making the new digital headlines. The main question for politicians, civil servants and policy makers is, how do we incorporate this new “Rebel Technology” into government in such a way that it sustainably benefits the citizens of our countries and at the same time advances the policy agendas of those elected or appointed to represent us?
This chapter will discuss three main areas. First, how did we get to this point and what does the technical and policy landscape look like worldwide? Second, what are the political and policy benefits that “Rebel Technology” could provide to our countries, their government and citizens? And, finally, what can policy makers, politicians, civil servants and citizens do today to make “Rebel Technology” a sustainable part of their governance infrastructure?
Part I: How did we get here?
From the first days of e-Government to Government 2.0 and Open Government, technology has been talked about as a potential panacea to the problems with governments in developed and developing nations. The promise has started to look much more real in recent days as citizens took the technology in their world (Twitter and Facebook) and turned it to political or policy purposes, effectively proving the point. Historically, the promise has remained ethereal for much of that time for multiple reasons. The first challenge has been the attempt to force a new order on top of a rigid and bureaucratic system of governance. This effect becomes pronounced when the mission of technological advance in government is accompanied with a business case that singularly relies upon cost reduction. While the financial gains in the private sector are calculable from the application of technology to business processes, the stretching of this technology over bureaucracy results in an erosion of some of the financial benefits. The newer technologies that rely upon crowdsourcing or open sharing have additional costs and friction in the public sector context due to the very nature of government as a control process. Open Government initiatives often meet with privacy concerns and result in either internal resistance or increased cost and time to implement the new system. These delays are often deadly to the change efforts.
While these perceived challenges attempt to call into question the effectiveness of new technology in support of policy change, the current state of national rebellion, especially in the Middle East, proves that the change does work, if the restraints are removed. In Egypt we saw that when citizens simply deployed Twitter, with few or zero rules and restrictions, the system formed itself well and accomplished a policy objective (regime change). If the technology had been forced into a structure by authority, the result may not have been the same. Twitter hashtags (such as #egypt) and other digital artifacts grew out of true collaboration and community and as such, technical deployment of such must resist centralized control to become effective and to be adopted rapidly and without unneeded expense.
Two examples of Open Government initiatives, the Government Camps (“Govcamps”) in Berlin, Germany and in Auckland, New Zealand help to prove the point. In New Zealand, much time and effort went into forcing folks to use certain hashtags, listen to certain speeches and forcing a structure upon the event. While beneficial to some of the participants, the overall effectiveness of the New Zealand effort was overshadowed by the alternative structure at the Berlin Govcamp. In Berlin, there was an organization committee, but their job was to build and empower the Govcamp community. They let the hashtags develop themselves, the sessions were voted upon and pursued after that, the group enabled technology use and sharing throughout the event and as a result, the Govcamp was an enormous success regardless of what metric you looked at (press coverage was large, twitter stream was enormous, attendance exceeded expectations, following year registrations grew, documentation was produced by multiple participants).
So, what technology advances are breaking through and which are stopping technology efforts? Three main paradigm shifts seem to be additive to success – the deployment of Social, Mobile and Open technologies (with cloud computing as a major enabler).
On the other hand, legacy and proprietary technology, and their oppressive support costs (in terms of dollars as well as opportunity costs) are the major impediment to government success. Forrester estimates that large enterprises (including governments) that rely on server based legacy technology such as Microsoft Exchange 2007 for email, waste between 50 and 70% of their capital in such a way that cloud based email systems makes completely irrelevant. It is important to understand that when dealing with such legacy systems, bureaucracies need to exist to support them, from server administrators to email administrators to procurement officials and data center operators, the waste is enormous and a switch away from legacy environments can free up resources (time and money) to accomplish citizen oriented policy goals. Included in these waste figures are hardware costs, server software costs, client software costs, storage costs, message filtering, archiving costs, mobile messaging costs, staffing and financing costs.
The Social, Mobile and Open paradigms are vital for success. The world of political reform or policy change is intimately connected to the new social technology tools. From Facebook to Twitter to any number of local social and digital communities, it is clear that the ability to share ideas, in real-time, is a key ingredient to the success of an attempt at policy change or political upheaval. Social by itself is not enough though. Social must be combined with Mobile technologies and Open systems to be effective. Mobility is necessary to ensure that rapidly changing environments are communicated to stakeholders and observers in real-time. Mobile also expands the effectiveness of the fourth estate, the traditional media, in that coverage now no longer depends upon the mainstream media as seen in places like Madison, Wisconsin where they have successfully pushed a reform agenda despite the lack of mainstream media coverage. These social and mobile technologies must also include rich media sharing including photos and video as well as the ability to comment on these items immediately. The real and personal images and video taken at modern political events is compelling and allows the information to permeate the overly produced news content out there. The final ingredient to success is the need for these systems to be open by design. The distance between application of the technology and the user must be non-existent. There should be one-click downloads, zero installation and very minimal setup. Licensing of these technologies is simply an impediment that will be circumvented by activists and users. Therefore, to be successful the systems should also have open application programming interfaces (“API’s”) to allow stakeholders to combine data in innovative ways. The systems should also be distributed royalty free and with open source code for extensions as possible by the resulting community. Governments themselves should embrace the ideals of Open Government Data to ensure that there is little friction between government-collected data and the application developers that can build the government platforms for services of the future.
Part II: Policy and Political Benefits
The information technology community has never had a hard time advocating leveraging technology in the context of government. The challenge has always been in connecting specific policy objectives to the technology missions undertaken inside governments. In order for these efforts to truly be successful they must also be couched in the language of decision makers in government as well as common, everyday citizens instead of buried in technical jargon. Below are some of the basic policy benefits of leveraging “Rebel Technology”. Cost efficiency and Opportunity Cost Reduction – In a reform minded administration, the elimination of cost and reduction of opportunity costs equates to redeploying precious resources to accomplish their political or policy objectives. While the monetary savings will be significant they should not be the exclusive focus. Focusing on redeployment of existing assets allows governments to use an existing resource base to better accomplish its policy goals. By working within current assets, the political difficulty of raising revenues is avoided.
Increased Agility – By deploying non-proprietary and cloud based solutions, a truly mobile and alternatively connected government workforce is possible (telework and especially mobile telework can become a real possibility once the datacenter is abandoned as an asset to governments). The ability to change in real-time is a modern need for governments but is also one that citizens have come to expect. Caseworkers should be out in the field, talking with citizens and connecting while en route. Disconnection in terms of systems creates a tight connection in terms of citizens.
Improved National Competitiveness – As governments are involved directly with new government technology initiatives, the demand for certain national assets increases and is addressed either by the private market or by another piece of the government (universities for instance providing an increased number of technology related courses). As these needs are addressed, the country’s rankings in terms of national competitiveness naturally increase as well. The need for a well-educated workforce in computer skills is a great example that would be addressed after a national technology initiative is started. The need for broadband deployment is another example that would enable the remote workforce for government, which in turn enables telework for the private sector. Increased electric capacity and reliable sources for such is a natural outflow of a larger dependence on networked technologies. A higher proportion of income being generated by digital employment also reduced the dependence on heavy industry development having a tertiary environmentally beneficial effect. Each of these examples is directly measured by international organizations that calculate national competitiveness.
Job Growth – This is not an effort just to add people to employment roles in non-productive positions. A job that is connected to advanced technology is an investment in the future of your country. As stated earlier, it helps tip the balance away from environmentally devastating industries and puts your workforce in a position to be able to attract foreign investment and HQ location due to the advanced skills that will be cultivated and grown as a factor of your “Rebel Technology” initiatives.
Community Connection to Government Strengthened – Strong bonds between a community and their government is of incredible value. In terms of sustainable growth, such tight ties are a vital contributor to citizens staying in the country that cultivated those bonds. In addition, the ability of economies and cultures to withstand market fluctuations, a strong connection between citizens and their governments creates a positive form of economic nationalism and helps to sustain economies in tough times. In terms of social and physical wellness, a close bond between citizens and their governments also has a correlative effect. All of these effects can occur as a result of the accomplishment of a national technology effort, directed initially as an internal reform effort inside government.
Rebalancing of Trade Balances – Much of the enabling technology for government ICT reform efforts is leveraged by existing as well as innovative and new private enterprises that have a positive effect on a country’s trade balances. In order for this effect to take hold it is important to be focused on long-term economic incentives and not simple construction based economic stimulus. While roads and infrastructure building is an important first step, it is by no means the end in and of itself. For trade balances to be positively effected long term, export directed incentives must be attached to the efforts as well. After the country of Singapore went through a difficult period of trade imbalance they made a decision to become a leader in terms of leveraging ICT internal to government operations and since have ranked near the top in most international ranking of such efforts. As a result of the technology commitment of the government, the electronic component industry benefitted and today much of the existing trade surplus is credited to the strength of electronic component exports.
Increase Number of Research Scientists and Engineers (RSE) – As your country engages in a technology reform effort inside government, the demand curve for scientists and engineers shifts. Skill sets for network deployment, optimization, power management, virtualization skills and the like are highly portable and when combined with the effects of minimizing the country’s brain drain, work to increase the total amount of RSE’s resident in the country. As innovation and startup activity increase, these internal assets can now be effectively tapped to fuel economic growth internal to the country at an accelerated pace as opposed to having to import the advanced talent that such enterprises require. When comparing South Korea’s and Brazil’s Innovation experiments in the 1980’s conclusions were drawn that if Brazil had focused on internal development and some level of protection of those assets, they would have fared as well as South Korea did. In fact, the burgeoning of Brazil’s economy under President Lula may in fact be due, in part, to his focus on RSE development as a result of internal governmental commitments to owning their own technology and avoiding as much proprietary technology owned by MNC’s as possible .
Policy benefits are certainly important to governments, but to politicians the political benefits are a condition precedent to such efforts. The efforts for policy directed technological reform can be much easier if we first address the political benefits of such an agenda and can convince politicians that association with such efforts is a political good and not a drawback.
In Jennifer Bussel’s work on egovernment initiatives in India’s states, she proves part of my hypothesis, namely, that political benefits must be made explicit in order to secure actual delivery of “Rebel Technology” inside a government. Her work is also important as it highlights the local nature of political activities and an understanding that each country must develop this strategy within their own context. In India’s case, it became clear that when political benefit was aligned to technology reform, the citizens saw the benefit in services offered online. When political conditions were not furthered by technologic change, the online services were postponed, never delivered or far less effective.
This type of proof can lead to multiple interpretations when seeking a course of action. My focus is on how to successfully structure a “Rebel Technology” initiative for success given relative weights in terms of political benefit alignment. I will discuss that structure in a moment. It is important, however, to outline a few of the general political benefits of a “Rebel Technology” platform despite the uniquely local nature of such efforts. Fundraising – Raising money for political parties and candidates can be a complicated matter and exposition on the topic would take more space than I have here. But some of the basics of fundraising can be positively affected by adopting a “Rebel Technology” platform. It is a vital component in this strategy to connect the technology refresh directly to policy outcomes that concern your tight political coalition and fundraising base. If you are a “Labor” candidate for office your focus could easily be on social issues that matter to your base. Creating a crowdsourced and socially networked job system that promises to push your nation toward full employment by leveraging technology could easily become a plea to advocates for poverty eradication or unemployment reduction. If you happen to be a “conservative” candidate there are a number of ways to stimulate fundraising, but the most obvious is elimination of governmental waste on existing ICT projects as well as enabling near term growth for your country. In addition, corporate interests are highly dependent on an educated workforce with a focus on lowering the acquisition costs of well-educated high technology employees. The pro-corporate tax treatments necessary for success in “Rebel Technology” platforms will also help those interests right of center to help raise funds for your candidate. And to address the independent voters needed for nearly all modern elections, the positive economic nationalism mantra will energize them to financially support your efforts.
Change – The right message for an individual campaign is often complex. Worldwide we have seen the adoption of technological reform platforms in challenger campaigns to incumbents. While that is the most obvious location for such efforts, it is not the only one. When the nature of an election is based upon “change”, such a message can be adopted by challengers, unopposed candidates and incumbents. Reform is often the natural gambit of the challenger making the point that the technology used by the incumbent government is too old, or too expensive, to sustain. They can make the point that if electors simply support them, that the change will allow for all sorts of policy and program changes to enable all sorts of new outcomes.
For those running unopposed, this is also a good strategy to help build an almost impenetrable coalition that will give the candidate protection for many years to come.
But for an incumbent, they will need to structure the technological reform in the context of a recent environmental change. An event or set of events outside of their control (hurricanes or tsunamis), inside someone else’s control (federal management of medical system has caused local governments to suffer) or a larger systemic event such as large increases in unemployment due to economic downturn. Incumbents will be able to see an electoral benefit from an embrace of a change message inside such a managed environment. And by adopting technology as an answer, it will align with the currently magical aura in the eyes of consumers (as citizens) about technology. Rewarding Supporters – Normal rewards include committing to pass or repeal certain programs, policies or laws. And while that can still be a mainstay of this strategy (promising the technology reform enablement policies for instance) you should focus to a great extent on the rewards after implementation of the new systems rather than simply promising the implementation (focus on outputs like higher employment, lower child mortality rates, increased wellness, economic growth). In fact, you should select a new lens through which to view such programs. What could you do with social technology to increase wellness? How could you use broadband deployment to grow industrial sectors in certain parts of the country? How could you increase employment by launching a new mobile technology incubator? Could you decrease child mortality rates by enabling telework in the public sector?
Enabling Party Switchers – many elections depend on new coalitions (some before and some after the election). While the attraction to power in coalition building after an election can be incentive enough for politicians to join with your efforts, gaining sufficient advantage to eliminate the need for a broad coalition BEFORE the election, with VOTERS, can help to propel you toward the sustainable change we seek. The first step in utilizing this strategy is to ensure that you indeed can embrace a change election within your base and that you can connect specific policy outcomes to a “Rebel Technology” agenda. If that is true, you then need to extend that technology agenda to policy objectives of a specific independent grouping that does not overtly conflict with your base. The best result is when you can simply extend an existing change supported by your base (for instance an open government program). You could extend an open government program to specifically target a grouping of voters interested in crime reduction by opening the crime statistics data to innovation and therefore both reducing overall crime as well as reducing the costs of achieving the goal. By extending a program already supported by your base you don’t need to spend any more political capital or money and you can actively switch or convert those independent, justice-interested voters. Establishing New Paradigm (Obama/FDR Effect) – While many of the political benefits may seem simply focused on election or re-election, not all of them are. One of the things that have driven leaders to adopt change programs is the ability to help structure a societal paradigm for years to come. President Obama recently took on his health care program challenge to attempt this end (he has based some of his efforts on Franklin Roosevelt’s efforts to restructure most of society himself through the New Deal). Especially if politicians embrace the idea of Government as a Platform , a technology reform agenda can set the stage for an entirely new way to govern. It can be a structure that addresses many of the weaknesses of current governance structures. It can be designed to combine and unify the efforts of both the public and the private sectors. It can specifically and by design consider input and desires of the citizens themselves. It can embrace the tenants of transparency, openness and accountability. How to setup the infrastructure needed to be successful in paradigm building is covered below.
Part III: Turning “Rebel Technology” into Sustainable Infrastructure
Using “Rebel Technology” to win an election, campaign or policy change is one thing; sustaining that change for years is another. It is difficult to turn rebel momentum into stable governance, but it is very possible. There need to be strong pillars upon which to build this new technology platform for government. For all of the reasoning contained above there should be three strong pillars to build upon: Social, Mobile and Open. There are policy-oriented foundations that must support each of these pillars in every government and they are surrounded by an ongoing governance structure that is constantly reinforcing the system with multiple actors with specific roles to play. This governance structure will flexibly handle investment and focus decisions to allow for continuity of foundational support for the government built to withstand political and administration changes.
The Foundation – The strength of your new paradigm will depend to a great degree on your ability to build a strong and sustainable foundation. This is not the exciting and sexy part of governing, but it is the part with the most sustainable impact. The commercial equivalent in the past century is the commitment made to free flow of interstate travel in the USA which unlocked commercial flows between and among the 50 states. It required a multi-decade duration of support to transportation systems that interoperated, was supported nationally and was free from unneeded restrictions. In addition, it required a commitment to ensure the regular availability of inexpensive fuel and other transportation related needs (including bridges, automotive suppliers, mandatory insurance, interstate tax accords and the like). In the case of “Rebel Technology” there are several items that need to be committed to long term.
First, broadband deployment must be treated as a right to citizens everywhere in your country. This commitment has a multiplier effect outside of simply ensuring citizens can transact with government and allows for digital industry to be built everywhere in your country. Second, regulations on data privacy and security need to be harmonized to allow for cloud computing to be exploited as part of the solution. It is unsustainable for every governmental unit to build and maintain their own datacenters. Data sovereignty laws need to be adapted to the modern cloud computing environment to let information flow freely the same as the interstate system allowed for commerce to flow in the past century. Third, Open Government must be embraced to allow for governmental data stores to be made openly available for innovation to be visited upon them and for the vision of Government as a Platform to be realized. The Human Genome would have taken decades to decode had we not opened up the data set to radical innovation. Finally, the national commitment to Science and Technology must be updated and augmented to allow for a true “Innovators Agenda” to be adopted.
The Pillars – At the same time that the Foundation is embraced in your country, you should ensure that you have instituted the pillars of your new technology platform. These pillars are meant to stand regardless of specific technologies or systems that embrace them. Each of the tenets have some specific systems today that come to mind, but the ideas that the pillars represent are broad enough to adapt to their current versions at any place in time. Those pillars are Social, Mobile and Open.
Social is the key to success in your platform. The very nature of government is social by default. Those governments that are successful embrace the ideals of social inclusions already. Ensuring that the technology platform embraces the ideals of social is therefore a shorter step. The basic thought here is to ensure that your governmental technology decisions include the ability for stakeholders to share all types of information with each other regardless of format or role of the stakeholder. Citizens should be able to share video with legislators. Civil Servants should be able to share images with the citizens they serve. Within the civil service, employees should be able to openly comment and rate differing ideas and those thoughts should be openly shared with citizens. As data sets are open, citizens, companies, civil servants, ministers and others should be able to innovate upon and share combinations of government data, at will. The best part of your new technology agenda is that it allows anyone to create innovative solutions in your society. The further you make all of this information easily sharable, the closer the governed will become to the government. You will be creating a much more stable and satisfied country.
Embracing Mobile is equal to the paradigm shift that stopped us from time sharing on mainframes and having that power on our desktop. Now the stakeholders in government need to be connected wherever they happen to be physically. This will also allow for a greater number of stakeholders to connect to government, as mobile penetration is high worldwide. It will also free up caseworkers to spend more time in front of the citizens they serve. Transactions between citizens and government will multiply, as their photo capable devices will now allow for remote incident reporting instantly. Location based services will make licensing and permitting far more efficient and will allow limited resources to be stretched through more radical self-service in remote locations (also having a positive environmental effect as it will reduce government related travel). The ability to crowdsource will be increased as mobile technology is far more permeated than personal computers and as long as the mobile paradigm is addressed correctly (SMS, not just Smartphone) it can bridge some of the digital divide issues that have regularly cropped up in the past. Coupling mobile with social technology is the magic combination as it lets people develop civil discourse in the way they want to and when they want to – on their mobiles.
Open is the final pillar to successful deployment. The pillar embraces the concepts of Open Government, Open Source and Open Standards. All are vital to a sustainable environment. A commitment to open government allows us to restructure government to accomplish much more than simple service delivery and focus on Government as a Platform. A commitment to Open Source allows for tools, data and processes to be freely updated to accommodate the constantly changing governmental environment. And Open Standards are truly what made efforts connecting the rail systems worldwide to work together despite different owners and operators in such a way that maximized the transport of goods, services and people safely. The same open standard development and support is a necessary precedent to successful adoption of a new technology platform. The opposite, a continued commitment to proprietary systems and standards, is costly in terms of treasure but also in terms of the needed agility to accomplish the laudable goals of governments.
The Governance Structure
Governance structures are in essence the rules of the new road. The goal is to set out the structure and way in which decisions will be made. The rules do not presuppose the answers, much like the constitutional rules of a parliament may set out ground rules but not decisions. Remarkably, this has had much discussion but little disposition in governments throughout the world. As such, it needs to be clarified upfront as you move down your road to technologic reform.
There are generally three main areas that need to be considered in a governance structure: Intergovernmental (different layers of government – local government, regional government, state government, school boards), Business Domains (Health, Commerce, Public Safety) and Technical Domains (infrastructure, technical standards, security). Different decision items need to be vested on a different axis in the structure. And on many topics, there needs to be an intersection of interests allowing for some form of built in cooperation and sustainability. The specific weightings of voting power and topical distribution are left to individual governments to decide upon within this basic structure. Enterprise Architecture is generally vested within this structure as a whole and the outputs of that architecture need to be regularly revisited especially in cases of regime change or election.
The investment framework is the specific mechanism that allows the governance structure to continue to exist despite change in elected or appointed leaders, while differing policy outcomes can be assigned and supported. It stops the seesaw effect of infrastructure investment from one party to another, as technical platforms become political footballs passed around. By allowing a flexible investment framework to exist inside a stable governance structure, governments can focus on building up infrastructure to allow for policy development agnostic of the policy itself and also enable individual administrations to focus hard resources on their own policy objectives. As illustration, a left-leaning administration may have a carbon reduction goal as a policy objective and may therefore enable resources to flow to open up the data streams of governmental carbon emissions to be released openly to the public while a right-leaning government may push that same funding into an effort to open up governmental data streams on economic development dollars given to specific areas over a set period of time to spur additional foreign or domestic investment. The underlying foundations and pillars are identical, but the investment decision flexes dependent upon the nature of the current administration. This enables debate and conversation over the actual object of the policy and not the underlying infrastructure needs to develop it. The consequence is a far more effective government (implementing the policies that are reflected by popular mandate in individual jurisdictions).
Sample Outcomes (these are fictional examples)
The following is a fictional set of example outcomes that might be accomplished by deploying a “Rebel Technology” initiative.
A foundation is laid. Broadband commitments are extended through the next 20 years with a specific bi-partisan Broadband Commission committing to deployment in 90% of the population centers in 5 years and ubiquity in 10. Data sovereignty laws are harmonized within the regional governmental entities ensuring that data sovereignty issues do not preclude cloud based transmission and storage including diplomatic data immunity for governmental data within the region. An Open Government Committee is instituted in the legislature and a “citizen data release council” is formed to support data openness issues and schedules. A new “Innovation Agenda” is announced with a focus on building RSE’s in country with specific long-term incentives for building further government-as-a-platform infrastructures.
The pillars are defined. A Technical Reference Committee is formed and identifies current technologies that should be given priority in all new technology deployments government wide (just like the USA Cloud First initiative). Business Reference Council is formed to ensure that the current technologies selected are sufficient to exploit the current administrations policy objectives. The Business Reference Council also attaches specific policy objectives to each of the pillars including healthcare outcomes to drive through social technology and public safety goals through mobile reporting of incidents. The Technical Reference Committee also puts together a business case to extract proprietary systems from the environment and puts together internal open source and open standard incentives for use of such technology.
The Governance Structure is enabled. The legislature has passed enabling legislation empowering governance across the three relevant areas and extending until the end of the broadband initiative. Using building commissions as a viable sustainable structure, the prime minister oversees the entire structure with business, technical and citizen groups well represented throughout the structure.
Investment Framework is leveraged. The current administration utilizes a working model for investments to make decisions within the new Governance Framework and makes decisions to support the administration’s policy objectives through leveraging technology. The framework includes using a specific reporting process so that progress can be monitored and decisions regularly reviewed to ensure effective accomplishment and adjustment as needed.
The decision to enable “Rebel Technology” in a campaign or effort to shift a political paradigm can be difficult. The decision to move it to a new and sustainable governmental structure can present even deeper challenges. But, all of these challenges can be overcome with dedicated planning and purposeful movement establishing new structures and means to solve political, policy and citizen based problems.