Evolving as a modern e-state: A new age of government
At the beginning of this new decade, what kind of future governments will evolve given the power of new digital technologies and data now flooding our society?
Governments everywhere face similar challenges. In a globalized economy, they must safeguard national security and the rule of law while stretching precious resources to meet the needs of growing populations amidst a widening wealth gap and social and political unrest. Meeting these competing challenges demands that public agencies do things differently, not just more efficiently. And in the digital age, that means harnessing the power, speed and agility of digital technologies and ever-growing volumes of data.
Reinventing citizen services
For the first time since the creation of modern nation states, public administrations (and their bureaucracies), have the opportunity to re-invent government. Digitally enabled transformation opens up a whole range of new possibilities for using connected technologies and data to solve problems, and even prevent them happening in the first place.
By maintaining control over the governance of data and leveraging that data to better understand the needs of populations and individual citizens, e-states can enhance their impact on citizens’ lives. They can provide better, faster and more joined-up services to support citizens during key life events (such as birth, marriage and employment); they can keep citizens safe by better understanding and neutralizing threats to security; and they can reach the most vulnerable citizens more quickly with better targeted, more effective resources and support.
As well as the march of globalization, there is another trend that’s gaining traction thanks to the power of technology: it’s called digital devolution. Take blockchain for example; if we consider that blockchain makes it possible to securely and immutably orchestrate financial transactions (and other transactions based on trust) without the authority of a third party, then, for instance, communities themselves can control their own budgets (according to a set of agreed rules) instead of local government councils controlling these funds as they do today.
In this way, democratic power can be devolved to communities (where it belonged in the first place, before the growth of huge centralized government bureaucracies). As an example, in the Netherlands, councils are experimenting with social benefits such as government-funded swimming lessons for children from low-income families; tokens are distributed using localized blockchain technology, empowering the community itself to approve the release of tokens to the right families instead of a civil servant working in the council’s administration.
More widely, over the next decade, the digital transformation of public administrations must be an enabler for fundamental cultural and political change. Post-liberalism, there is an increasing expectation and demand from citizens that their governments to take action. Data can empower the public sector to lead the way in creating new ways of living, trading and working, including the creation of sustainable circular economies and the protection of ethical frameworks for the use of data and technology.
After decades of austerity, now is the time for governments to steer investments in innovation, skills development, research and development, jobs and education. Perhaps governments now are on the brink of what British-Venezuelan economist Carlota Perez has called a new ‘Golden Age’ in which public administrations can take the lead in finding solutions to climate change and achieving a more socially and economically balanced society. New ideas are beginning to emerge, for example through the movements around the Green New Deals in the EU and the US.
Force for good
In this context, technology has the power to be truly transformational. The evolution of modern e-states is less about merely increasing efficiency and much more about the ambition to achieve radical change that creates a better world for all citizens and ensures the sustainability of our planet.
Widescale digital transformation requires that governments have a clear digital vision and agenda. It also requires the engagement of citizens to raise awareness of the benefits of digital transformation and how data will be secured, used and controlled. Embracing digital technology and data as a force for good opens up huge new opportunities for the future of government. With the power and potential of vast new data lakes governed and leveraged within ethical frameworks, this century’s Roaring Twenties can really begin.
This blog is part of a series around eState 2025, examining the key priorities and outcomes of digital transformation for governments over the next decade. I invite you to read my first blogs "Obsolete and absolute e-states"; "The essential paradigm shift" and "Why reinvent government services", "Could governments become obsolete?" and "Absolute e-states and data sovereignty".