This is an early stage #WorkingOutLoud post, reflecting on the disruption, or evolution, of government itself. Recently i’ve been fascinated by the lack of opportunity for engagement in democracy, and indeed about the widest principles of democracy: at a time when everything in our ecosystem is changing, government, substantially, is stuck in the past, and unwilling, or unable, to change. But change it must: models of governance have always evolved, sometimes for the better, sometimes not, and that’s the challenge at the heart of my thinking.
We may tilt one way or the other: we may see a response of control, or an evolutionary response of engagement. The direction of travel is not clear.
Many of the functions of government are becoming, or are likely to become, either irrelevant, or substantially altered. Building roads, social planning, gathering taxes, understanding the geopolitical landscape, negotiating trade, these, and many other things, are changing. Uber represents not simply the fracture of the centrally regulated taxi industry, it represents a fundamental shift in our relationship with car ownership, a fundamental shift in the nature of employment, and a shift in urban planning based on a premise of car parks and commutes. Change is everywhere.
My starting point was the simple lack of opportunity to engage: we live in the age of engagement, and yet i am unable to engage in anything near to a synchronous nature with my democracy. Questions of policy, strategy, knowledge, or sense making, are devolved to ‘professional’ civil servants, contracted suppliers, or elected officials. I am unable to engage, without any recourse.
The recent story of a Toronto resident who, frustrated by formal authorities, simply built some steps in his local park, is the stuff of urban legend. The ‘formal’ response to the need for steps was slow, expensive, and abstract, so he just built them. He had the skills, the need was there, so he acted as a citizen should, and improved his locality. Clearly we can’t have the anarchy of DIY enthusiasts fixing things everywhere, but there must surely be a middle ground, we learn in other spaces that there is a clear middle ground.
We can crowd source, socially filter, offer co-creative spaces, we can engage. Surely that’s where government should be focusing ever more effort: less about retaining privileged power from a bygone age, more about learning new modes of public service, and truly serving the population. A population ever more willing to engage in the mechanism and practice of government.