The recent rapid evolution of digital technologies has been changing behaviors and expectations in countries around the world. These shifts make it the right time to pose the key question this study explores: Will digital technologies, both those that are already widespread and those that are still emerging, have substantial impacts on the way citizens engage and the ways through which power is sought, used, or contested? The authors address this question both to mitigate some of the World Bank’s operational risks and to initiate a conversation with peers about how those risks might require policy shifts. The overall framing question also is being explored in case the approaches to citizen engagement advocated by the World Bank are changing and may require different advice for client countries. Despite the lower technology penetration levels in developing countries, their more malleable governance contexts may be more influenced by the effects of emerging technologies than older states with greater rigidity. Digitally influenced citizen engagement is, in short, one of those “leapfrog” areas in which developing nations may exploit technologies before the wealthier parts of the world. But countries can leapfrog to worse futures, not just better ones. This study explores what technology might mean for engagement, makes predictions, and offers measures for governments to consider.
This study was prepared by Tiago Peixoto (Governance Global Practice, World Bank) and Tom Steinberg (Governance Global Practice, World Bank) as part of the Governance Global Practice’s programmatic analytics and advisory service (ASA) “Citizen Engagement: Re-building the State and Citizen Social Contract”. The ASA aims to help provide analytical insights, knowledge, and learning to support implement the next phase of the World Bank Group’s Strategic Framework for Mainstreaming Citizen Engagement in World Bank Group Operations. To help the authors with this effort, leading researchers and practitioners in the field kindly offered interviews and comments. Where appropriate, they are quoted directly: Ben Berkowitz (SeeClickFix); Emiliana de Blasio (Center for Media and Democratic Innovations); Marco Deseriis (Northeastern University); Norman Eisen (Brookings Institution); Jonathan Fox (Accountability Research Center at American University); Erhardt Graeff (MIT Center for Civic Media); Craig Hammer, Zahid Hasnain, and Kaushal Jhalla (World Bank); Justin Herman (U.S. General Services Administration); Cesar Hidalgo (MIT Media Lab); Alexander Howard (writer and open government advocate); Luke Jordan (Grassroot); Ronaldo Lemos (Institute for Technology and Society — ITS Rio); Flavia Marzano (Rome Municipality); Rafael Morado (Dapper Labs); Leonardo Moreno (AES Corporation); Alessandra Orofino (Nossas); Tapan Parikh (Cornell Tech); Ben Rattray (Change. org); David Robinson (Upturn); Hollie Russon-Gilman (Columbia University); Antonio Saraiva (Gojira.tv); David Sasaki (Hewlett Foundation); Beth Simone Noveck and Gianluca Sgueo (New York University); Michele Sorice (LUISS); Christopher Wilson (Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation); Harry Wilson (Social Coin); and Anthony Zacharzewski (The Democratic Society).