Emerging technologies are not on the cusp of fundamentally rebooting the way power is held and decisions made in mature states. But they are constantly eating away at the norms, subtly undermining some structures, and boosting others. Both governments and civil society actors should be paying close attention to the disruptive wave that is currently only half broken, if citizens are to be truly put first.
However, technologies are only as good as the institutions and processes in which they are embedded. An inefficient and cumbersome visa application process, if transferred to an online environment, will still remain cumbersome and inefficient. The same applies to citizen engagement, and emerging technologies are unlikely to make a meaningful difference in the absence of responsive institutions.
What is needed are true institutional upgrades to bring institutions into the 21st century.25Pushing a button or casting a ballot every few years and expecting governments to respond in-between is starting to show signs of insufficiency, as a model. In the same way that recent software is unlikely to run on a computer from the 1980s, the full benefits of emerging technologies are unlikely to be reaped under institutions that do not modernize their rules and cultural norms. The real win for citizens will take place when institutions start to change their rules to match the capabilities of modern tools, and the expectations of modern publics.
25: While the list of potential upgrades is extensive, examples of reforms that could be considered include: (i) mandating participatory budgeting exercises across all levels of government (with significant portions of budget); (ii) lowering the threshold for citizens initiatives; (iii) mandating citizens’ assemblies to enable the co-design of legislation; and (iv) establishing laws that accepts electronic authentication for binding participatory processes. If this list could be expanded, a common trait of reforms is the goal to give citizens a binding voice in decision-making processes, from lawmaking to service delivery. While they might sound unlikely for now, they may well be considered a possibility in the near future. ↩