Do-It-Yourself Government

Vital Discussion of New Governance Paradigm

The Open Government Dialogue here suggests two different takes on how technology changes public governance. The first is that Internet technology makes government more efficient; the second is that technology completely transforms the democratic governing process.

 

This contrasts 20th century “command and control” with 21st century “open source” government and the best analogy would be Encyclopedia Britannica vs. Wikipedia. EB is (was?) a typical command and control, hierarchical, corporate institution. It provided the capital and coordination required to produce and distribute that physical product of encyclopedic volumes. EB has a CEO, a Board of Directors and an organizational structure of departments under a strict hierarchy. (Much like our federal government and bureaucracy.) It’s a 20th century top-down corporate governance model that reflected the technology of the time.

 

Wikipedia employs a radically different bottom-up model. It’s content is controlled by its users, there is no CEO or management hierarchy. It is not financed by shareholders or a complex ownership structure, but by grants and charitable contributions. Yet, it supplies the desired good so efficiently that it has obliterated the old model of command and control.

 

This suggests that eGov will take us far beyond making government more efficient to shifting power away from command and control to users (voters). This should make political leadership, parties, interest groups, etc. less relevant and more accountable to the public will. It also suggests that the current shift to bigger, more efficient centralized government control is a futile attempt to revitalize an obsolete model by tweaking it around the edges. But Wikipedia didn’t make Britannica more efficient – it annihilated it. The ultimate irony may be that the failure of 20th century command and control governance has yielded an odd nostalgia for more of the same. Hopefully the OGD can help us change direction - the debate over universal health care will be the prime test case.

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Idea No. 451