Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies can be harnessed by governments to govern better, become more accessible, and increase transparency and trust – not to mention better track public assets.
Examples include the use of technologies like the Internet of Things in Barcelona to better monitor waste collection and conserve the electricity used for lampposts, and the Estonian government’s use of blockchain to secure national data and online services.
However, technology can also create governance challenges, as advances in some cases threaten the social contract between government and the citizenry. The increased use of online social media, for example, has created situations where electorates are being manipulated and misinformed (new industries have been spawned specifically to deploy this sort of persuasion, exemplified by Cambridge Analytica, a firm that drew significant public attention in 2018 after it was suspended from Facebook’s platform for improperly receiving and retaining personal user data).
Governments will be forced to change their approach when it comes to the creation and enforcement of regulation, and to create new instruments to cope with the spread of new technologies. Agile governance will involve governments finding ways to reinvent themselves in order to better understand what they are regulating; close collaboration with businesses and civil society will be necessary to make that happen.
Becoming more agile should not be a frenetic, never-ending process for policy-makers, creating uncertainty. What is needed is not necessarily more, or faster policy-making, but rather regulatory and legislative environments that foster resilience to the uncertainty of social, economic, and technological shifts.
The key will be to make deliberation more productive than it is now, and to create the maximum amount of space possible for future innovation. Putting agile governance into practice will involve understanding existing models and how they operate in specific social and political contexts, and looking for opportunities to harness new technologies and processes that can remove the bottlenecks in those models. Increased efficiency and effectiveness of consultation, improved transparency, and more flexibility on the part of regulators will be required.
As the World Economic Forum’s former Global Agenda Council on Software & Society argued, truly agile governance should take into account how new technologies affect job markets, money and taxation, liability, security, privacy, and inclusion – while assessing ways to remove power imbalances.