Christina Ribbhagen’s new paper on “Technocracy within Representative Democracy: Technocratic Reasoning and Justification among Bureaucrats and Politicians”: ” How can you possibly have ‘Technocracy within Representative Democracy’, as suggested in the title of this thesis? Shouldn’t the correct title be ‘Technocracy or Representative Democracy’, the sceptic might ask? Well, if technocracy is strictly defined, as rule by an elite of (technical) experts, the sceptic obviously has a point. Democracy means rule by the people (demos) and not rule by (technical) experts. However, in tune with Laird (1990; see also Fischer 2000), I argue that merely establishing the absence of a simple technocratic ruling class is only half the story; instead a more subtle interpretation of technocracy is needed.
Laird (1990, p. 51) continues his story by stating that: ‘The problem of technocracy is the problem of power relations and how those relations are affected by the importance of esoteric knowledge in modern society. The idea that such knowledge is important is correct. The idea that it is important because it leads to the rise of a technically skilled ruling class is mistaken. The crucial issue is not who gains power but who loses it. Technocracy is not the rise of experts, it is the decline of citizens’. Or as formulated by Fischer (2000), ‘One of the most important contemporary functions of technocratic politics, it can be argued, rests not so much on its ascent to power (in the traditional sense of the term) as on the fact that its growing influence shields the elites from political pressure from below’. The crucial issue for the definition of technocracy then is not who governs, rather it lies in the mode of politics. As argued by Fischer (2000), too often writers have dismissed the technocratic thesis on the grounds that experts remain subordinate to top-level economic and political elites. A consequence of this, he continues, is that this argument ‘overlooks the less visible discursive politics of technocratic expertise. Not only does the argument fail to appreciate the way this technical, instrumental mode of inquiry has come to shape our thinking about public problems, but it neglects the ways these modes of thought have become implicitly embedded in our institutional discourses and practices’ (p. 17). Thus, technocracy here should not be understood as ‘rule by experts’, but rather ‘government by technique’ focusing on the procedures and content of politics, suggesting that technocratic reasoning and justification has gained ground and dominates the making of public policy (Boswell, 2009; Fischer, 1990; Meynaud, 1969; Radaelli, 1999b;). To be sure, indirectly this will have consequences as to who will win or lose power. A policy issue or process that is technocratically framed is likely to disempower those lacking information and expertise within the area (Fischer, 1990; Laird, 19903), while supplying those with information and expertise with a ‘technocratic key’ (Uhrwing, 2001) leading to the door of political power.”
Chris Hughes in New Republic: “We’ve known for a long time that big companies can stalk our every digital move and customize our every Web interaction. Our movements are tracked by credit cards, Gmail, and tollbooths, and we haven’t seemed to care all that much.
That is, until this week’s news of government eavesdropping, with the help of these very same big companies—Verizon, Facebook, and Google, among others. For the first time, America is waking up to the realities of what all this information—known in the business as “big data”—enables governments and corporations to do….
We are suddenly wondering, Can the rise of enormous data systems that enable this surveillance be stopped or controlled? Is it possible to turn back the clock?
Technologists see the rise of big data as the inevitable march of history, impossible to prevent or alter. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier’s recent book Big Data is emblematic of this argument: They say that we must cope with the consequences of these changes, but they never really consider the role we play in creating and supporting these technologies themselves….
But these well-meaning technological advocates have forgotten that as a society, we determine our own future and set our own standards, norms, and policy. Talking about technological advancements as if they are pre-ordained science erases the role of human autonomy and decision-making in inventing our own future. Big data is not a Leviathan that must be coped with, but a technological trend that we have made possible and support through social and political policy.”
Robert Halfon MP is a member of the UK Commons Public Administration Committee (PASC) in the Guardian: “We need to end phoney consultation in policymaking – and stop trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to implementation… Another week, another lobbying scandal. But what if the government found a way to really listen to all its citizens, to genuinely involve the public in policy making? So that it would no longer be an issue of who has the government’s ear – because everyone would?
A report published by the Public Administration Select Committee, which I sit on, calls on government to adopt an open, “wiki” style approach to policy making, where public opinion, ideas and contributions are sought and welcome at any and all stages of the policy cycle. This kind of genuine public engagement would contrast sharply with the status quo: tokenistic exercises in phoney consultation about issues that have already been decided.
We all welcome the government’s moves towards more digital engagement, but what our committee really wants to see is more direct, real public involvement in policy making, whether that is via the internet or other means. The most important point is that government treats public engagement as a serious part of policy-making. That will mean communicating and engaging in ways that are tailored to every audience, in new and more traditional ways. This is not just a time or cost-saving exercise, although using existing and new technology and media well should bring those benefits. This is about making better policy. To those who say it can’t be done, our report contains examples from New Zealand, the US and even as far afield as Redbridge councilshowing that if there is real will, crowd sourcing of policy and real public engagement can be possible…
We have moved from being subjects to citizens to active open-source citizens – and yet our policy making does not recognise this. The public no longer want to be handed out policy like tablets of stone from Mount Sinai. In fact they want to go up the mountain with Moses. However, they have to be able to believe that their input can make a real difference. Genuine engagement means ensuring that a good proportion of the public actually participate in open policy-making. Although this will be a challenge for government to achieve, without it there’s little point.”
Inside the MPA@UNC Blog: “Engaged citizens want clear, credible information from the government about how it’s carrying on its business. They don’t want to thumb through thousands of files or wait month after month or go through the rigors of filing claims through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). They want government information, services, and communication to be forthcoming and swift. The Open Government, Government 2.0, and E-Governance movements fill the need of connecting citizens with the government and each other to foster a more open, collaborative, and efficient public sector through the use of new technology and public data.
Open Government is defined by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) as “the transparency of government actions, the accessibility of government services and information, and the responsiveness of government to new ideas, demands and needs.”
E-Government is defined by the World Bank as “the use by government agencies of information technologies that have the ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. These technologies can serve a variety of different ends: better delivery of government services to citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to information, or more efficient government management. The resulting benefits can be less corruption, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth, and/or cost reductions.”
Government 2.0 is defined by Gartner Research as “the use of Web 2.0 technologies, both internally and externally, to increase collaboration and transparency and potentially transform the way government agencies relate to citizens and operate.”
Open Government and E-Government paved the way for Government 2.0, a collaborative technology whose mission is to improve government transparency and efficiency. How? Gov 2.0 has been called the next generation of government because it not only utilizes new technologies such as social media, cloud computing, and other apps, it is a means to increase citizen participation….
We have compiled a list of organizations, blogs, guides, and tools to help citizens and public service leaders better understand the Open Government, E-Government, and Government 2.0 movement….”
Anthony Wing Kosner in Forbes: “The hacker method is code first, ask permission later. This is great for getting things done quickly, but it sidesteps the gnarly issues of how citizen contributions actually get deployed within government agencies. There are all kinds of projects that can just get done and deployed using resources in the public domain, but civic hacking aims to get more directly involved in government.
For organizations on the receiving end of civic code, there are many questions as well. How do you test and implement the code? How will the code get maintained? What happens if there are unintended consequences of how public data is used? Jawitz hismelf is working on the idea of “civic startups,” as a way of both creating jobs around these efforts and in developing the specific infrastructure required to harvest civic efforts and turn them into working programs—and in some cases, new businesses….
I think that we are only beginning to explore the ways to merge the creative anarchy of hacker culture with the careful regulation of civic concerns. In a sense, this is the dialectic between entropy and inertia that play itself out in technologies of all kinds. But the fact that it is difficult is an indication that there is real work here to engage with, real problems to solve. Hack on!”
An interview with Professor David J. Hand in Statistics Views: “The point to remember is that statisticians are there when the discoveries are made because the statisticians are, almost by defintion, the ones analysing the data and seeing the patterns. Often they are patterns no one else has seen before. Statisticians are the modern day version of the 19th century explorer….The computer has totally revolutionised the subject. It’s arguable that statistics is now more of a computational discipline than a mathematical one. You cannot do modern statistics without a computer. The computer has enabled us not merely to work more quickly but also to do things we would never have thought of before. Bootstrap methods are an example….The discipline is so important. Modern societies are built on the infrastructure of statistics. We need statisticians to cope with the data for medical research, government policies, engineering and there have not been enough. Society would benefit tremendously from statisticians and there is a danger that there aren’t going to be enough.”
Patrick Meier: “Crowds—rather than sole individuals—are increasingly bearing witness to disasters large and small. Instagram users, for example, snapped 800,000 #Sandy pictures during the hurricane last year. One way to make sense of this vast volume and velocity of multimedia content—Big Data—during disasters is with PhotoSynth, as blogged here. Another perhaps more sophisticated approach would be to use CrowdOptic, which automatically zeros in on the specific location that eyewitnesses are looking at when using their smartphones to take pictures or recording videos….How does it work? CrowdOptic simply triangulates line-of-sight intersections using sensory metadata from pictures and videos taken using a smartphone. The basic approach is depicted in the figure below. The areas of intersection is called a focal cluster. CrowdOptic automatically identifies the location of these clusters….Clearly, all this could have important applications for disaster response and information forensics.”
Barking Up The Wrong Tree: “Warren Bennis and Patricia Biederman studied a number of breakthrough great groups to see what made them so successful. They compiled the results into their book, Organizing Genius.
They looked at the Disney’s Animation division, the Manhattan Project (developed the nuclear bomb), Xerox PARC (designed the modern computer interface), the 1992 Clinton campaign (pulled off an enormous victory), Lockheed’s Skunk Works (created the U2 spy plane and the Stealth Bomber), and others.
Highlights from Organizing Genius summarized by Erik Barker can be found here.”
Editorial of NewScientist: “OUR world is written in code. These days, almost anything electrical or mechanical requires many thousands of lines of code to work. Consider a modern car: you could argue that from the driver’s perspective, it’s now a computer that gives you control over an engine, drivetrain and wheels. And with cars beginning to drive themselves, the code will soon be in even more control.
But who controls the code? Those who write the programs behind the machines have become hugely lionised. Silicon Valley courts software developers with huge salaries and copious stock options, throwing in perks ranging from gourmet food to free haircuts. The rest of us can only look on, excluded by esoteric arguments about the merits of rival programming techniques and languages. Like the clerics who once controlled written language, programmers have a vested interest in keeping the status quo…”
Lisa Ellman and Nick Sinai @ The White House Blog: “But we know that much of the best open government work happens in America’s towns and cities. Every day, local leaders across America’s communities are stepping up in big ways to advance open government goals from the ground up.
This July, the White House will host a “Champions of Change” event to celebrate these local change-agents, whose exemplary leadership is helping to strengthen our democracy and increase participation in our government.
The event will convene extraordinary individuals who are taking innovative approaches to engage citizens and communities in the practice of open government and civic participation. These leaders will be invited to the White House to celebrate their accomplishments and showcase the steps they have taken to foster a more open, transparent, and participatory government.
Today, we’re asking you to help us identify these standout local leaders by nominating a Champion of Change for Transformative Civic Engagement by noon on Friday, June 21st. A Champion’s work may involve:
- Piloting a participatory and democracy-building initiative, such as one that engages citizens in governance beyond elections;
- Engaging traditionally disengaged communities in local governance;
- Using new technologies to enhance transparency, participation, and collaboration in government.
We look forward to hearing from you!
Nominate a Transformative Civic Leader as a Champion of Change (under theme of service, choose “Transformative Civic Engagement Leaders”).