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Ovum: Ovum publishes report exploring the nexus between trust, technology, and the city
May 21, 2012 – Nishant Shah
As migration to cities continues to intensify, stakeholders need to remember the importance of a city’s ability to engender trust between citizens and toward institutions. Municipalities that put trust at the center of policy planning, technology adoption, governance, and urban design will find they are better able to implement policy and compete against other cities for talent and investment. Companies that take the long view and offer products and services facilitating digital society initiatives via citizen-centered social media, connection technology, networks, Internet-of-things-enabled products, or analytics tools will find their wares in high demand. Those organizations that stay gadget-oriented rather than people-oriented will continue to be unable to see the forest for the trees.
Ovum’s recently published report, Trust and the City: Technology’s Role in Engendering Trust in Government, is designed to help a broad range of stakeholders understand these trends by giving detailed examples and providing a framework with which to understand the cutting edge of trust-facilitation technology. It is particularly useful for those interested in positioning emerging technologies and business models for long-term positive impact on a city’s social capital.
Levels of trust in government are decreasing globally
Survey after survey indicates that levels of interpersonal and political trust are decreasing around the world, and the impacts are substantial. Effects include: inhibiting citizen adherence to newly formed policy, decreasing voter turnout, increasing law and order issues, discouraging organic civic engagement, increasing the size of black markets, enabling corruption, and reducing tax revenue collected by the city. Technology is a double-edged sword with regard to its impact on trust, which is particularly affected by social media/networks, increasing data collection and monitoring of citizens, and shifting interfaces between the individual and the city. Cultural, socioeconomic, governance, and geographic context-based differences also clearly alter how citizen trust levels respond to technology initiatives and policies introduced by the municipality.
The rise of the “monitory democracy”
Technology can improve, but not fix, systemic governance problems. Instead, technology in the smarter city must be viewed as a catalyst for, and enabler of, more sophisticated management and enlightened governance, with the building of social capital at its center. Ovum broadly categorizes “trust-facilitation” technology and policy as that which focuses on transparency and incentivizing emergent digital society civic-engagement initiatives.
Our report discusses technology-based trust facilitators that are particularly suitable within what political theorist John Keane labels a “monitory democracy.” In such an environment, global democratic ideals are increasingly characterized by non-hierarchical networks that emphasize public scrutiny and control of decision-makers, empowering democratic processes beyond elections. The ability of citizens to potentially remake a city’s social and civic map without government, and to hold political leadership accountable, feeds back into and improves trust in government itself, while stimulating the feeling of belonging and combating alienation.
Transparency and open data to co-production and civic entrepreneurship
As the focus shifts from e-government to open government, releasing non-sensitive data to citizens and being honest about what information an administration does and does not collect is of key importance in encouraging accountability and, in the long term, fostering trust. Ovum details four basic steps to achieve transparency at the city level. First, make as much data open as possible. Second, address privacy issues. Third, simplify laws, policy, and processes. Finally, reveal the “submerged state” – those government benefits that are hidden from plain sight – to give citizens a better idea of their true interactions with the public sector.
While, as US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brendais said in reference to transparency in public policy, “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” it is not enough. What does one do with the results of transparency, and who creates the mechanisms that build on it? One trend is the open sourcing of problems, as opposed to crowdsourcing, to stimulate co-production. Our report details how this allows citizens to take a “bottom-up” long-tail approach to problem-solving, saving stressed city agencies time and money, and identifying issues they would have been unable to foresee.
Another trend is the use of civic entrepreneurship – collective action forums and aggregators, data journalism, and particularly “reverse-monitoring” initiatives – to create real trust-building value from open data and transparency, utilizing citizens as sensors. These emergent initiatives enable the monitoring part of the “monitory democracy,” and include applications and programs that allow citizens to keep the municipality accountable in terms of service provision, their response to civic complaints, and disaster response.
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