Digital Citizenship

November 4th, 2016

The discussion at last meeting centered around the intersection of technology and governance. It was very interesting to examine positions of authority as nontechnical people attempting to address technical challenges. Guest speaker David Eaves specifically mentioned a change in the expectations of IT departments that occurred at the local level about ten years ago. According to Eaves, initially, IT departments were generally in charge of tackling technological challenges relating to operations of the city. For example, their roles may have entailed making sure that everyone has electronic access to documents or troubleshooting specific computer or access problems. However, as local governments began to conduct interesting studies with data, other cities attempted to emulate the type of technological progressions that took place. Unfortunately, as the IT department was trained to be “traditional” problem-solvers, they generally lacked appropriate skills to conduct innovative research and restructuring of data collection methods.

The problem described here, in my opinion, is something that needs to examined from the bottom-up approach rather than top-down. Although state governments are likely to have the means and man-power to collect data in an efficient and non-repetitive manner, local governments, which are arguably the institutions closest to citizens, may not have enough human resources to develop similarly eloquent or efficient methods. As a result, although everything may seem to move efficiently from the perspective of the upper levels of government, the “ground work” data collection, where the basis for upper level analysis may come from, could be implemented poorly or in a manner that is less than ideal. This in turn, is the most direct impression that citizens have of government’s efficiency, resulting in a negative user experience and government representation.

Something else that stuck out to me was the problem surrounding allocation of resources. That is, the problem of if someone had to choose between using resources towards developing a great software or marketing the product itself, they would choose the latter.  The decision, again, appears to boil down to relating technical concepts to a nontechnical audience. This reminded me of a talk I attended given by Steven Chu, the former Secretary of Energy, where he described communicating the science behind climate change and climate change policies to various politicians. If only there was a lower barrier towards understanding all the technical knowledge behind computer science or science in general, then the policy development process itself could become much more streamlined and efficient….

One Response to “Digital Citizenship”

  1. Jim Waldo said:

    This is a great post– glad to see you are thinking about the implications of what was talked about.

    Getting policy makers to understand something about technology is part of the solution…what role do you think educational institutions like Harvard can play in this? I know that the Kennedy School is trying to teach more technology-oriented courses (that’s why David Eaves and I are teaching down there), but should it be broader than that? If Harvard is teaching the leaders of tomorrow, is it our responsibility to make sure they can understand these things?

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