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TICTeC 2017 Interview: Amanda Clarke, Carleton University

TICTeC 2017 Interview: Amanda Clarke, Carleton University


[Music]
My name is Amanda Clarke, I’m an Assistant Professor at the School of Public Policy and
Administration at Carleton University and that’s in Ottawa, Canada. I started to become interested in government
as a platform actually from working within government. That was before the term had really
been coined by Tim O’Reilly and became a popular sort of shorthand for what it means to govern
in the digital age, and suddenly there were these sort of tech-inspired theories of government
emerging such as government as a platform, and so I decided to pursue a PhD exploring
how governments were adapting to this transition, from an early formulation of government
as a platform that really envisioned a very participatory stage in which citizens and
civil society were first movers and solving social problems, enabled by new flows of information
and digital technologies, whereas in what I argue is an emerging third phase of government
as a platform that we’re in now, you’re starting to see governments – in particular in the
UK – reframing government as a platform as a sort of project of in-house Public Management
renewal. It’s about government building platforms,
often working with open source technologies and in such open ways, releasing data and
making APIs available for example. We need to instead of making these
statements of transformation
rather begin more with questions of what will Open Data mean for a broad
range of the segments of the population? How will it transform the way in which citizens
and governments interact? And then this could be applied to a whole range
of different mechanisms that get thrown under the Civic Tech rubric or umbrella. To an extent, many governments still haven’t
embraced digital to the extent that they should – I mean they certainly are aware that they
need to move services online, and that’s partially because they themselves and political leaders
and civil servants are themselves aware of the gap between the paper-based services they
deliver and use themselves as citizens, and what they get from Amazon, Uber etc. This is a cost-savings driving I mean…
the ‘we need to have digital services’ agenda is well accepted the extent
to which government cultures have been transformed by digital tech I think we’re still at a phase
in which there’s a small group of maybe early adopters, some sort of
leaders who realise this is changing the culture of government, but I think there’s still many
processes and ways of working within the state that are just a bit oblivious and really rejecting
the kinds of open networked problem-solving that we’re seeing outside. Historically,
it’s not safe to say that… or not fair to say that governments have always been behind
the curve in terms of identifying emerging technologies and related socio-economic trends
but I think today this is where we’re at. Most governments do not have the metabolism
to identify and keep pace with with these trends and this is where groups like mySociety
and other NGOs that are active in the Civic Tech
movement can can really play a very important role – being more on that cutting edge,
identifying these possibilities before the state given its internal challenges — policy
constraint, hierarchies et cetera — just that it won’t be able to keep up to speed The other phase is certainly in keeping governments
honest because we do hear a lot of rhetoric from political leaders now about their embrace
of open government and open data. The idea that the state needs to transform,
and this is again where that sort of outside check and balance from from groups like mySociety
is absolutely essential to ensuring that digital governments are not just providing lower costs
and better services but they’re also providing a more robust, transparent, accountable form
of governance. It’s a really, I think, excellent opportunity
to connect with academics and practitioners who bring a critical eye to some of these
issues and that’s also very refreshing. It’s been great — I mean I’ve only been to
a few sessions thus far because we’re really just getting going, but I’m really impressed
at how critical people are being – including those who would themselves probably
openly acknowledge that maybe three or four years ago they were part of the early somewhat
naive enthusiasm that we saw in this space. So that’s great because I think what we’re
seeing now is again this move from statements of transformation, to questions about the nature scope, speed, scale of transformation
and also direction… is Civic Tech taking us towards more robust democracy, better governments —
or in some cases or we seeing technologies being put to the service of movements that
actually degrade the quality of our democratic institutions? So that’s quite refreshing actually.
[Music]

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