I have just participated in a workshop organised by a EU Research Programme called ASSYST, which was focused on the role of ICT in developing policy for a green knowledge based society.I am often sceptical of titles such as this which seem to have every policy buzzword and which can become a substitute for thought.This was, however, an exception.
The most interesting phenomenon was how participants from two Italian regions, from Ile-de-Paris and from London (me) were all stressing the need for more open data access and for creating a more informed and participative dialogue with citizens.
Moreover, we were all positive about the potential for enhanced ICT access to revitalise democracy and help develop better, more focused and more effective public services.
Of course, our histories are not entirely shared and so the balance of views was not universal. Both Britain and France are more centralised than Italy, and in Britain the scope for deciding on local spending is decidedly limited.As ever, participants were shocked to discover that local authorities in the UK only dispose of 5% of budgets independently. This included some of the other Britons present, it should be said.
The group present included both regional policy makers and the academics from the research programme, who want to establish how to develop scientific descriptions of these interactions between citizen, policy and politics.How to model networks and their dynamics, as well as how connections might differ under wider use of internet communication were discussed.
The digital divide and the risk of disempowering those who cannot afford or do not want to try new methods of engagement were key risks, particularly if the sort of knowledge that begins to matter excludes the elderly whose value in some societies is precisely their broader knowledge. If it is the old who vote while the young engage differently, some of us were concerned about society tension.
Nonetheless, in spite of worries about these sorts of tensions, I came away more enthused about the fight to increase access to data, and more convinced that it is an important battle.