Society is rapidly moving from being reliant on hierarchical structures, to working together in an ever changing dynamic network, interlinked, fast moving and information-rich. Internet, blockchain technology and artificial intelligence make things possible we were not able to dream about 15 years ago. Think for instance about the impact of AirBnB, Uber or the possibilities of local energy production.
At the same time it sometimes looks like time stood still for government. Take political participation for instance. Technology makes it possible to let the citizens voices be heard and can allow for them to participate in policy making. But democratic participation remains mainly limited to casting a vote every few years.
Today I gave a presentation for a group of eager and passionate trainees in the public sector. The presentation took place at city hall at one of the largest municipalities in the Netherlands.
Part of my presentation was a videoclip. When it played we noticed that the videoclip was too much for the local computer network. What remained of the clip looked like stills, every 20 seconds, a new one. Then it struck me, I expected fluent sound and vision, and all I could present was a kind of a slide show without sound and loss of meaning. A perfect metaphor that illustrates the need to reshape current governments into forms more suitable for modern life: technologically savvy, data-driven, and fully engaging with the society. Because I truly believe a good government is more than needed in modern society.
And at the same time I see governments in Europe working to achieve exactly that. I see a lot of experiments where they try a different governance, a shift from state-centric government to polycentrism – and a lack of central control. This makes sense because the world has become too complex to think (and act) like you can control it.
To function in modern society it requires common and shared guiding principles to assure cooperation and prevent one force from dominating, and joint efforts toward common goals like cutting greenhouse gases or combating poverty. The result could be vibrant, dynamic, diverse, and yes, it would also be imperfect. But I believe ultimately it could unite everyone under a shared vision.
The same municipality where I gave the presentation this morning has invested for a number of years in a community of Appreciative Inquiry practitioners. Not only to change the way the municipality is operating, but also in creating a more value driven dialogue with its citizens. They truly believe in using the power and wisdom of the crowd. And, to think that the use of positive change can help them achieve that which they are seeking. They don’t only think but also act accordingly: they experiment, try, learn, improve. We need a modern government, and let’s be honest their task becomes more complicated as the years go on. It gives me joy and faith when I see that one of the largest municipalities in the Netherlands uses values in line with appreciative inquiry and positive change. Who follows?
Frank van Erkel