Covid-19 has opened the doors for Gov Tech 3.0 | Analysis – analysis
Technology and collaboration are the mantras that many hope will help the world turn the tide against coronavirus disease (Covid-19). The public health ecosystem has demonstrated unprecedented collaboration between scientists, governments, and medical companies, sharing everything from epidemiological data to software and design files to developing a vaccine and manufacturing test equipment.
Could this crisis be the trigger for a new era of technological collaboration between citizens, companies and governments to solve the most serious problems of our time? The initial signs are promising. Governments are deploying technology in new innovative and collaborative ways. For example, many countries, including India, have implemented contact tracking applications developed through public-private partnerships to prevent the spread of the virus and are generating relevant information from citizens. Private companies, such as taxi aggregators, are opening their technology platforms to help the government fight the crisis by tracking crowds in real time.
This crisis seems to have become a laboratory for the beginning of a new era of what we will call Gov Tech 3.0. While 1.0 was the era of “computerization” of manual processes, such as putting income tax forms online, 2.0 was about building systems that digitized end-to-end processes, for example the file management system. from the government “electronic office”. GovTech 3.0 focuses on Open Digital Ecosystems (ODE), whose underlying philosophy is for governments to move away from being an end-to-end creator of technology solutions to becoming a facilitator by creating a digital infrastructure where innovators can build solutions. in collaboration for the public good
A good analogy for understanding this change is the physical infrastructure of cities. The construction of “commons” is carried out by the government through public financing and participation. This includes the construction of roads, drainage systems, parks, and public transportation systems. If built and governed well, this is the “platform” on which businesses and individuals create the vibrant ecosystem of activities that shape our urban life and are visible to us as we interact and transact with others in the city. Similarly, the ODE approach suggests that the government should focus on creating the “digital commons”; Enable interoperability between isolated systems, so that innovators can build solutions on top, leveraging what technologists call open source software, open standards, and open application programming interface (API).
There are already several innovative ODEs in India: the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) in the financial services space; the National Digital Health Plan that imagines a radically different public health ecosystem; the National Digital Infrastructure for Teachers called DIKSHA; the National Urban Innovation Pile that allows a more efficient provision of municipal services; and a digital ecosystem for agriculture that is being designed by an inter-ministerial committee.
Following Covid-19, we can take this thought further. For example, could we create a “Social Protection ODE”, through which migrant workers can access state benefits regardless of where they are? This could be enabled through an interoperable technology architecture connecting disparate state and department technology systems and applications, created by innovators, that enable migrants to obtain real-time information and access their rights.
EDOs are not just a different way of providing government services, they are a different way of imagining the citizen-state relationship. ODEs enable rapid scaling of solutions, through modular technology building blocks, which can be implemented in multiple contexts ensuring interoperability between platforms. This can change the balance of power in favor of citizens.
While EDOs empower and enable collaboration in unprecedented ways, many are concerned that such interconnected digital networks may make us more vulnerable to harm, with scattered liability and a possible violation of individual privacy. These concerns increase when the power of digital platforms is combined with the coercive power of the state. In the context of Covid-19, we see that in some countries, mobile phone location data, thermal imaging drones, and cyber technology that are commonly used in counterterrorism, are being integrated and deployed for citizen surveillance . Reducing personal freedoms may be acceptable to the public during a crisis, but the concern is that once such technology is available, it may be impossible to undo it.
This topic, which with high-risk benefits comes with high-risk risks, is central to the ODE debate. The design of secure databases and privacy protectors is essential. Invisible rules that are codified in “technology” must be made transparent through thoughtful design principles, legislation, governance frameworks and public participation. For example, having responsible institutions behind these EDOs and strong claims redress mechanisms is critical to their success. Making sure design is citizen-focused and ensures inclusive access to services in the last mile will help drive adoption and maintain these ecosystems.
A recent government white paper published mygov.in has invited a public consultation on some of these critical critical questions around national ODEs. India’s design choices today, not only in terms of technology and data architecture, but also in terms of governance architecture and community engagement around ODEs, will determine how we collaborate to build a more resilient and empowered India.
Varad Pande and Kriti Mittal work in Omidyar Network India
The opinions expressed are personal.