#NextGenGov (the Big Boring Bureaucratic Revolution)

UNDP Eurasia
18 min readJul 24, 2018


by Millie Begovic, UNDP Istanbul Regional Hub; Shelley Inglis, UNDP Istanbul Regional Hub; Indy Johar, Dark Matter; Joost Beunderman, Dark Matter and Chloe Treger, Dark Matter.

In the spirit of a true R&D gathering, the 2018 Istanbul Innovation Days (2018 IID) on #NextGenGov aims to bring together partners to create the space for a new range of deliberate experiments and learning trajectories to accelerate the next generation of governance mechanisms.

We hypothesise our Governance models are broken. We are holding on to 19th century models that deny the complexity of the ‘systemocracy’ we live in — a world of massive interdependencies. Incumbents increasingly seek to use governance failure to preserve their structural power positions; governance protocols are failing to govern new technologies and behaviours; decision-making processes rarely factor in long-term externalities; and we are falling short in realising the new economic, social, and ecological recovery possibilities of our age.

Governance as system transition challenge

We recognise it is wrong to think about governance through a narrow lens of regulation and law. Governance is constructed through an interplay of several overlapping domains: the rule of law; market shaping e.g. through regulation, taxation or investment; public legitimacy through deliberation, transparency, participation and accountability. For us to comprehend and design the future of governance as a method to unleash human beings (rather than simply to control them) we must understand the nuances of these domains and perceive the future of governance as system transition challenge.

At its core, governance should provide a framework for the creation of public value and preservation of the public good along with the necessary infrastructure and trust for massive collaboration. Our challenge is of the same scale and scope than the emerging challenges of mechanised production in 18th, electrical power in 19th, and information technology in 20th century — however the speed and means of change are fundamentally different.

In the face of rapidly accelerating technological revolutions and a paradigm shift in our world-view — towards this ‘systemocracy’ of complex interdependencies — we also have to contend with a combination of historic governance legacies, vested interest, accumulated liabilities & unrecognised externalities. For instance, our traditional regulatory bodies and accountability mechanisms do not seem well suited to managing the emerging tensions between our digital society — the rate of technological change, the unfettered desire for propagating innovation, the scale and ferocity of societal feedback — and the urgent need to protect and invest in public goods.

These realities are challenging our existing models, practices, instruments and institutions of governance at every level. The severity of this challenge is more evident than ever — for example in the structural decline in trust we are witnessing in our institutions. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer noted a simultaneous decline across business, media, government, and NGOs for the first time ever. In turn, this erosion of trust sets in motion vicious feedback loops (expressed in sentiments such as populism, isolationism, or revanchism), further undermining the capacity and legitimacy of change through traditional pathways.

The impacts of our failure to live up to the governance challenge are manifesting themselves all around us: rising levels of inequality, inadequate social protection, extreme nationalism, refugee and migration crises, violent micro massive conflicts, cascading effects of climate change, reducing global trade flows, and the ethical gaps in how we deal with runaway technology. These impacts are being accelerated by a perfect storm of coalescing drivers.

  • Technological change outstrips Governments’ ability to regulate it

This often leaves regulations, interventions, guardrails, and ‘solutions’ hastily assembled in a non-inclusive, arguably non-representative or technically clumsy manner. For instance, while algorithmic decision making can offer benefits in terms of speed and efficiency, it can also unfairly limit opportunities, restrict services and produce ‘technological redlining’ (a form of digital data discrimination that reinforces inequality and oppression — even without explicit reference to attributes like income and jobs, gender or race). This requires new, more transparent institutional arrangements at all levels of society as well as experimentation with regulatory and policy futures, new data in decision-making and radically new forms of licensing. Innovation in regulatory and legislative design is necessary to be able to harness the disruptive potential of new technologies. How do we, for example, create ‘regulatory sandboxes’ to experiment with translating privacy and rights frameworks into the digital world, coupled to an infrastructure to support enforcement of these rights in cyber and real world?

  • The rise of new types of social and political actors requires non-traditional mechanisms for collaboration

We see the dynamics of the civic space shifting, to a large extent propelled by technology and geopolitics. A renegotiated social contract that is genuinely collaborative will require inclusive participation in institutional and political processes, reimagining political organizations, new forms of accountability and openness, as well as supporting civic actors. The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandals exposed the influence and unchecked power of a non-state actor in one of the key levers of democratic governments: elections. Denmark’s appointment of the first ‘digital ambassador’ marks further recognition of this new reality and the concentration of power in privatized digital markets. Conversely, we also see the rise of informal groups of apparently leaderless, structureless, loosely coordinated groups of (mostly young) people, coordinated (mostly) through electronic networks that come together around pressing issues. They address key policy issues with uncanny coherence, speed and efficiency — think of Arab Spring or #MeToo movement (together w/our friends Edgeryders, we term them FutureMakers). These new conditions for and approaches to participation are radically reducing governments’ ability to engage exclusively through traditional mechanisms for collaboration (e.g. the stakeholder or partnership model) and are reinforcing the declining trust in institutions.

  • Landless ‘nations’ are shifting the role of the nation-state

The increase in refugee numbers (currently to around 70 million) is challenging some of the basic tenets of the nation-state and associated world order. This current world order sees identity as intrinsically connected to a sovereign state, in which the state has the monopoly on extracting resources and a responsibility to provide services. But displaced persons’ experiences defy, transgress or undermine conventional boundaries where their present and their future is not bound by enclosure or allegiance to a nation but by movement, transition and the frictions and detours of moving from point A to point B. At least 10 million people (with Rohingya currently being the largest group) have no nationality and face a lifetime of inequity and persecution, while over 1 billion do not have an official proof of identity.

  • The face of conflict, violence and intra- and inter-country social cohesion is changing

The proliferation of AI in the military-industrial complex, increased conflict risks amongst non-state actors and growing violence within societies at large demand governance structures that are more agile and able to create conditions for positive peace. Similarly, new data shed light on pervasive role of more indirect, remote, almost invisible and far slower, yet no less lethal, types of violence — the environmental and molecular violence — where architectural and spatial planning decisions reinforce racial segregation, cognitive stunting and inequality, and where acts of ‘micro-violence’ (discrimination felt on a daily basis), increases levels of cortisone and leads to worst health outcomes and shortened life spans. We must build on previous and emerging insights from right across peace-building and conflict-resolution, from public health to social cohesion policy and tech governance, and establish governance structures that enable us to benefit from technological shifts, while preventing and mitigating emerging or established risks.

  • Network/Monopoly economics is leading to an inequality crisis

The world’s wealthiest individuals, those owning over $100,000 in assets, total only 8.6 percent of the global population but own 85.6 percent of global wealth.” These statistics are likely to worsen, with a growing body of evidence suggesting that we are witnessing an increase in concentration of capital, a decline in share of return of labour share of economy, coupled to a decline in business dynamism and a marked decrease in competition. The global inequality crisis is driven by combination of factors: the failure to adequately govern the emergence of tech-based monopolies, which are driven by very strong network power laws and hence create usage lock-ins and new monopolies or certainly oligopolies; the further concentrative affects of new technologies such as disruptive automation and AI which further weaken labor bargaining power; and lastly, the lack of commensurate international and national tax arrangements to match the global scale of such global businesses (amongst many others), coupled to the negative discourse on taxation to benefit future common goods more generally. Together these forces are challenging our current means to advance inclusive and democracy of wealth, demanding new ideas of governance, fairness and investment in human potential such as universal basic income or universal basic shareholdership.

  • Environmental Disaster requires governance models that mitigate future, and adapt to current, failures

In a world where only 4% of mammals and and 30% of birds are wild — the rest livestock and human, respectively chicken and poultry; where almost half of humanity will face water scarcity by 2030; where the impact of climate change on our nutrient systems and malnutrition could drive growing rates of global cognitive stumping, where strategists from Israel to Central Asia prepare for climate-related strife and growing risk of conflict; where authoritative estimates have the number of environmental refugees as 250 million by 2050 — the impacts of climate and environmental degradation and inadequate governance of the commons is no longer isolatable or ignorable.

The zones of experiment

In a complex and emergent world, it will not be sufficient to analyse, theorize and subsequently roll out any answers to these challenges. We face a future which needs us to systematically acknowledge our global interdependence at all scales & focus on the quality, diversity and integrity of feedback, accountability and self learning — meaning that we can only really create these new models through experiments that recognise this reality will be real-time, data-driven and and collaborative.

We see emergence of new futures of human rights, regulation, institutions, civic activism and participation, and conflict resolution — but it is at the point of intersection among these individual policy streams that we are seeing a series of experiments, both challenging and acting as a provocation, for the future of governance. Fuelled by technology-driven possibility as well as the emerging civic outrage about the systemic failure of governance, they present the sites of potential near-now futures that are human-centric, empowering and transformative. Below, we outline six zones of experiment that we think will be especially pertinent and fruitful. We recognise there may be others and would be very happy to hear from you if you have particular ideas.

  • Experiments in Cities — new urban governance, regulation, justice and participation

Cities and regions are emerging as leaders of international governance and new civic accords — be in climate change or asserting refugee rights. Within devolved administrations, the rise of automated and real time methods of governing and regulating has the potential to both reduce our current managerial overhead to near zero whilst facilitating parametric variability and hyperlocalised policy. Smart policy and contingent digital rights could form a new wave of democratic agency and power amongst citizens — unlocking a new ‘hyper contextual’, participative economy. We also find innovation in governance of finance hitting the ground running in cities — from reforming the municipal bond markets and democraticizing access to finance to mapping economy in real time.

This real-time data economy is borne out of our capacity for predictive analysis and preventive management of risk. This could be at the scale of a neighbourhood but also even at individual level (eg. data contingent health insurance) — which threatens our notions of universalism, bringing with it the potential to accelerate huge disparities in equality and levels of indirect coercion. This future is starting to be played out in cities as the experimental sandboxes of this tomorrow — be it Virginia Eubank’s Automatic Inequality as a terrifying account of this in action, or algorithmic reinforcement of racial discrimination, increasing inequality and infringing on human rights, the Neuroscience Playbook for Cities on the effect of environmental and tech stressors on mental health in cities, or Google’s smart city in Toronto that runs on data and algorithms leaving the question like ‘whose laws apply?’ without the answer. Advances in genetic biohacking (be those positive, like a presumed cure for malaria or ethically dubious application like do it yourself body hacks) are light years ahead of any regulatory instrument the city has to deal with them. How can cities respond to this near future to reimagine governance innovation not only as means of more effective real-time control, but also as a means to unleash a next generation decentralized, distributed democratized creativity?

  • Experiments in domains of violence, conflict and social cohesion

David Patrikarakos in his ‘War in 140 Characters’ argues that new media has levelled the barriers to participation in conflict and opened up new theatres of war- persuasion, narrative and manipulation. Examples range from the Ukrainian Facebook Warrior (Ana Sandalova who raised over $1 million online for the Ukrainian Army), and Forensic Architecture that uses crowdsourcing and built environment for detecting and investigating armed conflicts and environmental destruction. Others warn of the dangers of autonomous weapons, risk of biohacking as rising number of people depend on wearable technology, systemic exposure of critical national infrastructure to cyber attacks (Estonia is the world’s 1st government to open a ‘Data Embassy’), evolution of a new kind of psychological warfare a la Cambridge Analytica scandal, and a growing trend towards genetic, emotional and other means of surveillance.

We are looking at this zone of experimentation to surface and learn about new forms of investigation and civic activism exposing new forms of violence. How can we work with emerging paradigms of governance sitting at the cross section of digital and technology advances, impact on privacy, media and social cohesion?

  • Experiments in landless ‘nations’

This space has seen experimentation around several key strands. One is around self-declaredly ‘radical’ new types of nations including man-made islands with no past, enabling the ‘landless’ nation of refugees to build a new shared future, or ‘space nations’ as the case of Asgardia points to. Yet another is exploring land acquiring options from countries likely to be wiped out by climate change (eg. Fiji, Maldives, etc). A very different take is the disintermediating of public services from their traditional provider, the state. Witness the Estonian e-residency, which taps into efficient service provision and tax system of the country and enables company incorporation from abroad; or JP Morgan, Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway teaming up to establish an independent health care company as alternative to state provision for their US employees; or a slew of blockchain startups are designing options for establishing digital identity (with its own ethical and other issues).

Do these weak signals point toward a new kind of a ‘landless nation’ with governance implications that go beyond any one country’s ability to engage, where the individual is entirely decoupled from a territory-bound sovereign nation state? Potentially this is a new space for remaking local economies, new histories, novel forms of membership and belonging. Or does the creation of ‘new geographies’ attest to the contrary? What do such diverse trends mean for identity and rights to public services? For example, how does being an e-resident of Estonia affect your social and emotional relationship with your host country? Who is responsible (and on what tax regime) to educate next generations of children in landless nations?

  • Arts and Science fiction as a zone for experimentation

There is a range of interesting initiatives looking at the arts, and in particular at science fiction, as a source of potential directions and lenses to understand the nexus of human and machine rights, emotional and genetic surveillance and human rights, impact of 4.0 technologies on human rights and law. Conversely, we find subject experts resorting to sci-fi to reimagine new mechanisms of governance. We are on the lookout for more examples and organizations working in this intersection between sci-fi and various aspects of governance.

In particular, at the IID 2018 we aim to create a space for experimentation around borrowing from sci-fi to enable us to reimagine the basic tenets of our economic system. Our hunch is that re-envisioning new governance structures may give birth to new organizing principles for economy. What that may look like is an interesting question that demands greater interrogation. While we are seeing some emerging models (think online/offline platforms and the reemergence of the peer to peer economy, social and solidarity economies), one could argue that many of these are merely tweaks on the model of ‘capitalism-with-state-corrections’. In previous centuries we have seen experimentation in the governance-economy nexus such as anarchic collectivism, Marxism and Proudhon’s mutualism, prototypes a la Fourier’s Phalanstères, Owen’s New Lanark, and, later, Adriano Olivetti’s Ivrea factory as the economic engine of the community movement. All of these ideas saw real-world expressions as responses to the challenges of the social and economic structures of their time. And each saw itself not just mirrored in but also propelled by the creative work of its time: influencing the creative minds of writers and artists across the world and going further to influence the minds of the wider public through the literary form.

Our friends at Edgeryders have been looking at the small cadre of contemporary science fiction writers who are continuing to respond through these media. Cory Doctrow’s ‘Walkaway’ and ‘Makers’, Bruce Sterling, Annalee Newitz, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson and Peter Watts — each writer potentially pointing the way toward probable trajectories and making imaginative suggestions of ways to restructure and reframe our relationship with economic systems. Crucially, they do this in ways that takes them well beyond purely academic or institutional language, and into a space where the wider world is exposed to these ideas.

This experimentation space that will play out at the 2018 Istanbul Innovation Days will bring together professional economists, entrepreneurs experimenting with enterprise-scale economic models, civic and cultural leaders working with new socio-economic systems and sci-fi writers to discuss and to start teasing out possible new economic operating models beyond current governance constraints. Currently hiding within the pages of popular culture and less visible cultural spaces, they will be exposing them to the harsh light of modern economic theory, as well as to a broader enquiry that looks at melding ecological impacts with new forms of energy and other production, and embodying principles of just governance and integrity in decision making. What works? What’s really new? How do we make the fiction into reality? Participatory experiments in collective sensemaking, speculation and co-creation will open spaces for the 2018 IID to consider how these economic science fictions might unfold in the real-world contexts of interest.

  • Experimentation zone in the Commons

For decades, we’ve had evidence that hazardous waste facilities, Superfund sites, sources of toxic air and water pollution, and other environmental nuisances are more likely to be in poor and minority communities. These communities face disproportionate health risks as a result. Conversely, new technology and sources of data are fuelling a new forms of governance innovation in the stewardship of the commons with a range of experiments and novel forms of legal activism that fall across several categories. First, distributed ledger technologies are driving new forms of monitoring and advocacy around ecosystem degradation, while emergence of algorithmic regulatory mechanisms are starting to compel mainly private sector entities to comply with environmental regulation. The growing internet of things, whilst undoubtedly a huge driver of energy use, might fuel the stewardship movement by enabling emotional (and not just rational) connection to the ecological systems. Second, we see natural resources (eg. rivers in New Zealand, Ecuador, India) obtaining legal aspects of personhood and agency to defend its ‘human’ rights. Third, satellite and blockchain governance of fisheries or provenance of PEFC forest certification is driving new forms of transparency and accountability, all the more important with the emergence of terrorist activities in food supply chains. Fourth, cracks in existing governance arrangements around transnational issues are exposed through initiatives such as Singapore’s government suing Indonesia-based companies for forest fires (whose smoke affected health and wellbeing of Singapore’s citizens), and youth in the US suing the federal government over climate change.

Together, these new governance instruments and legal experiments might drive new open and data-driven stewardship of commons resources, civic rights, and ecosystem sustainability — giving us at least hope in redressing acute environmental injustices locally as well as managing the system scale risks we face a civilization.

  • Experiments in Power and Decision Making

We may all know the ‘disruptive innovation’ headlines of how Artificial Intelligence stands to make governments more efficient, more personalised, more predictive or more participative. Perhaps we are witnessing a fundamental evolution of power and innovation in decision making, accelerated by the possibility of new technology and by a systemic decline in institutional trust changing fundamentally the equations of resource allocation and functions of state.

Whilst many have called the ‘end of power,’ perhaps it is better to recognise that power is becoming simultaneously more distributed, ambient and passively centralised: on the one hand, new technologies of organisation are unleashing new expressions of power and solidarity be it the #Metoo movement, Anonymous, or Black Lives Matter, which have changed the rules of the power game. A thrust towards distributed democratisation is also evident in the growth of democratic governance mechanisms such as Ireland’s courageous and influential Citizen Assemblies, Citizens Juries, new political parties and organisations of change such as the Alternative Party, to new voting models such as liquid democracy, and Eric Posner and Glen Weyl’s explorations in ‘radical markets’. Power is becoming more ambient: the rise in algorithms and machine led decision-making is intersecting with the daily lives of people in numerous ways, whether matching students with schools, assessing teacher performance, rooting out insurance fraud, identifying new “cosy” practices/risks of corruption or helping fire inspectors prioritise workload. In some instances, it is also become more passive and automated — be it through AI-driven automated decision making or machine learning-enabled anticipatory decision-making, or the nudging of behaviours and choices utilising behavioural econometrics. Whilst many speak of the promise of open data and distributed capacity for data analysis, in reality many data sources and algorithms are being centralised, often in ways that are hidden from view. Especially in contexts of highly centralised state power, this is generating a further centralising tendency that could profoundly go against the more empowering potential described.

Beyond the new experiments in the governance of algorithms already discussed elsewhere, this also requires genuine engagement with the system-wide implications of the lessons learnt in Citizens Assemblies and other experiments in deliberative, collaborative decision-making, as well as the powerful activism of new social movements. As Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms argue in their book “New Power: the new tools of power can be co-opted for ill, but equally we can — and must — find multiple ways of putting these tools “into the hands of the angels: health workers, climate scientists, educators, social justice activists and all those working to build a more open, equitable and participatory world.”

What’s Next?

Understanding how we approach this emerging future requires a shared language, and a collaborative approach; no one actor can successfully do any of this alone. Fundamentally, we need to start by recognising from the outset that many are already working in this space — doing brilliant work in identifying systemic drivers challenging the mainstream governance model and exposing weaknesses at the intersection of Sustainable Development Goals, with massive implications for governance. To name just a few, think of WEF’s Future of Government analysis, the work of IFTF’s Governance Futures Lab, the World Bank on the State of Disruption, or the UAE who are giving a global platform for innovation in their annual Future of the Government summit . One step further and we see more radical voices who are increasingly arguing that the future of governance is something other than the government.

Development practitioners have always known that the fortunes of governance (and we know a thing or two about this) and ‘markets and society’ — by which we mean all the agents of change — are interlinked. However, our current efforts are being bolstered by an improved understanding, and articulation of this by academics like Yuen Yuen Ang who in her book “How China Escaped the Poverty Trap” frames the potential benefits of “grey” and ambiguous policy to support decentralised innovation, and sheds light on nexus issues such as around corruption, economic growth, institutions and social and environmental rights.

In line with this growing awareness, we hope to have made it clear in this blog that institutions, justice and peace are not confined to Sustainable Development Goal 16, but underpin the entire SDG agenda — and therefore need systemic investment in experimentation and innovation.

With that in mind, the 2018 IID on #NextGenGov aims to bring together partners who are already practically engaging in this space — from strategic funders and institutional leaders to start-ups — and, borrowing from Prof. Ang’s book, create the space for a new era of deliberate experimentation at scale. For, whilst the experimentation we are seeing is hopeful, the scale of the systemic failures we face and the clear urgency to mitigate and adapt means our current investment in driving governance innovation is a mere drop in the proverbial ocean. Next Gen Governance is a strategic attempt to scale the sites of experimentation globally, and share collaborative learning whilst building a new global politics for change and innovation. IID is part of a multi-year programme designed to support this change.

As we are only at the start of this journey, we have more questions than answers: Are we missing anything? Is there work going on in some of these areas that we aren’t but should be aware of? Who are the people, teams, organisations involved in practical, experimental action? Are there questions we aren’t but should be asking?

If you’re interested to be a part of the mashup merging and connecting these leaders and experimenters, get in touch, drop a line to Millie (milica.begovic@undp.org or @ElaMi5) and Indy (indy@darkmatterlabs.org or @indy_johar).

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