Last week the Club de Madrid, the non-profit organization composed of 80 democratic former Presidents and Prime Ministers from 56 different countries, held its annual meeting in New York. The theme was Digital Technologies for 21st Century Democracy. Irving Wladawsky-Berger posted his reflections on the meeting and, in particular, on the question of how governments manage the cacophony of open innovation here. I posted the remarks that I shared with the Club Members here.
The Club provides peer to peer strategic advising by former world leaders to current world leaders, exploiting the global profile of its members to raise awareness of major issues that can strengthen our democracies. Just as music, publishing, and other commercial industries are transforming, so, too, must the institutions of our democracy evolve with the changing technological reality. The conference aimed to explore how network technologies might fundamentally change what we mean by democracy for the 21st century.
As Prime Minister Wim Kok of the Netherlands expressed at the outset of the conference:
We will hear about such recent innovations having a profound impacton participatory democracy as large-scale computational tools. The explosion of “big data” might enable us to deepen our understanding of the world around us, potentially avert crisis and make better decisions. We will learn about collective intelligence technologies – also sometimes called social media -- that allow us to work together in new ways, heralding an era in which citizens and the state work together to solve problems collaboratively.
Whether in longstanding or fledgling democracies, digital governance is only in its infancy. Many government institutions are only just getting online. Even those that had long used technology are just discovering how openness, enabled by technology, might help them work more effectively and more democratically.
There are many conferences about politics and yet more about technology. By convening expert technologists and experienced politicians as well as business leaders, social scientists and journalists, we hope to develop a nuanced picture of how to realize the long-term vision of a more innovative and participatory democratic culture despite the short-term realities of electoral democracy.
For me, this conference will have been a success if it accomplishes three things. First, the discussion, whether in formal sessions or in the hallway, over the next two days should give each of us an understanding of how technology is impacting democracy globally.
Second, I hope that through our conversation, we each come away with clearer vision of the kind democracy we want to achieve and the impediments to such innovation.
Finally, we should each strive to identify three concrete ideas, principles or projects each of us can champion, whether individually or collectively.
Used well, digital like bio-technologies have the potential to improve human flourishing and quality of life for people and the planet. They can also transform our institutions for the better.