“The Night A Computer Predicted The Next President”, 1952 — Walter Cronkite listens as Dr. J. P. Eckert describes the functions of the UNIVAC I AP

There are government hacks and there are government hacks. What kind was this to be?

Dan Colceriu
Mar 11, 2017 · 24 min read

Over the past few years, we have witnessed a paradox. A surge of mass political digital engagement from the world’s citizens, which in turn has converted into apathy towards, or even deliberate resistance against, voting.

As we are entering a new techno-economic paradigm, the old balance between left and right politics has become less relevant, and the focus shifted to open vs. closed governance. We are observing two mega-trends that oppose each other: digitisation of the world and the rise of isolationist politics. But the reality is that the changes digital is bringing to the society are irreversible, and therefore can’t coexist with nostalgic rhetoric and opaque governance. If you are willing to go on this reading journey with me, we will explore practical ways of acting for the future as citizens, and inspire our institutions to face reality.


In today’s super-connected world, just take a glance at any medium of information you like and you will read that, something either “very bad” or “very good” for humanity has happened, depending on how the human curator or algorithm feeding the information has profiled you.

You will most certainly have observed by now that, because of whatever happened in 2016, the science that studies the affairs of cities and states seems to have gone mainstream with people from all over the world immersing into an abundance of modern-age political debates on various digital platforms. While this looks like a good thing, the problem lies in the fact that this engagement happens mainly by way of hate, anger, idolatry, division, triumph, dismissal of facts, anxiety, doom and gloom etc. The world is fundamentally changing and people, politicians included, are getting themselves busy with finding ways to ignore this.

If you were on, let’s say, a one-year sabbatical break from the surrounding world, re-connecting now can be really intimidating, especially if you believe, like me, that developments such as hateful Brexit, isolationist Trump, propagandist Putin are on the “bad” side of history. Rather than despair, let’s find comfort and inspiration together.

Stepping away from the daily stream of buzz alerts and vortex of trending hashtags can be a much-needed intellectual sanctuary. Looking back in time and searching for quality long reads can be a good way to make sense of things, or at least to have a real attempt at doing so.

By doing this, I was able to find a great data set from Simon Hix, Professor at London School of Economics and Political Science that examines all elections of the last 100 years of European politics. The remarkable overall left-right balance of party family votes in 31 European countries over this period should give us, at least, the certitude that the democratic world is not an out-of-control roller coaster of extremes, and that, in theory, any dérapage is counter-balanced.

The US also demonstrates the same pattern of well-balanced power shifts between Democrats and Republicans, between liberalism and conservative ideologies, assuring us that no party or idea is infinite in resilience, but rather a reaction to the different techno-economical paradigms. The institutions that were set up after the economic collapse of 1929–1933, as part of the New Deal, were able to successfully support the Fordist era, as society experienced the period of mass production, followed by emergence of global finance and business strategy.

But even an untrained eye like mine can observe the signs of radical-right building momentum on the back of the post-1980 ‘conservative revolution’, filling a void of trust created by the harsh realities of sluggish economic growth post the 2008 financial crisis and the inefficiency of state institutions to adapt to the digital-age demands. And so, overnight, we found ourselves with Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen joining forces to push a new global agenda where it seems that the political idea is revolving around audience ratings, size of inauguration crowds, likes, shares and, in general, success as it is measured in the showbiz industry.


But why are their slogans so appealing to voters?

Do they propose forward-looking ideas, or simply crave attention?

On the mornings following June 23rd and November 8th, 2016, I remember coping with the election outcomes by going for a desperate walk around the city centres of London and Lisbon. In Lisbon, I shared the agony with a work colleague and, in our intellectual search for meaning, we rushed to an unpretentious conclusion: fake news and thought echo-chambers were to blame.

We were soon very happy to find out that everyone at the Lisbon Web Summit had reached the same conclusion: the bubbles, the fake, the news, ethics being challenged, the alternative facts, the perversity of algorithms, the stigmatisation of Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey. It all made sense.

It was the morning after Trump got elected and fake news was such a comforting single reason for all the problems. Like a bug in an app that needed to be squashed. By the time the event ended, I was prepared to head back home, knowing what needed to be fixed.

A very simple idea of #democracytech was trending (again).

But, while I do agree that there is urgency for platforms like Facebook and Twitter to define rules of engagement and reform their attention-economy incentives, the biggest bubble of all is to think that everything will be miraculously solved by a full-speed-ahead digital strategy that ignores institutional reform, governance policies and economical inclusion of the many. Every country will be digital. But do we even know what this means? Do we understand the implications?

Izabella Kaminska, from FT Alphaville, summed it all up well, in her interview with John Chambers, executive Chairman at Cisco Systems in front of thousands of tech enthusiasts, at the Web Summit MEO Arena, before the US Presidential election.

FT Alphaville

The transformation we see in politics is not happening because of fake news or bubbles (the existence of which I don’t deny). Nicolas Colin, co-founder of a strategic investment firm called TheFamily and a former commissioner in the French public administration, writes a superb blog where he argues that individuals were always enclosed in bubbles, even prior to the digital age, especially when it comes to political preferences, and ultimately they anyway believe only what they expose themselves to. William Deresiewicz also shares his 2008 example of a bubble which is in no way driven by technology platforms: calling in a plumber to fix leaky pipes, he realised that “he didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was the plumber’s experience to him, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that he couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work”.

What about bad neighbourhoods where low-income people live? Do we ever go there? Do we know what messages resonate with them, if their voice is heard or if technology has improved people’s life?

Image: Subculture Photography via Flickr.

We blame news, but the media partisanship is not a thing invented in recent times and this crazy pursuit of consensus cannot come simply by chasing facts, without a big idea that reforms the state institutions as we shift from one techno-economic paradigm to the other. Pushing Facebook to censor itself or decide what the truth should mean for 2 billion people is certainly not a solution or a representation of democracy as we should want it, and the only way to reverse the polarisation (which is much more brutal in a digital democracy) is a new big idea, a New Deal 2.0 that can be defended and fought for. Hillary Clinton or David Cameron were not the candidates to drive this, as they were too enamorados with the Fordist era institutions, but we can use technology to understand the problems and alternatives such politicians are confronting with.

So why do people vote like they did in 2016, when they have been shown all the arguments not to do so? It is safe to assume that the answer lies in the question itself. Jumping to the political battlefield without a new idea to defend, but just with a strategy to attack, is not only a losing card, but also a dangerous game to play that risks destabilising the very balance we praised at the beginning of this blog.


Dam Square with the New Town Hall under Construction (1656) by Johannes Lingelbach. Photo courtesy The Amsterdam Museum/Wikipedia

From fragmentation to collaboration, from big ideas to prosperity

Joel Mokyr, professor of economics and history at Northwestern University in Illinois, argues very clearly in his latest book, featured by aeon.co, that it was not the superiority of the European gene that led to its economic miracle and unprecedented prosperity beginning with the 17th century, but the constant competition of its member countries for “the best and most productive intellectuals and artisans”. Not only did this create wealth for the population, but it also kept political authoritarianism in check, as one state’s brightest minds and their intellectual innovation would easily move elsewhere at the most trivial sign of an ideological clampdown.

“A Republic of Letters” — Early modern Europe, therefore, benefited from the competitiveness of political state fragmentation, complemented by the unity of pan-European institutions, enabling a consolidated market where both the industrial-age outputs and the books, essays and ideas of the period were able to freely impact the continent. Information travelled so fast (compared with the speed of humans’ possibility of travel of that time) that any attempt at censorship in one state resulted in a swift publishing deal abroad. By embracing this beautiful dual view of world that nurtured competitive states and an integrated transnational academic community, Europe has pioneered the idea that the constant “appearance of new and better engineering tools and instruments that facilitate research and advances in scientific ideas” will ultimately lead to knowledge-driven economic progress. This notion survived the various tests of wars and financial crises and transformed over time into what we know as today’s political and economic programmes.

But with an open market for ideas currently at its peak of freedom and intensity, and innovations happening faster than even, why do we find ourselves in a situation where the social contract is broken, fuelling the far-right siege over this very beautiful concept of unity and openness? Is it because most of the state institutions were unable to foresee the new digital era and reform in order to accommodate the exponential growth in innovations and the implications to how societies function? Could it be that because of this inability to adapt, millions of voters who do not directly enjoy the benefits of technological progress are expressing their disappointment?


The chase for the next big idea can take many forms, and it can be seen as either a million-dollar question, a five-million-dollar competition or, as I see it, a global movement of résistance aimed at saving democracy itself. The comforting left-right balance of historical political votes we observed in the beginning of this post is actually not showing something which is critically important. If we look again at the data by adding the non-voters to the graph, the reality is grim. Non-voting is now a trend; absenteeism is a political force in itself.

High engagement via communication platforms like Facebook and Twitter might drive record-levels of product-related consumerist activity, but they are not driving political votes. At least, not from the moderates, late-undecided or from people who are deliberately expressing their anti-establishment disappointment by non-voting.

This significant gap between the existence of the best possible technological tools to drive engagement and collaboration vs. the severe resistance against voting or any democratic undertaking cannot be attributed to fake news, or hipsterism, or any other simplistic reason.

It is much safer to think that it is an equal mix between the absence of a powerful new idea from politicians for an institutional upgrade that can drive a new social contract but also a consequence of the fact that attention has become a scarce commodity, due to the abundance of information and vacuous words people are exposed to. The latter was predicted since long time ago, in the dystopian novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley in 1931 (re-interpreted in 1985 by Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death), and also by political scientist Herbert A. Simon in 1971, one of the first non-economists to win the Nobel prize in Economic Sciences:

“What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

stopjunkmail.org.uk

Attention scarcity is nothing new and people have always fought it and made a statement against irrelevant content. However, it has been compounded by the digital era, which has brought about an abundance of information that has reduced most of us to passivity and drowned important ideas in a sea of irrelevance. This, combined with the failure of Fordist state institutions to keep delivering on the social contract, has led to a decline in the levels of popular participation in the democratic process. It has also brought about politicians driven by nothing else than a craving for attention.


The perversity of one simplistic idea for complex problems

There are numerous studies on the rise of income inequality, seen as an utter failure of the neoliberal-capitalist system in redistributing wealth throughout society. Just drilling down into the distribution of salaries in the UK corporate environment, the pay growth of chief level executives from 1998 to 2015 was 430%, while the average worker’s pay grew by just 12%. It is easy to see why young professionals might be more tempted to invest their energy in finding shortcuts to climbing up the corporate ladder, rather than engaging in meaningful conversations about the social contract.

Some of real issues that need to be addressed are the growing gap in the corporate pay ratio (even higher in the US where the average chief executive earns 330x more than the average worker), the housing crisis, the rising number of employees working as contractors/gig-economy labour providers managed by unregulated algorithms that subdue workers to inhuman schedules or zero hour contracts and finding themselves excluded from the social protection mechanisms. The loss of jobs due to automation, the new indignity of work, the bargain-basement economy, the diversification of the blue-collar job sectors which led to a loss of negotiation leverage which in turn led to a power shift from labour to capital, these are all real topics beautifully covered by Tamara Draut in her latest book, Sleeping Giant.

Voting absenteeism is as much a consequence of the attention-deficit dystopia described earlier on, as of the failure of state institutions to adapt to the latest realities of digital societies and power shifts driven by these. This has led to the vacuum that is being filled by populists with no real plan, but who are nevertheless perceived by the public as drivers for change. George Monbiot illustrates the current plutocracy and how disempowerment led to disenfranchisement:

“As politics becomes irrelevant to people’s lives, debate is reduced to the jabber of a remote elite and the disenfranchised turn instead to a virulent anti-politics in which facts and arguments are replaced by slogans, symbols and sensation”

Scene from HBO Series “Silicon Valley”

Silicon Valley, and with it other enthusiastic tech start-up clusters around the world, have always been known for wanting to make the world a better place, and it certainly seems like a valid dream to have nowadays, as software is eating up the world. But, in its race to make the world a better place, in a better and faster way than everyone else, the tech community chose to remain oblivious to the inequalities and problems it might have actually created.

The rise of the new corporations, or so-called “tech companies”, was seen as the absolute success of liberal mentalities, the mirage of labour and capital finally working for the greater good. Or at least, for doing no evil. But the reality is that the hypocrisy of Silicon Valley et al. prevailed, helped in a way by the failure of traditional institutions, as some of these tech companies were quick to seize customer data and worker data and use it to drive business models that either:

· push workers further down the job market and beneath social dignity, under the “be your own boss” fantasy (e.g. Uber data-driven infamous scheduling algorithm and UX keep drivers in a constant powerless state of not knowing their next ride-destination, not having any control over income they charge or earn, and all in all being trapped in a 24x7 pursuit of making ends meet without any welfare protection from their company or the state; this is the same with start-ups like Deliveroo or with click-worker platforms like Amazon’s, where disempowered people throw away any idea of a normal life and become captive of a system where they work on basic routine mini-tasks (gigs like data categorisation, data entry) to train artificial intelligence algorithms. All of this while earning less than minimum wage and facing the insecurity brought by the possibility that, maybe, one week, there will be no task to perform or simply insufficient tasks to generate enough income to pay household bills, and there is nothing Amazon or any state institution will do to support them.

· Hijack people’s minds and markets’ competitiveness by exploiting user-generated data and unethical UX to create network effects that keep customers tied to their platforms, while creating a winner-takes-most-if-not-all market environment. Tristan Harris, formerly a Design Ethicist at Google, has written about this in his essays.

techrepublic.com

More and more, it seems that the one-sided advantage these platforms have over their customers and their contractual-workers is exactly these individuals’ own data, used to keep them in a numb state of mind, unable to better negotiate their interests or switch to different service provider. Because once they stop using the platform, they lose their data and the entire relevance and power they can get out of it.

Tech companies have taken people’s data and turned it into proprietary assets, and it is shameful that some have used it for unethical purposes, but it is the inert Fordist era government institutions that are failing to enact data portability policies that would enable power to be transitioned back to the individuals. What if governments actively sought to force open data platforms, so that users may ultimately control their data and the networks they choose to participate in? What if an Uber driver could benefit more from the insights his actions generated or even “take his data” and easily move to Lyft or any other company that values workers as dignified employees? Would we be getting better value and relevance from sluggish Twitter if we could easily transfer our full, own data set from Facebook?

There is massive social value in data sets remaining public, and some industry regulators are starting to understand that. For example, the banking industry is undergoing major change under PSD2 regulation, which requires all European banks to open up their customer data to certified third parties through secure open APIs. This gives power back to the customer, as he is free to make use of his transactional data with any other financial institution or fintech startup he prefers, and also enables a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem. This creates a powerful precedent: a bank owns the infrastructure and software that helps store and structure the customer data, but doesn’t own the data itself.

Automation: A report to the UAW-CIO Economic and Collective Bargaining Conference held in Detroit, Michigan the 12th and 13th of November 1954

The good news is that “more and more entrepreneurial intellectuals are now fuelling a global conversation about possible solutions”. It seems that the tech community has become more aware of the scale of the problems their companies have created.

The bad news is that they might have let themselves perverted by a simplistic idea, with the illusion that it is a new or sufficient one. It’s not. It’s the Universal Basic Income. Or Guaranteed Annual Wage, how it was called in 1954, when humanity was again facing industrial automation.

Related to this, Nicolas Colin makes a very strong case (and soon in his new book HEDGE) on why the Universal Basic Income concept just scratches the surface of the real discussions that must be held and real issues that must be fixed. While I do not dismiss the UBI idea as a bad one, I do admit I find it superficial. It does seem like something meant to be spiritually fulfilling, when the world is full of practical problems and difficulties.

In a reflection of this, the tech community seems to have fallen prey to the idea of a “universal app that solves the world”, dismissing risk, politics and people’s way of living their lives. This is not the first time Silicon Valley has naively thought it can replace a bureaucratic institution or industry with a slick “app-type” solution. My colleague from Temenos, Ben Robinson, has written about relevant banking-industry parallels, about how the tech community tried to upend banks, only to find itself working with them later.

I will take the liberty in quoting Nicolas Colin at large below, even though I strongly recommend reading his entire blog post on the topic:

“Indeed we have to fight rising inequalities, tackle economic insecurity, and imagine new social institutions for the next generations. Unfortunately, the current cult of universal basic income as the solution to every social issue doesn’t help in that regard. Instead of opening up the discussion, shining a light on the concerned parties, and tracing a path toward new institutions, it focuses some of the most brilliant minds on a theoretical solution that is intellectually simplistic, socially perverse, and politically impracticable. […] Indeed we’re not used to governments doing a good job at making things simpler for citizens, but believe me, it’s possible: it (only) takes capital, talent, technology, and a ruthlessly perfect execution

This apparently well-intended idea from the tech intellectual elite (backed by some economists) seems to be politically-blind and risk-ignorant, superficial in understanding how societies function and dismissive of the social importance of open, public data-sets. But, we should not let ourselves disappointed by this. We should feel confident that this can only lead to more debate, while we should work to inspire others and ultimately build a platform of ideas that will create new institutions for the new walks of life and re-engage the “sleeping giant”, which are the disappointed non-voters.

Let’s now dwell on some practicalities.


Hope: scaling involvement from a bottom-up approach

But if you are like me, Mr. Everybody, dancing his way through life with his wife on jazz music and red wine, captured by his everyday professional life and other social gatherings, you’re probably asking yourself: “OK, but what is the meaning of all this?”. There’s no shame in asking yourself this question, as this is a safe place to admit how overwhelming everything can be. I am asking myself that, the intellectual elite is asking itself that, Woody Allen is probably asking himself that (although he started doing so quite a long time ago, from mid 1970s).

The reality is that all these insights are not just ways of coping with the anxiety of new realities, nor forms of self-flattery. But a genuine understanding of the issues and a pursuit to craft some answers to the main question:

How can we get involved in any of the two big dimensions, or ideally in both: the big effort of inspiring institutional transformation and/or the revival of the democratic engagement of the citizens of the world?

So when I saw the call-for-arms from one of my Facebook acquaintances, whom I don’t know in real life but whom I have been following since the recent political events in my home country, Romania, everything made sense and finally, the feedback loop was closing. From a bubble of thought to a bubble of action.

“Open governance unquestionably exists. It has just learned to camouflage itself bureaucratically”

This is a snippet from an asset and interest declaration form submitted on the 4th of January 2017 by a member of the Romanian Parliament, as part of the mandatory procedure which requires public officials to disclose such information, in an attempt to promote transparency and open governance and data, which in turn helps to identify or prevent corruption or any abuse of power. Open data. Handwritten by pen. In 2017. Europe.

This snippet is also the result of a 2-year project undertaken by the Romanian National Integrity Agency (A.N.I.), with a budget of €3.8 million, called “Efficient public services by simplifying the procedure of filling, archival, and analysis of A.N.I. documents and facilitation of electronic access to public interest information”. The project describes how they implemented smart electronic forms, standardised online disclosure procedures, increased transparency etc. Now think of that budget again, look at the form and multiply it by circa 500,000 public officials that are mandated to submit this data every year, in the spirit of digital age institutions. Nightmare. Not for the officials themselves, but for citizens who need transparency. For the investigative journalists, sociologists, data scientists, and for the actual National Integrity Agency — the very institution in charge with verifying the legitimacy of the wealth sources and discovering any potential conflict of interest in the deep, entangled network made of politicians and businesses.

When I initially saw the Facebook-call asking for volunteers to help launch a data-entry project that digitises most, if not all of these disclosure forms, it seemed like a shot for the stars, but it immediately clicked with me. This was the right involvement for my level and it was accurately aimed at engaging society in a democratic exercise, where by various means of collaboration people can volunteer, learn, debate, and discover their institutions, laws, who their representatives are, and, most importantly, set up a proper database of open-data as a public service, while serving as an example to the institution itself on how to properly transform. The institution seems to be convinced of the need to transform, hence the officially announced €3.8 million project, but it is unwilling or unable to do so in a significant way. Pressure is, therefore, required.

“Okay, you’ve convinced me. Now go out there and bring pressure on me.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt

At first glance, to a sceptical eye, this might not seem like a big, impactful initiative. How can this tackle all the issues we have listed in this paper? It actually does have impact, as it is about people understanding their institutions and then inspiring them, and it is a beautiful exercise of democracy.

After responding to that call, I was reassured to find a coagulated group of 10+ people, each with minimum prior knowledge about the existence of others, all native Romanians currently scattered around the world, in Romania, the Czech Republic, Germany, UK, US. It was one small pursuit but part of a big idea platform that brought strangers together to put their minds to setup a system for one of the biggest digital crowdlabour volunteering projects in the country — Transparency-GOV (English equivalent for Romanian Transparență-Gov).

A clash between digital-by-default and pen-by-default

In a society where a relevant part of our general population, including public officials, is still pen-by-default (watch the film I, Daniel Blake), we cannot force digitising their lives, with no guidance, help, empathy or leadership by example. This is not me finding excuses for the public institution for not being digital, but simply an acceptance of the reality that some people are still left behind even by the basic advancements of technology (like how the cursor of a computer mouse works). This minority should be helped, not ridiculed. The European Commission reports that 44% of Europeans still do not have basic digital skills, so it is critical to acknowledge the political interest of any institution to maintain a two speed strategy (adapting itself to the digital era while ensuring that, in the same time, people depending on its services can still have access to them). So while this is indeed complex, it is not an excuse to stand still or start going in reverse.

Having said that, we need to acknowledge the upside of Silicon Valley and the extended tech community in that they have also created the perfect tools that citizens can use to make the world a better place, in a scalable way.

In less than 10 working days, balancing work and family life, this great body of people at Transparency-GOV has setup a Slack work-group where operational issues are discussed and internal processes are debated, has used G Suite by Google to create relevant trackers for monitoring progress and forms for data collection, used Asana to manage tasks and projects, created a Facebook page to promote and attract 1,100 likes which converted into 130 volunteers signing up for data-entry and got featured in a regional publication called Balkan Insight. In 10 days, with €0 budget! This idea quickly attracted skills able to build scripts that parse and mass-download all these PDFs from the government’s website, graphical design skills able to help with further promoting the project, legislation knowledge, data mining with optical character recognition and, all in all, the incredible collective power of 130 people with a laptop and internet connection.

The project is nearing the completion of Phase I, where it successfully converts to a digital format more than 500 disclosures from officials in Parliament, Government and Presidential Administration. A separate team will follow a more thorough validation process of all the data, and then it will be able to communicate learnings, discrepancies, recommendations to the National Integrity Agency (A.N.I.) while moving to Phase II, diving into the deeper tentacles of the rest of the country’s institutions.

Now, of course, Romania may find itself lagging behind most Western countries when it comes to reducing bureaucracy or implementing concepts such as open governance, and this can be attributed to the slow democratic progress that is taking place after the fall of communism in 1989. Of course, one’s impression can be that the country’s institutions have a lot of catching up to do to be in line with what is known as a standard in the more digitised West. And with the country’s apparently never-ending fight against corruption (you might have read that NY Times has praised the creativity of the recent anti-graft protests), projects like the one I have mentioned can be seen as just a way to match current global standards and merely a fight against corruption, rather than re-imagining modern institutions for modern days.

But, is it really right to assume so? Is it really safe to assume that open governance in developed countries is resilient enough that we should just take it for granted? Is it really safe to believe that in their pursuit to drive better customer experience, companies won’t use data to act against the interests of the contractors that work for them? I would say no, we are seeing a clear trend: he who has access to data, has the power. Banning access to data (even if it means structuring it in a way that it becomes useless) is nothing but an attempt to hold on to power. History has proven us that time and time again, technological progress was first used to constrain individuals into submission, first by governments, then by corporations. But history also teaches us that individuals have always retaliated with notable success, helped by liberal institutions…

And indeed, the initiative I joined is not a solitary one. There are numerous similar initiatives of digital activism in Romania that have appeared in the past 2 years, and what Transparency-GOV is doing is merely filling in a gap identified in this space. Our initiative seems small, but applying start-up ecosystem knowledge it can scale very quickly and merge into a bigger platform with others (fact-checking platforms, aggregators for consolidating all open jobs in the public administration, open budgets, apps for monitoring the transactions in the public procurement process, voting distribution dashboards etc.)

http://datafordemocracy.org/about.html

And when all these initiatives join forces based on a common standpoint, they become part of something big that has enough power to bring pressure on politicians to realise that it is now time for data (held by both public institutions and for-profit companies) to be used in people’s best interests, and not for pushing them further down on the socio-economic ladder.

That is why I believe Transparency-GOV is much more than a fact-checking crusade. This is citizenship at its best, strangers finding consensus after long debates on Slack, this is educating citizens about state institutions, about the officials they are being represented by. Who are they? What is their profile? What is their activity and what are their interests? This is about enabling journalists and sociologists to do their job in a more scalable way (n.b. imagine if we could build an API that will give access to this data to any software that local investigative journalists use).

But most importantly, this is about a community engagement that will increase public pressure on the respective institution to modernise itself and act in an exemplary fashion. This is a way to ensure individuals do not lose interest in understanding how politicians think and what their struggles are in modernising the state. This is a superb form of modern-day digital résistance and a statement about the importance of open data.

Translated testimonials from volunteers who signed up for the data-entry project. From hand-written PDF to Google Form

People all over the world unite their social media frustration under the #resist tag, but in order to defend democracy and to work towards the transformation required as we’re entering this new techno-economical paradigm, we need more than that. We need to find practical ways to get involved and scale our way up.

The reality is that we, as individuals driven by action, feel disempowered by the embodiment of the intellectual elite’s superiority to us: complex ideas. Reading about their big ideas followed by no practical solution can be very disappointing and disengaging. But it would be a mistake to hope that the New Deal 2.0 that we all long for can be crafted by the elite’s sole effort, without our interests brought to the negotiation table. We need to make our voice heard, in a continuous loop of engagement, collaboration and leadership by example. Now is a good time to wake up and start moving at the same speed with the highest academic ideas.

Because, despite witnessing assaults on the freedom of Press, on workers’ dignity, on freedom of movement, it will be impossible to block collaborative citizenship in this irreversibly super-connected digital world.

“The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination — and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good.” —

Barack Obama, farewell speech 10th of January 2017


My name is Dan Colceriu and I am heading market research and strategy at Pangea. If you’ like the sound of what you’ve read in this post and would like to read and digest quality content on business strategy, evolution of the firm and the broader context, do subscribe to the a p e r t u r e newsletter.

 by the author.

Dan Colceriu

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strategy @ThePangeaEffect | content and community at @aperture_hub

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