Last night I had the opportunity to listen to David Eaves speak about the impact that technology has had and will have on the future make-up of our public institutions.
The event, hosted by the Strategic Innovation Lab and held at the OCAD building in Toronto, was sold out and the guests were a mix of political junkies, design students and open government enthusiasts.
David covered a number of items in his presentation.
His first theme was that technology has given people, organizations and institutions various new ways to organize, especially online. And with the low transaction costs associated with this organizing he argued that more and more people would gravitate to areas where their voice would be heard and valued. One example he cited was the Direct Launcher project. This NASA project was actualy started and created online through collaboration with both employees and non-employees of NASA.
David then proposed that open source should be made a public policy to ensure that the best and the brightest voives be heard. In today's society, people are being offered intuitive and personalized service from the companies they use and purchase from. Therefore, they will also demand it from the institutions and public services they need and use.
The problem David outlined, and that we all have experienced, is that governments at all levels have traditionally not encouraged technology adoption or the use of social tools; both in the workplace and in dealing with the public. There are many reasons. One of them is that there is an inherint fear of what the public 'might' do with with the information. There is a fear that being open makes the government redundant.
However, in order for the government and public service to remain credible and relevant they must be transparent. And the various social tools that we use on a daily basis must be adopted by government as they have been by the companies and people we work for and with.
Although only seven cities in Canada (to date) have adopted open source policies, David does see hope in the future of governement. Not only are municipalities embracing openess but the federal government has created an internal "facebook-like" social tool as wel as a government of Canada wiki.
Where do we go from here?