Government … within a social machine ecosystem


Last week we submitted our {Government as a Social Machine in an Ecosystem” Paper for the SOCIAM workshop to be held at the 23rd International World Wide Web Conference in Seoul.

The paper is the result of numerous  conversations which began with the ANZSOG research project (see our first report here), the visit of Dame Wendy Hall to Australia in October last year, and  the work that I am now doing with the Web Science Trust.

As we state in our Abstract

The Web is becoming increasingly pervasive throughout all aspects of human activity. As citizens and organisations adopt Web technologies, so governments are beginning to respond by themselves utilising the electronic space. Much of this has been reactive, and there is very little understanding of the impact that Web technologies are having on government systems and processes, let alone a proactive approach to designing systems that can ensure a positive and beneficial societal impact. The ecosystem which encompasses governments, citizens and communities is both evolving and adaptive, and the only way to examine and understand the development of Web-enabled government, and its possible implications, is to consider government itself as a “social machine” within a social machine ecosystem. In this light, there are significant opportunities and challenges for government that this paper identifies.

This paper will incorporate the findings of the second ANZSOG paper “Government as a Social Machine”, together with work being done at the University of Southampton on “social machines” and the development of the “Web Observatory”.

These projects are in their early stages, but already there are an exciting number of publications and this blog on the SOCIAM Web Observatory gives an overview of this project which aims to develop the technical and analytical infrastructure in order to observe, analyse and understand the characteristics and evolution of social machines.

Governments around the world are seeking to understand, leverage and proactively manage socio-technical systems in order to more effectively and efficiently meet community needs. But, the reality is that

“(m)ost of the failings of government can be connected to the fundamental assumption that humans are rational creatures and the inherent structural biases toward mechanical processes and short-term thinking. … We need designers, political scientists, and social activists … to take up the challenge of designing new systems of governance … that are open, accessible, and learning. They need to embody the latest thinking about how the world works, how people work, and how we can use our technologies to make life better for all.” (Jake Dunagan, “The Future of Government”)

We believe that this “latest thinking” should embrace the potential and promise of “emergent systems”, in particular the concept of “social machines”, and the accompanying initiatives that are being developed in order to more effectively observe and understand them.

Notions of what “Government” is are already being challenged and redefined, and the digital age has only just begun. What is important now is to bring together as many disciplines as possible in order to try to understand not only what is going on, but to begin to make predictions and to proactively design socio-technical systems that enhance the relationship between government and the governed.