Democracy as an obstacle to impact: the Nordic race to the bottom in open government

Christopher Wilson

18 Apr 2018, 4:30 p.m.
Auditorium 2

Despite worldwide recognition as leaders in democratic governance, the Nordic countries have displayed consistent and remarkably similar poor performance in Open Government Partnership implementation. Process tracing in four Nordic countries suggests that this is due to a combination of cultural and institutional factors relevant to a number of Civic Technology contacts.

On the one hand, despite broad agreement with the general idea of open government and digital citizen engagement, mid-level government technocrats in Nordic countries perceive prominent national democratic norms to be in conflict with, and in many ways superior to, international programmatic norms for Open Government.

On the other hand, administrative distance between institutional actors responsible for endorsing and for implementing international norms removes incentives for novel use of digital technologies for citizen engagement. The way in which this is consistently manifest in Nordic countries suggests that it might be a relevant risk in other high income countries that demonstrate strong traditions for democratic engagement. The paper concludes with specific recommendations for the design of Civic Technology programs that aim for institutional engagement across levels of government.