The evolution of government as a platform

Amanda Clarke

25 Apr 2017, 4:30 p.m.
Room 9

Acknowledging its dominant influence on approaches to digital era governance, this presentation explores three phases of thinking on, and practice of, government as a platform (O’Reilly, 2010), parsing the implications that each poses for the future of civic technology.

Early interpretations of government as a platform saw governments release data and experiment with crowdsourcing and digital forms of co-production. In this initial phase, civic technologists (and the individual citizens and civil society groups they represent) emerged as key and potentially powerful actors, taking on policy development and service delivery tasks that formerly fell exclusively to the state.

A subsequent wave of empirical research and practitioner experience revealed that early enthusiasm for government as a platform at once greatly over-estimated the capacity of government to undertake a more open and collaborative style of governance, while also ignoring insights from traditional public administration research which question the logic of unbridled openness and participatory policy and service delivery models.

Responding to the deficiencies of these early approaches, in recent years governments and scholars have begun to refine the theory and practice of government as a platform, emphasising the need to invest in the co-ordination and accountability mechanisms that any collaborative policy and service effort demands.

In an emerging third phase of thinking, governments are flipping the script entirely, building their own digital skills and capabilities within elite digital units at the centre of government, raising important questions about the ongoing role of external civic technology actors in digital era governance.

The presentation concludes by reflecting on these three phases of thinking on government as a platform, outlining the lessons they offer on the future viability of civic technologists as players in digital era collective problem-solving efforts.