The following was submitted to the ACT government following this request.

Citizen Centred Governance is broadly defined as involving citizens in a constructive way in the governance of their own community. In a democracy citizens are indirectly involved in their communities through their elected representatives and through the public service which is paid to carry out the wishes of the elected representatives and, by implication, the wishes of the community. This approach works well but there are areas where it can be improved. These have been identified in the CM (Chief Minister) paper as:

  • Direction Setting and Accountability
  • Trust, citizen engagement and experience of government services
  • Access to information

The CM paper concludes with a recommendation that to better involve citizens and to meet the future the government needs to build up the capacity and capabilities of the public service.

This last recommendation and almost all the others in the paper, while worthy, illustrate the problem with the current approach to citizen involvement. The CM paper assumes that the way to achieve involvement is to make the government more responsive. This submission says we can leverage these government initiatives by using mechanisms that reduce the separation of citizens and the government. That is, to involve citizens we do not need to leave the whole burden on the government or ask them to do more with less. What we can do is to give citizens the tools, the information, and the resources to become part of the process so that they can help the government and the public service to do their job. Rather than the government only thinking of how to be more responsive we can find ways for citizens to be able to better assist the government.
Involving citizens means that citizens must be able to communicate both with each other and with the government efficiently and effectively. To engage in citizen-to-government transactions requires that we improve our use of enabling communications technologies such as the Internet and advanced telephony. It also requires trust and openness.

This is possible and could be achieved with a simple system comprised of:

  • Anonymous Electronic Identification
  • Voluntary participation
  • Making information held by the government on a citizen available to the citizen
  • Making other public information, such as land titles or this submission, easily available anonymously to citizens who have a right to know.

To achieve “Citizen Centred Governance” we have to first provide the tools to the citizens that will enable them to participate and they will do the rest. This submission outlines these points and then illustrates what might happen. What will happen is unknown and need not be “planned” because it will emerge from giving people the ability to become better involved.
Fundamentally these recommendations enable better communication at a transactional level. They enable systems to emerge that will solve the basic dilemma of all societies. One that is called “The Tragedy of the Commons”. That is, one of the main purposes of institutions such as governments and the public service is to resolve the issue that what is good for the community as a whole may not be best for an individual in isolation.

Implementing these tools permits the implementation of what we have called the Rewards approach to community participation. This approach is based on the idea present in all societies of reciprocity or git giving. This approach is based on the idea that we should Reward people who act in the community interest. That is, when a gift is given, such as the payment of taxes, then the giver expects the recipient to return the gift in some manner. Rewards institutionalises this idea anonymously across the delivery of government services.
Rewards do not have to be monetary but they have to some form of acknowledgement of the contribution we each make. The underlying reason why this works is that in our day-to-day transactions we are genetically tuned to share with others and to cooperate. Human society is not based on tooth and nail but is based on giving and receiving. Rewards provides a framework within which we can both give and receive. Modern society has taken away much of the pleasure of our day to day transactions by separating giving and receiving. We pay our taxes one day and receive a benefit another day. Rewards helps bring back the mutuality of transactions that literally gives us pleasure. Human societies have reciprocity at the core of social interations Citizen Centred Governance needs to enable reciprocity.

Anonymous Electronic Identification

The key piece of infrastructure required to involve both government employed and non-government employed citizens is a reliable, secure, private method for individuals to be able to identify themselves and to be able to electronically communicate anonymously but responsibly with both government and other citizens. That is, a common means of electronic communication is required for all citizens. Infrastructure of this type is a first step to citizen involvement. Anonymity with responsibility is important for fostering transactions as we need to communicate to reciprocate but there are too many citizens in a modern society for us to be able to handle all the trust relationships that are needed for reciprocity to work. We need technology to help us handle these interactions. In the same way that we invented anonymous money to make trading or the exchange of value a trusted activity we need a technology to assist us in our community transactions.

If a system was in place that enabled people to vote anonymously from their homes or over their telephone, but that also assured the government that the person was both eligible to vote and only voted once, and if the government was unable to ascertain how any individual had voted, then the government and the citizens would be able to communicate accountable but anonymously for any other purpose. If we have a system that is good enough for electronic anonymous voting, it means we have a system that is good enough for most other citizen communications.

The local company Edentiti offers what we believe is the world’s first truly commercial user-centric identification system. In the following either it or a similar system is assumed to be available and used for communication. That is, the citizenry can communicate with the government in a manner in which the citizen remains in control of their identity. The system is structured so that the citizen is accountable for their use of their electronic identity and so that the government cannot abuse the system – for example by finding out how individual people voted or commented on situations, without the person first providing consent. A description of the model is found as an appendix.

Voluntary participation

The right of citizens NOT to participate must be respected. Not everyone will want to and they should not be compelled to. They should be encouraged and can be rewarded for participation but they must not be penalised for not participating. The reason for this is that as social beings we cooperate best when we are not coerced. This impact of this principle will become apparent later in this submission

Make Government information held on citizens readily available to the citizen concerned

The right of a citizen to know what information is kept about them is part of the Federal Government Privacy Law and the Freedom of Information Act. However, in reality it is difficult for a citizen to obtain all records about themselves. The government could easily allow no-cost access to the electronic information it holds, if it allowed a citizen to enquire about themselves from the government records. The ability to do this is important because it builds trust in the citizen in that they know what information the government is using when the government communicates and transacts with them.

Make Public Government information readily available

Once a person can find information about themselves it is a small step for the citizen to obtain other public and private information anonymously but with authorisation. That is, some information should not be seen by everyone. Each citizen wants to keep their own information to themselves but they do not mind if government officials see part of the information about them that is relevant to the official’s task. However, citizens want to know if others access their information and for what purpose.
There is much other information collected by governments that is available to citizens if they have a need to know. For example if a person wishes to purchase a property they need to know that the seller holds the title to the property. They do not necessarily need to know the identity of the seller. Other information, such as the name of student’s teacher, should be available to parents but not necessarily to others.
If I wish to make a submission to the government on a public matter then often a person has a right to know other information about the matter provided I have a legitimate reason for seeing the information. For example, if someone has parked their car in my driveway I should be able to find who owns the car.
Similarly a citizen should be able to register a complaint without revealing who their identity is if the complaint is legitimate. If the complaint is mischevious then the identity of the person making the complaint should be revealed but only in the case of abuse of the privilege.
Some information, once it has been used, should never be kept. A person’s vote is an example. Once a vote is counted it should be destroyed so that even the voter cannot see it. However other information should be readily and easily available if requested. In summary the Privacy Principles outlined by the Privacy Commissioner should be adhered to by the government.

Possible Emergent Systems

If the government adopts and implements the above there will be an impact on all government systems – some more dramatic than others. A few illustrations of what could emerge from giving citizens the ability to participate in a meaningful practical way are:

  • An up-to-date directory of public facilities
  • Reduced cost of identification and maintenance of records about citizens
  • A well used suggestion and complaints register
  • Less peak hour traffic and increased use of public transport
  • No water restrictions
  • Reduced greenhouse emissions
  • Continuously updated and reliable wellbeing measures
  • More efficient and better utilised health services

The important point is that whichever of the above will occur is a political decision but with a citizen-centric approach many things become possible with little cost or effort on the part of the government. It is expected that the techniques suggested can be used for almost any government function, from garbage collection to planning. The ones selected are ideas on which we have been working for some time.

An up-to-date directory of public facilities

The government has the addresses of public facilities. The government can use Google Maps to show these facilities and information about them on these maps. However, this is a significant burden on the government. Rather than leave this entirely up to the government, invite citizens to put up information and to help keep the information up-to-date. Make it easy for people to report inaccuracies or ommissions. With the above functionality suggested for identification those people who abuse the system by putting up incorrect information or misleading information are simply banned from putting up future information. The government can also make the information available to others who might provide ways to display the information on mobile phones for a charge or think of other innovative ways to displaying and sharing the information.

Reduced cost of identification and maintenance of records about citizens

Once a citizen can access their own records such as their driver’s license, births deaths and marriages, land title records, electoral enrolments, school and education records, it becomes a trivial task for them to identify themselves to anyone who needs to know who they are. At the same time the citizen can become responsible for updating their own personal information in government records which will reduce costs and increase the currency of the government data. People will be responsible for their own electronic biometrics such as voice prints, digital photographs, iris scans and can use them where needed and where appropriate.

A well used suggestion and complaints system

One of the major deterrents to people putting in suggestions and complaints is that people do not wish to be identified as the ones making the suggestions and complaints. The reasons are that people think there might be other unintended consequences of making the complaint public. You may want to object to a neighbour’s activities but you do not want to jeopadise the rest of your relationship with the neighbour. The system can be constructed so that people who make mischievous, or untrue statements can be banned from making complaints.

Less peak hour traffic and increased use of public transport

One method of reducing peak hour traffic is to pay people to car pool during peak traffic time. Car pooling is an inconvenience and people should be rewarded for pooling beyond the cost of the saving in fuel and wear on their cars. The money people receive for riding in car pooled vehicles can only be spent on public transport travel or it could be sold to people who then use it on public transport. The money to pay for car pooling comes from the existing bus subsidy. The implementation of this system will improve the utilisation of roads by giving a double benefit to the bus subsidy diverted through car pooling.

No water restrictions

Water restrictions can be removed immediately if we charge people more for water in times of short supply. Unfortunately this has social consequences of some people not being able to afford water. However, this can be overcome by using the extra money collected from higher water prices to Reward or provide incentives to the people who consume less per head. This reward money in turn must be spent on ways of further reducing water consumption or can be sold for unconstrained cash. This type of system requires self reporting of number of people in households and requires ways of keeping track of how money is spent. Both these need to be anonymous but accountable which is only practical with a reliable form of electronic identification.

Reduced greenhouse emissions

In a similar manner to removing water restrictions we can reduce the amount of green house emissions. A surcharge is put on all energy consumption but this surcharge is then distributed back to consumers of energy. The returned money must be spent or invested in infrastructure to reduce greenhouse emissions. The rate at which we wish to reduce emissions will be determined by the surcharge we put on energy. There are different ways to distribute Energy Rewards and they could be related to behavioural changes such as reduced consumption, taking public transport, cycling to work etc

Continuously updated and reliable Wellbeing measures

The ability to anonymously and reliably report transactions means we can ask people to supply their details of everyday transactions plus other demographic information about themselves. This will enable accurate longitudinal studies to be performed and it will enable the effect of particular policy approaches to be immediately measured.

More efficient and better utilised health services

By being able to easily identify people anonymously we can give people money to spend on health services rather than supplying regular non critical health services. This is embodied in the idea of MediSave as a change in the way MediCare funds are distributed.

Strategy for moving towards a Citizen Centric Governance

It is suggested that the move towards the goal of a more Citizen Centric Government be a gradual one which is driven by the community but facilitated by the government. It should only move in this direction if it is seen to bring true benefit to Society in the broadest sense and in ways that the community accepts. For example, addressing intractible problems like domestic violence will cost the community money in some form, but the fact that there is a direct immediate cost should not stop experimentation and trials.
One of the positive things about the approach is that it is based on people volunteering to participate but being Rewarded in some way if they do. Anyone can volunteer. We will know if different proposals are worthwhile when people agree to participate. If they don’t, the schemes will fail.
As identification and building trust are crucial to the whole process, it is recommended that giving people who ask for it access to their personal information be the first step in the process. If it is done by opening up the database to approved identity providers who deliver a service to citizens it will give a return on investment within a few weeks through the government getting up-to-date contact records and by citizens themselves correcting and maintaining their own online information. Edentiti can provide these services for no cost to the government. The government will have to participate in secure communications with the identity providers but with today’s technology that is a low cost.
Once an anonymous but responsible identification system is established, it is suggested that schemes such as the above be canvased and citizens invited to offer their own suggestions. The community will be able to debate the pros and cons along with any other ideas that come from citizens (both within and outside government employment).
It may even be that one of the systems introduced is a voting approach where people can “vote” if they want to see something initiated and give their priorities if they want several things to proceed.
Involving citizens more in the governance of a community based around the new Internet technologies is different to our current approaches and needs to be considered in an evolutionary manner. That is, it demands that we first set in place a framework. Set the parameters and let citizens choose between different ways of doing things. The government sets the broad agenda but where possible lets the citizens – both as individuals and as corporate entities – determine the specific details by using open markets of ideas and money to allow people to help choose the resource allocation

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