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  • Geoff Mulgan

A Mini Meta Manifesto – Three Ingredients to Add to Every Policy

Here I suggest a brief meta-manifesto: principles for reform and action that should now apply to many, if not most, areas of government action. They are principles that are natural in a digital era. But they are missing from political discourse even though they may be part of the key to unlocking everything else, including progress on climate change, ageing and social justice.

I Mutual Transparency

The first is transparency. This appears to be an era when everything is visible and accessible. But the things that matter are largely invisible. It is very hard to find out how your local energy, food or financial system works, for example. The big decisions being made in the heart of global media empires remain largely secret. The extreme example is the Internet. Very few people have a clue how it works, how it’s governed and how decisions are made. Wealth and power are as effective at hiding themselves as ever. We need to open up transparency in a much more radical way as one necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a truly smart society.

This requires open data as the norm: for infrastructures, finance, companies, and governments. There is little prospect of success on climate change, for example, without much more transparency in relation to emissions, throughout the economy, supply chains and transport systems. Within public services we need far more openness – especially with private providers: data sharing should be the norm and built into every contract. And one of the conditions for the big platform oligopolies should be requirements to open up data, as has happened with the banks.

A similar principle applies to nations. The European Union embodied the idea that mutual transparency helped with understanding and reducing conflicts, whether military or economic (through the open coordination approach). Yet we are now in a period of increasing opacity – fake news, espionage, deception, corporate secrecy, and privatisations.

2 Shared intelligence organised as a commons

The second requirement is shared intelligence. Again, we appear to have knowledge at our fingertips thanks to Google. But for the things that matter knowledge is not available, organised or orchestrated. The systematic orchestration of data and useful knowledge is largely missing from strategies on climate change, the jobs market or poverty – data, knowledge about what works and strong horizontal links between the people fixing problems.

We have powerful public institutions organised around finance (IMF, World Bank, EIB, Ministries of Finance) but very few organised around knowledge (by contrast in the private sector the firms organised around data and knowledge long ago surpassed those organised around finance).

This needs to change. In every field we will increasingly need systematic organisation of knowledge as a commons as the precondition for effective action, and in the future this will become a core function of governments.

3 Radically inclusive decision making.

The third requirement is inclusive decision making. Those affected by decisions should be empowered to shape and input on those decisions, not just through occasional elections. This is where democracy is heading – with the many experiments with citizens assemblies and virtual parliaments. These open up each stage of the democratic process: identifying issues, clarifying relevant facts, developing and scrutinising options. The decisions can still be reserved to parliaments and ministers: but the whole process can be made much richer in insight, input and intelligence, giving people not just power but also the feeling of empowerment. Of course, there is an alternative: populist authoritarianism. But democracy has to evolve if it is to defeat this threat.

These three are necessary, but of course not sufficient, conditions for most fields of public action. They are vital new ingredients for programmes of reform and will in time, I hope, become common sense.


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