Web 2.0, Gov 2.0 and elites

I was pleased to be asked to speak at the Queensland’s Right Information Day. In my speech I wanted to speak a little against the grain. The language used by Web 2.0, Gov 2.0 aficionados has a particular quality of groovyness. There are a bunch of things that are groovy. The environment, being more democratic, being more participatory and so on. Web 2.0 can definitely deliver loads more participation. And I’m a big supporter of that. Allowing the people who know to participate can inject a lot of additional intelligence into a conversation, and even wisdom.

But as anyone in the blogosphere knows, it need not. It might just involve a descent into trolldom. One of my pet hates is the ‘vox pop’ where they stick a microphone in front of someone at a shopping centre and ask them what they think of (let’s see . . . pretty much anything). Engangered species (we should save them – indeed we should, but what if they’re not endangered, we’re just having our heartstrings pulled), bank interest rate rises (well the latest round happen to be unjustified but most people in shopping centres wouldn’t have the foggiest as to whether that’s true or not.) And most people in shopping centres think we should have higher tariffs on imports because it would increase employment (which it wouldn’t).

Me? I’m a democrat. I think the people should decide. I really do. But I also think that democracy doesn’t work without structures, without institutions. And in addition to such structures and institutions – the rule of law, separation of powers a free press and all that stuff – there’s also elites. I think a society thrives when a democracy is well served by its elites, when they are chosen meritocratically. And of course meritocracy is a tricky business. Do we have the best leaders we could have? Well it’s unlikely. It’s not a very easy business choosing elites. And I think that Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 are miracles not just on account of their ramping up the possibilities of participation by all and sundry, but also – perhaps more so – because they enable elites to form – much faster than they can form using other methods and usually more meritocratically.

Web 2.0, when you think about it, is built not just on the participation of everyone who wishes to participate, but also on meritocratically selected elites. The thing is the elites have no power to compel, only the power to influence. If Linus Torvalds doesn’t want to accept your code for Linux, that’s kind of it. You can’t get it into Linux. But you can fork the project. Other web 2.0 projects operate with their elites too, as power volunteers have more – well . . . power.

So that was my theme in this talk.

There are (at least) two egregious factual errors in the talk which was just given from notes. (I’m afraid I was giving another talk the night before and should have checked the second one out – the first was just dim stupidity at the lecturn. President Obama’s brainstorming exercise happened at the beginning of 2009, not 2008. And ancient Athens had a population which was quite a bit larger than modern day Goulburn. I should have said that ancient Athens had about half as citizens as modern day Albury Woodonga.

Anyway, if you can be bothered playing it to yourself, I hope you like the talk. Unfortunately the camera doesn’t follow the screen when I occasionally talk about my slides, so I’ve attached them in powerpoint here.

This entry was posted in Economics and public policy, IT and Internet, Political theory, Web and Government 2.0. Bookmark the permalink.
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
11 years ago

Call me old fashioned but I believe in leaders, honest, communicative and visionary leaders. The problem with elites is that they detach themselves from the wider community and see themselves in a class of their own (see KRudd/Kitchen Cabinet, Paul Keating, Howard/Work Choices, Ralph Norris).

I don’t mean to reinforce the tall poppy experience, but just to say that leadership needs to be of and for the base, and not determined by the interests of a few (no matter how wealthy or influential).

Without these fundamentals our societies will degenerate into a collection of self interested tribes rather than truly benefit from the gains from trade and collaboration.

11 years ago

The sooner we replace all elite sportspeople with leader-like sportspeople the better.

10 years ago

I really enjoyed this. Very interesting.
I particularly enjoyed your observations about merit and authority.
Organisations sometimes bring ‘new blood’ under their roof to provide alternate ways of thinking and doing. The problem is that many of ‘old blood’ resent any suggestions coming from those not steeped in the old ways.
Your observation that sometimes people know more than their leaders resonated. It is unfortunate that some leaders are too threatened to acknowledge others’ possible expertise in particular areas. Such attitudes need to change if collaborative working practices are to be achieved.