On 12th March 2018, GovLab Austria and the EU Policy Lab discussed possible future relationships between the citizen and the government. This citizen dialogue was set up in the context of the GovLab Austria project “Austria 2035 – the state and I” and the EU Policy Lab project “The future of government 2030+”. The participants were a very interesting mix of civil servants from various agencies and different positions, representatives of companies, lectures and IT experts from the university, NGO representatives etc.
Ursula Rosenbichler, co-founder of GovLab Austria, opened the workshop by illustrating the importance to think ahead and to review the relationship between citizens and government. The participants were discussing three different perspectives of government: public services, participation and forms of democracy, as well as balance of interests. In the first round, they discussed the situation of today. In the case of public services, the central topic were the trade-offs between standardized basic services and the desire for individualized offerings. In balancing interest, the state is part of a rather complex multi-actor network of different institutions; enabling the balance of different interests is seen as a core function of the government in order to be accountable and increase trust. On the topic of participation, the issue of potential misinformation and the necessity for political education was raised.
In a second phase, the participants speculated about potential futures. As we are now halfway through the timeline between the Millennium and 2035, the look back helped to understand potential dynamics and directions of the future development. One future idea was around a technically sophisticated eGovernment that eases the public administration processes for the citizens who get easily served with all their issues even across borders. Another idea was a strong community building and co-production of public services by grassroot initiatives. Lives of three different persons in the year 2035 were described to speculate how people might live and how the relationship between the individual and the state might be. What take-away messages do the future stories bring? The individual can become a major agent of change – but the state needs to provide a supportive regulatory framework and coordinate decentralized grassroot initiatives. The eGovernment initiatives should be co-created with the individuals to make sure that the user needs are met. The privacy of citizen’s data in eGovernment is extremely sensitive; governments might outperform digital service providers in terms of reliability and trust.
The thought provoking speculations about the role and relationships of government were extremely rich. The participants made it clear that there is a need for engagement of every single individual to shape the future of government and governance.