Political leaders presenting plans
Proudly the new government presented their plans earlier this autumn. Tomorrow the plans for foreign aid will be subject of discussions in parliament. I wonder how many holes are left in the bridge.
The picture of the unfinished bridge that decorated the wall during the presentation of the coalition government agreement resembles to some extend the unfinished character of the agreement itself. It's content caused quite some grumbling at the side of the liberals as it contained measures aiming at re-distribution of benefits from the richer to the poorer segments in society. It definately had sleepers, but possibly also 'sleepers' constructing it. It took the politicians that drafted the plan a couple of days to realize that they went a bridge too far.
That reminds us of the battle of Market Garden, where many allied forces lost their lives fighting for a bridge near Arnhem in Second World-War. A battle that was lost causing the freeing of the rest Netherlands to delay for one horrible winter, where many perished including my own grandfather who was deported to Germany. How many lives would have been saved and how different the Netherlands would have looked like today if that one battle had been won. Likewise I sense there are a couple of fierce battles ahead that will substantially alter governance in the 21st century, no matter the result. Question is: Is there anything to gain in battling? Or will this battle only know losers?
Governance in crisis
It is clear that governance is in crisis. At the same time at many places open data is embraced as the new solution that in the end will empower all individuals to take their own decisions, not needing anything or anyone else to exercise power over others. Though this may sound appealing, the result will be complete anarchy and the survival of the fittest. In the end new power structures will re-emerge. Suddenly we may find those in control of data being in control of the world. Data is the next raw material that people will do their 'gold rush' for. Is open data the next leap forward? Or is it the next level of inequality where many find themselves left behind? I think we should be careful with applauding open data initiatives like the one in Kenya recently soon to be followed by many others following the rolling out of the IATI standard.
Open data and cyber warfare
In situations where open data serves to undo inequality and cut through unhealthy power dynamics it has my whole-hearted support. At the same time the impact of the weapon of open data may not be underestimated. Just google on 'cyber warfare' and get a healthy perspective on what value data has. Open data may very well prepare the battlefield for a final and decisive attack on civil society, that to some extend still serves as counterveiling power for the betterment of governance.
Innovative governance and data sovereignty
As many political parties rethink their strategies how to engage civilians in governance issues, they will feel an urge to prioritise commnity self-governance, certainly in the absence of capital. For that open data may serve a purpose. However, in such cases data formats should not be imposed by outsiders rendering the community vulnerable to abuse. Data sovereignty should be developed along with open data in order to protect its integrity and authenticity.
I just want to remind ourselves of the battle of Market Garden. There was no way to avoid a clash. Not winning the battle also had severe consequences. Finally it was no battle between bataljons, or nations but a battle between ideologies. One ideology that envisioned a superb human race much smarter then the rest of the world, and the other one an ideology of freedom of choice and peaceful co-existence.
In war times sometimes bridges need to be build; Sometimes they need to be destroyed, depending on who is using them for what purpose. Sometimes tough battles are needed to bring lasting peace. I just hope we will find ourselves on the right side of history and do not succumb into a meaningless anonymity of open data where a project only gets relevance in the integrated whole and has no longer a direct meaning for people it is aiming to serve.
(also see my blog at ¥OURWORLD regarding the white paper on open data in the UK)
My name is Reinier van Hoffen, founder of URAIDE.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.