Whether you voted to remain or to leave, Brexit has exposed deep divisions in our communities; here in the UK and across europe. But there are solutions.
The complexity of governing half a billion people cannot be boiled down to a (generally) one-size-fits-all policy architecture. Communities have differing needs, concerns, risks and opportunities. Provisions that work for one type of economy (e.g. a city) may not work for another type (e.g. a town).
I don’t think any of us would argue that we believe in liberal democracy and civil, economic and human rights if we are content with half a population — or even a quarter, tenth or fifth — being unhappy.
Indeed, catering for the varying needs of different parts of the EU electorate is already an important feature of EU values and many other modern governance models. But, in common with all governance institutions today, the policies underpinned by EU values are implemented in a vacuum of technology that can efficiently facilitate responsiveness to local needs. In practice, this results in localised pockets of democratic deficit and an EU institution perceived as unaccountable to its electorate.
But technology can redeem EU values from the chains of unintended totalitarianism and unleash their glory as the guiding lights of responsive policy making and implementation. Technology can be the fuel of democratic accountability, underpinning an EU framework and decision making toolset that allows the EU and its member states to respond to the needs of their electorate.
The single market immigration policy is one but pertinent example. Here, technology can facilitate changing needs in job markets and immigration going hand in hand. Like a point-based system, but far more responsive. Not just ‘free movement’ but ‘enabled and enlightened movement’. Smart immigration. In a smart city, smart society, internet of everything paradigm, single market immigration policy can be adapted around a technology-driven supply and demand approach.
I believe that we are now facing both an unprecedented challenge and an opportunity. A challenge, because it is easier to take out our unhappiness with Brexit and its unfolding drama on fellow citizens or politicians we disagree with. But it can be instead an opportunity to understand what is at the heart of the debate and innovate on the very systems within which we operate – so that we all come out better off.
To me, at the heart of the debate are policies underpinned by 21st century values delivered with 20th century implementation instruments.
I see a future where technology powers not just a more direct and participatory democratic infrastructure, but policies that are hyper needs led, and hyper responsive.
We sometimes wonder whether technology changes us, or whether we change technology. Right now, we see the miserable effect of social technology haphazardly mobilising and fuelling a great divide between our communities here in the UK and communities across Europe. Technology is changing us. But we should be changing technology; designing it to help us respond to each others’ needs to mutual benefit.