Dennis Whittle

5 May, 2015

The New World Order: Smart Democracy in the Age of Multi-Level Governance

Co-author: Renee Ho, Feedback Labs

Intermediation is not going away but it is changing and we should all agree that’s for the better. It’s changing in two fundamental ways:

1. Who is intermediating?
2. How are they intermediating?

In the old paradigm, large organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations, CARE, Save the Children, and the Red Cross hired the experts to i) analyze problems and ii) design solutions. They then iii) mobilized the money to fund those solutions, iv) hired the staff or consultants to deliver the solutions; and then finally v) organized any monitoring and evaluation.

The who and how are changing for i) through v)…….

19Intermediation is becoming localized and decentralized, even individualized. Caught up in increasingly complex and fragmented systems of multilevel governance, regular individuals and local civil society groups are initiating increased control over their lives.

In the new world order, service delivery doesn’t just happen. Regular people provide feedback to service providers, both to improve service delivery and promote social accountability. In the Philippines, Checkmyschool engages parents, teachers, and students to identify school issues and engage government to respond. In the United States, SeeClickFix empowers citizens to report and track issues in their community that they want fixed.

About a decade ago, many slums weren’t mapped. If slums didn’t exist on maps, neither did their millions of inhabitants, and governments were not held accountable to provisioning these areas. Participatory community-based slum mapping has taken off, spreading from India to developing countries around the world. Talk to regular people from the slums and they can easily tell you what they intimately know, places that need improved roads, waste collection, or street lighting.

From this perspective, localized and decentralized intermediation is the smart thing to do. It provides new platforms for citizen engagement that, in turn, provides timelier, more accurate, and contextually significant evidence for government or ICSO decision-making.

From a donor perspective, today, regular people can go online to give or lend directly to the projects (GlobalGiving) or even people (GiveDirectly, Kiva Zip) they care about. In 2013, regular Americans gave $240.6 billion to charitable organizations. Most of them don’t really know what happened to this money. In the new world order, the degrees of separation between donor and recipient can be radically reduced in a way that increases transparency and accountability.

New forms of ICT are revolutionizing how this intermediation is happening. Organizations like FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi have developed tools like text-messaging software to improve two-way communication between regular people and donors or project implementers. Simple hand-held GPS devices and platforms like OpenStreetMap are allowing local slum knowledge to percolate up.

The affordability and usability of these technologies allows instances of intermediation to happen more rapidly. Funders and implementers can monitor and learn from their projects in real-time, allowing them to adapt and fix quickly, increasing both efficiency and social impact.

New technologies are also creating and operating along much more horizontally and socially connected networks. Twitter and Facebook are examples of how social network effects compound the rate at which information and knowledge are disseminated (and intermediated).

What does this “new” intermediation mean for existing stakeholders– for citizens (“beneficiaries”), for government or local CSOs, for individual donors, and for ICSOs?

For one, everyone needs to access and use the technologies in order to be heard (citizens, local CSOs) and to listen (government, individual donors, and ICSOs). Citizens have to be able to use basic SMS technology. Funders have to be able to receive, aggregate, and analyze these citizen voices.

Particularly for citizens and local CSOs, they need to strategically enter social networks in a way to take advantage of heuristic decision-making or combat it. They need to enter social networks to share knowledge, amplify their voices, and yes–get funding. Some of these networks are horizontal. Some of these networks are vertical. Most will be some combination of the two.

[In steps the new ICSO.]

The existential crisis of the ICSO is over-hyped. The ICSO’s intermediation is not obsolete. Rather, it needs to be reconfigured to improve and strengthen what is already happening– a new, smarter democracy in the age of multi-level governance. The ICSO will aid the use of intermediation technologies. It will connect citizen voices to new and existing social (and political) networks. It will reinvent itself.

Welcome, ICSO Version 2.0. We’re pleased to meet you.

Feedback Labs is helping aid agencies, foundations, and governments both listen and act. The following three questions drive our theory of change: What do regular people want to make their lives better? Are we helping them get it? If not, what should we do differently? Join us in this conversation.

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