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First Public Services Summit Plenary: Is Technology Racing Ahead of Government?

The political challenges posed by new communications technology dominated the first plenary session at Cisco’s Public Services Summit 2011 in Oslo.

Delegates from more than 40 countries heard former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo predict Internet economies will make emerging nations “the dynamos of the global economy in years to come,” and technology theorist Manuel Castells warn, “We do have the technology to improve the wealth of nations, but not institutions adequate to guide the transformation.”

Martin Stewart-Weeks, senior director, Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, said, “As we move from a centralized to a decentralized world, we must give up a little control in exchange for resilience” – which he defined as “the ability to anticipate, navigate and thrive on coming change … and bounce back to something better.”

The 2011 Summit theme is “Empowering the Edge: Boosting Resiliency and Productivity in the Public Sector,” and Friday’s speakers emphasized the Internet-enabled power transfer to less wealthy nations – enhancing their ability to join global supply chains at low cost, for example – as well as the thorny issues already emerging as a result.

Given transformative IT trends, said Castell, “In a long period of fiscal crisis, a reformed welfare state could provide more and better services at lower cost.” But he said IT capabilities – and public demand for transparency and dialogue – are racing ahead of public sector abilities to cope or cede control.

Stewart-Weeks said most governments fall short of tapping the Internet’s potential, using it as a virtual bulletin board when citizens want participatory roles. “Most citizens are not waiting to be asked to contribute,” he said.

Interested parties in 20 countries followed the plenary proceedings via Twitter and Cisco’s streaming video (click here to register to watch playback of these and future plenary sessions).

PSS 2011 continues Saturday with an address from Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, key figure in this year’s Egyptian political developments and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

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