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Cisco PSS 2011 Wraps on Encouraging Note; Experts Cite Public Sector Capacity for Innovation, Evolution

A quartet of distinguished experts on government and innovation closed the 10th Cisco Public Services Summit Sunday by presenting  a cascade of public sector innovations – all supporting the view that government can and will keep up with fast-moving digital technology.

Author Steven Johnson, former Canadian cabinet secretary Jocelyne Bourgon, former Australian finance minister Lindsay Tanner and Indian telecom entrepreneur Sam Pitroda provided an invigorating finish to the 2011 Summit, attended in Oslo by delegates from more than 40 countries.

Johnson, author of “Where Good Ideas Come From,” cited examples of public agencies creating new kinds of data and dialogue from low-tech neo-natal incubators designed for the third world to New York City’s 311 information line.

“It’s the borrowing and remixing of idea that is so often the key to innovation,” said Johnson.  “When you break down silos you get new approaches to problems… There’s no reason why your ideas shouldn’t be free to flow and be improved upon in other peoples’ minds.”

“Chance favors the connected mind,” concluded Johnson.

Canadian researcher and former cabinet secretary Jocelyne Bourgon said government must redesign itself in a world of diminished funding – “I have not found any country that has been able to balance its budget by ‘doing more with less,’” she said – adding that “technology can be a crucial driver in the capacity of reinventing.”

But Bourgon expressed optimism that governments will answer the call. “We now have a generation of public sector servants raised in virtual communities,” she said, noting that traditional, vertically-structured agencies are learning to co-exist with distributed networks.

“We used to define policy as a decision,” said Bourgon. “Now it is a joint experiment [with the public] amid an ongoing process.”

Former Australian finance minister Lindsay Tanner agreed, noting that public sector institutions built on industrial-age principles of hierarchy, control and secrecy “cannot survive in a world with universal instantaneous communication.” But he cited examples of Australian public agencies rising to the challenge, from  obtaining Creative Commons licensing for government documents to asking citizens to co-manage a database of World War I military vets.

Tanner  dubbed the new level of communication afforded by web technologies “multilogue” versus mere “dialogue” – multilogue communication defined as “collective, interactive, and collaborative, involving an unspecified number of people who are talking to each other as well as the government.”

“Technological change alters human behavior,” said Tanner. “It doesn’t just mean a better way to do what we’ve always done. It changes the calculus of what we do.”

Pitroda, the Indian entrepreneur, added that government has a moral imperative to innovate on behalf of the poor. “Technology tends to be used to solve the problems of the rich, who don’t actually have many problems,” he said. “To me, technology is the key to begin to change the fabric of Indian administration and delivery for education, health care, everything.”

Pitroda noted the astonishing speed with which digital technology is spreading in Indi, reporting that 250,000 local government will be connected to optical fiber within two years. “The key is to use this infrastructure to really begin to transform business models,” Pitroda told the PSS audience.

Before departing Oslo, PSS 2011 delegates attended the traditional Nobel Peace Prize concert Sunday night honoring the 2011 laureates: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian human rights activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yememi democracy campaigner Tawakkal Karman.

For a recap of the 2011 Public Services Summit visit cisco.com/go/pss2011.

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Cisco PSS Day 2: ElBaradei Says Egypt Faces “Critical” Post-Revolutionary Year

Egyptian Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei said today Egypt’s post-Mubarak era has been “royally” mismanaged and that Egypt needs help building a robust, government that earns the trust and faith of its people. 

“The revolution is being aborted by parts of the old regime and the military,” said ElBaradei. “The army has been mismanaging the transition royally.”

After a revolution which ElBaradei said “would not have been possible without social networking,” he called the Egyptian mood “gloomy.”  “The poverty level was staggering. They haven’t seen the fruits of the revolution.”

“You have to have a change of culture,” he said. “People are used to having one person tell them what to do, but now there is no one person who is going to provide salvation. We need to establish synergy, and come together to deliver the goods.”

“I’m doing as much as I can at my age,” he added.

ElBaradei’s PSS address was avidly anticipated by the Summit delegates and online followers of the Summit and #21CGov.

ElBaradei said the West could contribute to Egypt’s stability by addressing regional conflicts from the Israeli-Palestinian impasse to Iran and Afghanistan. He said he rejected the view that Middle East tensions constitute a “clash of civilizations,” blaming instead historically poor and corrupt governance across the region which has led to repression and poverty.

The rewards for improvement could be vast, said ElBaradei.

 “This could be a peace not just with dictators but between peoples,” he said. “Peace for me is to see every Egyptian have human dignity and live in freedom.” 

“In ten years, Egypt will not be dissimilar to what we see in Turkey or Singapore. But we need first to put ourselves on the right track.”

It’s the second day of PSS 2011 and the event has attracted delegates from more than 40 countries, plus thousands more monitoring the plenary sessions live online. 

In other remarks at today’s plenary, former Los Angeles chief of police Bill Bratton discussed the proven positive effects of collaborative strategies on governance and law enforcement.

“There is raw power in collaboration,” said Bratton. “In today’s networked world virtually everyone is connected whether you want to be or not.”

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Cisco Public Services Summit 2011 Opens with Emphasis on Political Challenges of New Technology

New Internet communications technology empowers citizens and emerging nations but poses growing dilemmas for governments, speakers told the opening session of the Cisco Public Services Summit 2011 in Oslo today.

Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon in Davos 2009 (courtesy of WEF)

Delegates from more than 40 countries heard from former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo; European Union vice president for inter-institutional relations Maros Sefcovic; technology theorist Manuel Castells; and Cisco director Martin Stewart-Weeks.

Zedillo said new information technology lowers barriers to competition and helps more nations accumulate wealth faster. “Most emerging economies will be contributing to the change in the composition in global GDP. Countries still thought of as poor will be the dynamos of the global economy in years to come. The economic convergence between poor and rich countries might be in motion at last.”

In a question-and-answer session following his address, Zedillo elaborated: “I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years we were talking about Africa as the true emerging power of the world.”

But Zedillo also noted that current governments fail crucial tests, accusing the G-20 nations of “flunking” their mandate to manage worldwide fallout from the 2008 financial crash, and predicting a global power shift will only bring more.

“It is unbelievable how the European monetary union has been about to fall off a precipice the last two years due to inability to close a gap between economic need and governance,” he said.

Stewart-Weeks, senior director, Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, echoed the warning that technology and citizen expectations have raced ahead of governments’ desire or capacity to deliver.

“There’s an important shift going on,” said Martin-Weeks, “with important questions about how much transition we are prepared to cope with. We are reaching the limits of some of our capabilities. People are demanding new patterns and styles of participation.”

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