On the last day of the first Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development, which took place in Bonn, one of the main topics to be tackled was: Disruptors to Development: Utilising the Latest Technology to Transform Safety Nets and Social Protection.
Disruptive technologies can be used to achieve social change. One of the main reasons for that is the ability that we have to capture and analyze data. In many occasions though, this “power” can be proved to be a double edged sword. As mentioned during the discussion: “technology is a knife, you can use that to cook or to kill people“.
The discussion on Big Data used to be way more polarized. Big Data appeared to be either the best thing ever, as a mass of data that with proper analysis will improve our lives, or a horrible situation. The discourse turned a lot more complex and mature eventually. The truth seems to be grey instead of black or white. In order to take advantage of the positive aspects of Big Data and avoid technology becoming democracy’s enemy, the solution seems to be a democratic discussion on the subject.
Various other technology related aspects were discussed during the session, including bitcoin, insurance methods in China and big data safety.
A really interesting issue emerged when Kenn Crossley, the Deputy Director of Programme and Policy at the World Food Programme (WFP), mentioned that citizens can take part in projects that may help them in various ways, anonymously. This occurs by following money transactions online or mobile phone lines. Nowadays, it is possible, through technology, to follow such transactions or mobile phone lines not knowing the identity of the data providers. That way people are able to help themselves as well as other people without actually doing anything. This opinion raised several reactions about whether people should be active participants and whether they should be aware of their digital presence and their capacity to participate and control.
In several occasions of active participation, the impact to societies was significant. For example, during a voting procedure in Libya, an online application for voter registration helped filing the gender inequalities gap. That way, women’s participation percentage increased. Also the overall number of voter registrations increased.
Trying to change systems requires the trust of the communities. Using the participatory approach is key when trying to gain trust and transparency; this is the only way to achieve it. The problem is that there is a general distrust towards governments and the way that they use data. So the question that raises is: what is the governance’s future with all this technology?
This kind of questioning is important in order to make us more critical and cautious. Nevertheless, we should remain optimistic towards technology, look for what is important in it and how we can use the opportunities that technology provides us.
Featured Image Credit: www.globalfestivalofideas.org/