The European Commission hosted what it claims to be Europe’s biggest research event for Information Communication Technologies, ICT, in Lyon during the 25th to the 27th of November with an expected 4,000 plus attendees. The main site gives the following explanation as to the theme;
The next ten years will see major transformations in the technological, industrial and business landscapes surrounding information and communication technologies, or “ICT”. ICT 2008 will set the agenda for ICT research and innovation in Europe during this crucial decade.
I contributed my own presentation to the event entitled ‘From the Common Market to the Virtual Market; From National Citizen to Web Citizen’ and my point was that though research on technology topics is well advanced in solving identifiable, and commercially oriented, problems, we seem to be completely lacking research on what happens in a change of this scale to society, in this case at the level of the EU, as a whole. This has to be government driven research, or perhaps more particularly research using simulations and models to understand the scale, but that throws up the whole question of what to model. I will take a bet that not many people know of the science of Social Simulation, but as Enterprises become more and more focussed on people as the driver of the markets for their products I think this might become the next field for the marketers to understand. Wikipedia offers a useful first starting point to learn more.

There are four threads that I draw on; and I promise there is a point to this! The first is the Gutenberg Galaxy; an unusual book in form, but with a very significant message about the way in which printing changed the world, and due to the analysis on the topic I recommend finding out more about it via Wikipedia again. The second thread develops the theme of technology changing the social and organisational environment which I think is brilliantly illustrated by Thomas Malone in his book The Future of Work which includes Web 1.0, but predates Web 2.0 as it was published in 2006. Malone’s work itself was predated by, and continues today, through a global organisation that is dedicated to understanding these changes, and in applying them with some incredible results.
The principle argument in the Future of Work based on analysis of past technology driven change is that as communication becomes less expensive and contained to a privileged few, if this is coupled with a format to exchange information then an inevitable decentralisation will occur. What is so striking is that Malone’s book is absolutely in tune with what we are seeing right now in the spread of people centric Web 2.0 communication and collaboration. Put simply it results in an exchange of value about what, and how, you know as facts. Now let’s try this on in the context of Government at a country level, and contrast the Danish approach around the open sharing of information with the, to date, unsuccessful approach in Britain.
Here is my third thread, the value of information is changed by sharing, okay we know that, but then so is its secure value, If everyone in Denmark knows everyone else’s address then you understand that address has no part in any security program, nor does the loss of address information from a supposedly secure and restricted Government database become an issue. Go to Norway, and all citizen’s can see each others tax returns, probably stops a lot of cheating on tax, and if you think about this, plus the Danish example, these are really inevitable examples of what must happen sooner or later in an on line society. It will prove impossible to keep generic information isolated and secure. The challenge in this change is all about society and social expectations. What about security you may ask? Well you will take a different, and hopefully, much more secure professional approach then asking to check a person’s address and mother’s maiden name if you know that this is generically available on line to anyone. This is the level of check used to me personally by several enterprises btw!
All of which brings me to my fourth point, the information available in the Danish, Norwegian, and one or two other countries, does much to define a complete picture of a contributing citizen to a country, and therefore equally does much to define their rights, from that country. In the virtual, meaning online globalised world we are already within, mere physical residency is not going to count for much, so the contribution made by a citizen is going to become the necessary point of recognition.
Do politicians and government agencies get this? Well we as citizens with expectations of them had better hope so, but don’t think this all stops with them, this is one change that is going to hit home in business too. So start thinking about the HR policy over how open the salaries, grades, promotions are, because we are heading into an ‘open’ information society and I think you will be forced there sooner, either by hacking embarrassing you, or later by legislation on ‘equality’ requiring the change.
Does Obama get it? Much has been said about the fact that he is a new generation that does, but right now his ‘we can change government’ web site doesn’t look too hopeful. Not one single place does it currently allow comments or feedback to be posted, but then maybe that’s because it’s early days yet.