Governments are starting to use new information channels in decision support and policymaking – and some of those new information sources are constituents of the IoT.
Traditionally, governments decide on policy and exercise their power in a ‘top down’ model. The extent to which they reflect the will of the people varies tremendously, of course, and they may be subject to influence from lobbyists, think tanks and advisors, but in essence, governments tend to govern from on high.
Where connecting with the people is seen as desirable, however, policymakers have explored a variety of methods for gathering opinions and gauging public sentiment – and increasingly, information streams from people, animals and objects are part of an Internet of Governmental Things.
Examples of this can be seen all over the world. Take, for example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where a February 2016 white paper, Edge of Government, spelled out the potential of the IoT in public decision-making.
“New mechanisms for government [help] to gather and respond to the aspirations and ideas of the masses,” it reads. “In allowing for mass input, new platforms for collective intelligence also provide for targeting of narrowly defined groups in ways that have not been previously possible.”
For example, the report continues, a local government may want to solicit ideas on community redevelopment from as many of the residents of a particular neighbourhood as possible, but only from residents of that neighbourhood. “Collective intelligence is the tool that enables this combination of mass participation and precision targeting,” it says.
This suggests an embrace of smart city technologies, where sensors and monitoring devices create the data to validate the perceptions, observations and sentiments of residents about a particular locale, creating a greater level of certainty for government bodies. But this may just the tip of the iceberg.
Read more: Progress: How can government get IoT right?
Internet of garbage vultures
In Peru, the government is currently running a program that we might call the Internet of Garbage Vultures (IoGB), fitting GPS-enabled mobile GoPro cameras to vultures, so that these scavenging birds can be used in the fight to identify and eradicate illegal dumping of waste.
According to a report on ABC News Australia, “Ten trained vultures wearing purpose-designed vests have already started to monitor the city from above with the help of tracking technology as part of the Vultures Detect program, and have been carefully trained to return to their keepers.”
This trend is growing. The central north African country of Chad has developed a similar initiative and fitted dogs with IoT sensors to track down diseases and the United Kingdom has begun a program to use pigeons to monitor air pollution.
But you don’t just switch on collective intelligence overnight. Whether data comes from from humans or from IoT initiatives, engineering information streams so that they can be woven into the operational fabric of government is a big challenge.
In a January 2016 Nesta white paper, Governing with Collective Intelligence, authors Tom Saunders and Geoff Mulgan point out that adopting collective intelligence is not always easy. “Many governments resist openness and citizen input of any kind. Sometimes this is out of a sense that governments know best,” they write.”More often, it is because political organizations created many years ago lack the mechanisms to easily request, absorb, analyze and act upon ideas and information offered by citizens, external organizations [and other external sources].”
To overcome these challenges, the public sector needs a clear strategy to make use of the collective intelligence not just of citizens but also sensors, meters, devices – and, indeed, vultures dogs and pigeons.