Edited and prepared by Oscar Michel, Masters in Journalism, DCU

Great guest post by Gafar Kuku. Gafar is a professional working across Communications Consultancy, Public Affairs and Digital PR based in London. He is also a freelance writer and political commentator.

Enough of the blame game – We need more focused governance around the impact of digital technology.

The growth of digital technology has can and should result in a desire for politicians to better understand the phenomenon. Digital technology is now more than ever before, shaping discussions around politics and marking a shift in where the influencers truly are at the point where these worlds collide. In many ways we are part of a fourth industrial revolution where fields within the tech sector such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Data Storage have the capacity to create realities formerly thought to be unconceivable. Access to technology is too set to spread further both across geographical and sectorial lines. Together all of these fascinating developments present society with the task of navigating through quite substantial risks. Politicians so desperately need to use their platform to shed light on these matters and form legislation they can implement to deliver tangible change.

So what is there to govern?

From a security perspective it is important to highlight the potential technology has to produce outcomes that are both positive and negative. Whilst for the most part we can harness developments in technology for positive outcomes, there are aspects of these developments that leave us susceptible to an abuse of technology. Attacks on systems and databases, seen recently with NHS England in the UK is an example of how data that is not fully secure can be left open to tampering and the public services so many in society rely upon, are digitally disrupted. Hate crime has been given a new lifeline in recent years because of the abilities people have to communicate via mobile phone networks and social media. These are just a few areas that need governance but the point remains the same for them all – as technology changes, there must be consideration for any impact this innovation may bring forward.

So now we know some of the things that need governance – whose job is it anyway?

Celebrating, developing and meticulously monitoring advancements in technology is a shared responsibility that requires a partnership between tech leaders and politicians at all levels. Governments, ministerial departments, and local authorities need a workforce that has the digital capabilities to establish a strategy that best serves the interest of the location(s) they are responsible for overseeing. It is not helpful when senior figures within Government threaten tech firms to ‘crack down’ on extremism but first not understanding that things like encryption on messaging services are in place as a matter of privacy for users and not to enable to extremists. Politics can also facilitate an inclusionary conversation with the surrounding industries that could do with harnessing this digital knowledge if it was made available quickly and easily. These include organisations within fintech, professional services, investment banking, the third sector, communications and law.

Camden Council in London, UK is an example of a local authority advocating for a new approach to the digital challenges the borough faces. Cllr Theo Blackwell has said ‘the speed [of technological change] is such that the UK is in danger of creating a digital elite ready to exploit this new environment, while the majority remain locked out from the benefits of change’. It was also reported in New Statesman Tech last month that Camden has ambitions to become London’s ‘Centre for Data’. In March, Camden launched Open Data Camden, a platform for residents, businesses and community groups to access important local information more quickly and easily. Camden is situating itself as a local authority aware of technological change and harnesses this awareness to first and foremost benefit local residents and give back to the community. Camden Council have also offered recommendations and contributions to the UK Digital Strategy.

So where do we go from here?

It is important that whilst politicians should become more digitally astute, they are at the same time giving future generations an opportunity to enhance their digital skills as well. Ways of working are changing and it is important to equip future generations will the skillsets needed to succeed in employment. Organisations like the Professional Academy and General Assembly design courses and qualifications that speak to the need to increase digital literacy and close the digital skills gap even more so. These include digital marketing and UX Design. In the third sector, advocacy groups and social enterprises like Good Things Foundation for the past year have been helping small businesses and charities with their digital skills in partnership with Google. Over in the United States, Black Girls Code is the brainchild of electrical engineer and technologist Kimberly Bryant. Bryant’s mission is simple: to encourage young black girls to embrace digital transformation and expose them to the potential they have to one day to become coders and leaders in technological innovation themselves. Finally, The University of Edinburgh in Scotland are going to become Europe’s first major university to offer a blockchain course later this year after establishing the Blockchain Technology Laboratory earlier this year.

A highly collaborative partnership between these initiatives and those forming legislative policy is the hope here. Together these examples the enthusiasm displayed by local authorities such as Camden Council only further assist the notion that politics and technology do not have to be at odds. The building blocks have been established for sometime now and need to be given the political and creative stimuli to flourish even more.

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