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MSDI hosts world-leading collaborative democracy pioneer - Professor Beth Noveck


From the White House to the Monash Moot Court; Professor Beth Noveck and MSDI put democracy on trial.

In August 2018, MSDI hosted a collaborative workshop discussion titled "Democracy on trial - is democracy dead?" with world leading collaborative democracy expert Professor Beth Noveck.

Professor Noveck is a pioneer in people-led innovation - namely the ability of communities and institutions to work together to solve problems more effectively and legitimately. She is currently the Director of the highly-esteemed Governance Lab (GovLab) at New York University, and was previously Chief Technology Officer in the Obama administration where she led the former President's Open Government initiative.

Professor Noveck was joined by MSDI’s Professor Rod Glover to lead the collaborative workshop discussion and encouraged active participation and thought sharing from attendees, which included staff from across Monash University.

The workshop discussion which was held at Monash Clayton's Moot Court and included active discussion, audience participation and several telephone questions from "mock callers" including 'President D Trump' who shared his thoughts on how much he loved democracy after it "got him where he is now", a tech nerd caller who suggested that we could build an app called "Vote-a-Roo" to collect votes from the public and have our representatives voted in and out in real time and ‘Gary from the suburbs,’ who explained to professor Noveck that he had other priorities, bills to pay, was just struggling to get by and asked Professor Noveck “Who cares?”.

Professor Noveck said that the caller ‘Gary’, represented a growing number of individuals who feel “dissatisfied and disenfranchised” with governments, globally. She explained that “the ability of an ordinary person (in the United States) to have any impact on what happens in policy making is… almost zero” and that's why our democracy needs to be far more conversational and collaborative.

Her strong view is that modern democracy needs to move beyond the ballot box and “be about co-creation and collaboration between government and citizens, between private and public sectors to solve problems in new ways.”

She said the problem with the global phenomenon of disaffection with governments is that institutions, including governments, are lacking the opportunity to learn from people and get smarter as institutions.

“The real danger of this disaffection is that we are making these bad policies that aren’t helping the people they are designed to serve because we don’t actually find a way to engage them,” she said.

However, Professor Noveck told participants there was great potential to use modern technology to empower citizens to better influence decision making.

“We’ve been having this debate about experts for a long time,” she said. “Churchill said experts should be on tap, not on top… and something that has come back again in our own age, is that we tend to assume there’s this class of people called the experts and then there’s the rest of us.”

“However, I believe there is great potential for technology to help mediate these different forms of expertise from us as citizens and feed it into decision making in new kinds of ways.”