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  • Ashwin Mahesh

With the government, within the government, and as the government.

Over the last two years I have written extensively about the emerging new idea of governance around the world. Historically in democracies, we paid a lot of attention to government FOR the people, and government OF the people, but it is only recently that there is more and more attention on self-governance and participatory democracies, ... what we might consider government BY the people themselves. But how exactly could this alternative work? What are its contours? Broadly, there are three pillars on which we can imagine this.

(a) We need to work WITH the government ... a lot of what is needed to be changed in government is the prerogative and the responsibility of officials and elected representatives, who have been formally tasked with doing things. We can't displace that. Instead, we have to find ways of helping them do their jobs better, and build lasting new capacity in public administration.

(b) We need to work WITHIN the government - any significant intervention in governance requires process reform in addition to everything else. And carrying that out requires close engagement with the people whose roles need to be re-imagined. Making things change is not only about proposing new ways of doing things, but also about physically showing up in government departments, rolling up sleeves, and thinking and working through problems with staff and leadership.

(c) Working AS the government ... true, citizens have not been elected by anyone. But effective governance includes self-governance too. So, when we engage in matters of public interest, we have to think of ourselves not as outsiders to government, but as an additional kind of government itself.

And the consequences of thinking this way are significant - it will lead us to create systems and processes that do not only rely upon the work of elected persons and public officials, but also empower citizens to be a permanent part of deciding public choices. The way we contract, the way we build technology, the way we design public services ... all of this will be fundamentally reshaped by the thinking that citizens too are an extension of governments.

This, then, is the HOW of the new model in our quest to build government BY the people. These approaches will result in the fundamental goal of new democracy - to not only solve public problems, but in the process, to increase the number of problem solving people.

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