In a meeting this week someone commented on the balance between “talking time” and “thinking time”. Last week was all about talking, so hopefully this week I can do some thinking about it - but this does mean these weeknotes are a bit out of date.
I spent last week attending the Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit in Tallinn, Estonia. Tim has already written up our workshop in a blog post, so I won’t repeat the detail here. I will just note that I was incredibly pleased with how the day went, and impressed at how much can be co-produced in only one day with people who mostly don’t know each other. In true eastern european style, shoes had to be removed and only slippers or socks allowed inside our venue. On reflection I think this little ritual of taking off one’s shoes and stepping into the space really helps to shift into the mindset of being in the room. In the room, we were able to focus and discuss in depth, and work towards meaningful ideas, which I hope to see put into practice.
The summit programme itself offered a broader, though not as in-depth, series of perspectives. Doreen Bogdan-Martin in the summit’s opening session quoted Oppenheimer “The answer to fear cannot always lie in the dissipation of the causes of fear; sometimes it lies in courage.”, and went on to add collective action into the formula along with courage, which resonated. She also commented on fear of tech stifling growth, and this seemed to be a common disclaimer throughout the summit - don’t worry, we don’t want to regulate too much, we aren’t anti-growth. This I think captures my feeling about the summit as a whole. I was very inspired by the stories of courage and community; Kenyan public participation initiatives enabling access to government data, Moroccan citizen labs with community members acting as facilitators and interviewers, the Costa Rican judiciary seeking to learn from LBGTQ+ communities how their data should be used, to name a few. But I was frustrated by the lack of challenge to the pro-growth, capitalist framing that shies away from tackling the “causes of fear” and puts the burden on these communities to have “courage”.
To close the summit, Maria Ressa from the Philippines finally brought challenge to the room, calling out the need to tackle the power imbalances that make tech regulation lack teeth and ultimately allow rapid tech developments to threaten democracy (e.g. pointing out to the rep from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy that their voluntary AI commitments are great but haven’t been adopted). As someone with a Nobel peace prize for calling out authoritarianism, her challenge carries weight, but I am not enormously optimistic at the appetite for taking on the corporate power structures at play.
I am left thinking about the way that smaller-scale, community-oriented work can evade, or form capsules within, larger systems and power structures. Versus how this work can be amplified to challenge systems. I will be interested to see how the model commitments that were coproduced in our workshop, which were designed for different scales, fit within this picture.
I really wanted to find a pithy Barbie quote to add here in opposition to Oppenheimer, but truth be told the movie didn’t impress me much. And the summer’s other blockbuster, Mission Impossible 7 with an evil AI archvillain, is just too on-the-nose. Maybe someone can find a suitable counter-quote elsewhere.