Can tech make government better?

Updated
By Karly Schledwitz
A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013, illustration file picture.
A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013, illustration file picture.
Kacper Pempel/Reuters/Files

As more news break about government surveillance programs, some lawmakers have bemoaned the advancements in technology that have made it all possible. But political tech experts, gathered for a conference earlier this month, instead argued that technology can be used to form a more trustworthy government and produce smarter political campaigns.

Nicco Mele, political tech guru and author of “The End of Big,” proclaimed his dissatisfaction with the current state of our existing institutions.

“We have some very big problems—everything from the vanishing middle class, the global youth unemployment epidemic, climate change. And our existing institutions are not proving up to the task,” he said. “[Our technological] power is useless if we can’t figure out how to make it work better.”

But Mele said he believes the tech community can and should be a driver of positive change, arguing that technology can change the way we participate and engage with government.

“We must figure out some solutions here. We’ve got to figure out better ways of doing it. We have to build an infrastructure of participation. We have to build process and politics that understand the new distribution of power,” Mele said.

Better structures and systems can improve the operations of our government, and it also has implications for campaigns using large quantities of data too.

Sasha Issenberg, author of “Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns,” said that campaigns cannot be expected to innovate because of their inherent short-term goals.

“The job of the candidate manager or consultant over the course of the campaign is not to figure out how to be smarter about politics but to figure out how to win an election,” Issenberg said. “Anything that they would do to devote a dollar or an hour to solving the broader questions of how we develop new tools would be wasted.”

Instead, Issenberg called on campaigns to look to other institutions, such as advocacy groups and think tanks, to do the work of innovation.

“In many cases, it is the permanent institutions in Washington, because they are doing politics year to year are the ones to incubate ideas and tools that campaigns should borrow,” he said.

As 2014 and even 2016 approach, many will be watching to see how campaigns on both sides are able to harness big quantities of data and use new tools to improve their campaign strategies.

Can tech make government better?

Updated