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The Tech Developments that will shape the Public Sector in the 2020s

We took the turn of the decade as an occasion to reflect on the lessons learnt from the past decade and our expectations for the one ahead – through the lens of all things relevant to the Civic Tech world of course.

Regardless of what one considers the high and low points of the ‘10s, we can all agree that it’s been a turbulent period filled with unexpected, at-times dramatic developments that reshaped our perspective on the world. Technology was at the heart of these developments and we saw both its power to instigate positive change and the destructive side-effects it can entail when used irresponsibly.

In this sense, the 2010s showed us that there's a pressing need for Civic tech to guide both the tech sector and our world at large towards a more responsible and sustainable future.

How did technology shape the ‘10s?

Over the past decade, a constant stream of new products, trends and breakthrough inventions changed the way we use technology, taking us from the first iPad over Alexa and Pokemon Go to the age of video streaming. At the same time, the face of global business was transformed as a whole new ecosystem of technologies matured and new mega tech companies emerged.

The proliferation of smartphones everywhere made the internet readily accessible to us literally in the palms of our hands, which, over the decade, transformed the way we travel, shop, eat and communicate. And with social media truly kicking of, a new image-powered age of communication was ushered in where information travels faster and further than ever before.

As we began to rely on (digital) technology more and more, it wasn’t just convenience that intrigued us but its potential to make the world a better place. At the start of decade, the Arab Spring showed us how smart communication can help connect people over a shared cause, empowering entire communities as a result. Towards the close of the decade, popular movements from school protests over #MeToo to climate strikes had an indisputable momentum, which was underpinned by the mobilising power of digital communication. And throughout the decade, Civic tech was increasingly integrated into governance structures around the world. Everywhere from Spain ('Decide Madrid') over Uganda ('U-Report) to Mexico ('Arena Electoral'), digital citizen engagement platforms were put into place.

At the same time, the 2010s made us grow conscious of the more harmful side of our dependence on technology. Social media in particular showed its potential not just to connect but to divide people, as the impact of filter-bubbles and fake news became clear. Various whistleblowers shed light on the dynamics at play between governments and the tech sector, proving that our data is a sought-after currency and we’re routinely subjected to surveillance. While serious debate around privacy was long absent from the public discourse, the virtual absence of regulations finally began to transpire into frustration and calls for change during the decade.  

The 2010s therefore ended on an ambiguous note for the tech world. On the one hand, stronger reliance on technology clearly brought profound benefits to our lives, while, on the other hand, unregulated development and use of technology came under increasing attack.

With this in mind, the 2020s are shaping up to be the most consequential decade for the tech sector as well as the decade where Civic tech will shine more than ever. We’re at a crossroads for regulations and as tighter legal standards are created, the climate for tech companies is bound to change drastically. At the same time, given the existential challenges our planet faces, our need for innovative technology is at its peak, which will mean a boost for visionary tech players.

What tech developments will the 2020s bring?

Join us as we take a peek into the crystal ball of Civic tech to identify some of the tech developments likely to revolutionise the public sector - and our lives - in the new decade.

New communications infrastructure (5G)

With 5G technology under testing since last year, the battle for control of the 5G spectrum is currently intensifying as countries race to be the first to implement 5G nationwide.

Once implemented, 5G will fundamentally alter the role of mobile devices, enable the automation of work operations and allow for cross-sector collaborations at an unprecedented scale, as massive amounts of information will be able to move in real time. It will lay the foundation for an entirely new generation of innovation – and usher in the world’s fourth industrial revolution, as many predict.

Artificial intelligence

77% of us already use artificial intelligence in some form or another. AI made immense strides in recent years, as machine-learning algorithms became more sophisticated and huge quantities of data were made available to train them.

Over the next 10 years, the capacities of AI will further improve, which will enable huge advancements in, for example, the medical field. An AI program developed to spot breast cancer in mammograms, for instance, recently proved to be more reliable than diagnoses by expert radiologists.

AI will create an array of new opportunities for the public sector as well. Everything from chatbots making service-delivery more efficient to a more effective processing of citizen requests and comments promises to strengthen the link between citizens and government.

We’re likely to see AI technology merge with IoTs in the future, creating a synergy between the collection and analysis of data. This will pave the way to Smart Cities via smart traffic and waste management.

The most pressing challenge of the next decade will be the fight against changing climate. AI-technology can be a gamechanger both for combating its effects and preventing the crossing of a tipping point.

With the use of AI expanding, we'll have to tackle some difficult questions as well, particularly with regard to ethics. When crucial decisions such as financial lending or legal applications are increasingly made by machine learning algorithms, for example, we’ll at the very least need to ensure that the algorithms are trained without bias and safeguards against malicious use are put into place.

Intelligent automation and mass automation

Advances in AI cannot be seen in isolation; particularly the field of intelligent automation will undergo immense development, disrupting business and the way we live and work.

With the digital landscape growing more complex, manually processing and analysing data becomes impracticable. IA promises to solve this by enabling large-scale deployment of data analytics while still guaranteeing productivity. Organisations will undergo a process of automation, which promises immense productivity growth.

The global workforce will be significantly impacted by this, as the nature of many jobs will change. Workers will need to be included in a dialogue around these changes and in order to avoid a severe disruption of the job market, governments and industries will have to work closely together and make up- and reskilling available to them.

Digital participatory democracy!

The political system has come under increasing attack around the globe, and with citizen dissatisfaction still high and support for populist movements still strong, governments will have to find better ways to (re-)connect with their citizens.

Digital technology currently provides the most effective way to include citizens in decision-making processes, keep them engaged and build stronger democracies. Soon, digital participation will no longer be a nice add-on for governments but constitute a vital pillar of any healthy democracy.

Virtual reality

Billed as the next era for entertainment, virtual reality remained quite niche throughout the 2010s but is set to have its breakthrough in the new decade as the development of 5G will allow wide-scale use of it.

For the public sector, the possibilities for use are endless. Why not enrich visits to the museum or national monuments by turning them into an immersive experience? Or improve city planning by including VR elements in participatory projects?

Cyber threat & security

We’ve already seen cyber threats and security take on immense significance in global affairs over the past decades and we will no doubt hear more of it in the future. The attacks by state-backed hackers will no longer target just other states’ governments, but organisations and actors within states will increasingly become the target as well. With new techniques and tools becoming available, smaller players will join in and we’re likely to see more diversity in where cyber-attacks originate from.

As public sector actors begin to handle even larger quantities of sensitive data, they will have to step up their cybersecurity, along with other organisations everywhere.

It’s clear that, over the next decade, we’ll have to establish a better framework in which tech actors take on responsibility for their actions, citizens can trust the technology they use and we are able to harness innovation for meeting global challenges head-on.

We’ll have plenty of opportunity for this judging from the tech developments coming our way in the 2020s. However, it’s more than ever on the Civic tech world to lead by example and set visionary, responsible and transparent standards for their work. Civocracy is excited about this challenge and we’ll work hard to make the tech world an engine for positive change in the 2020s!


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