Nuances in Governance Design

Once you start thinking about how to govern technology, you realize there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Even if one may not be able to articulate exactly how, it is obvious to people that the way a code-base of an open-source UI component is governed should be different from how to govern a large Digital Identity system. Projects that have a large number of contributors, being used by many, need to be governed differently from projects with a smaller number of contributors, used by a few. There could also be projects where deep technical expertise resides with a few, but the projects affect many stakeholders.

These are obvious reasons that normative technology needs a multiplicity of governance models, but there are some subtle reasons too.

Normative technologies do not all exist in the same societal context. There are societies where trust in government, fellow citizens and rule of law are high e.g. Norway. These societies would benefit from a model where a government appointed ombudsman, or oversight body could be trusted to do their job independently and fairly. However, in other societies like India, where trust in government and rule of law are not as established, these models would fail.

This underlines the focus of these discussions. Governance models do not have an inherent “goodness”. The exercise here is to build trust amongst the stakeholders that they have both a voice, and a choice. They should have a say in shaping the normative technology that they participate in. Where necessary, they should also have the choice to reject the normative technology they do not believe agrees with their values.

These are hard problems, because ultimately, we are not just governing code, but governing ourselves. These problems of governance of normative technologies, intersect with the problems we have in governance of society itself. However, these problems are not impossible. We need to study examples of successes in various different contexts and document them, till we are able to learn what works where, when does it work and ultimately, why? Only then will we start to understand how to build governance models that help us build technology that upholds the norms we desire.