Local Empowerment in the Era of Digitalization

At the heart of the digital transformation is a shift in the provision of services from a supply-oriented product out mentality, to one that redefines services around the perspectives and needs of end users. This shift has led the digital transformation to become a truly inseparable part of citizens political participation. Given this new reality, a key question becomes how to inspire people to participate politically and empower them with the tools they need to build up their local and regional communities in the era of digitalization? To shed light on this important issue, NIRA interviewed four experts in the fields of digitalization and community development.

Rieko Oda, President of the Consortium for Public-Private Co-Creation, highlights the current state of affairs in which data is underutilized at all levels of government and political decision making in Japan. She emphasizes the importance of increasing the number of citizens who recognize the direct impact of local politics on their lives and come to see it as “their business,” rather than an issue to be left to someone else. Yuji Yoshimura, a specially appointed associate professor at the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, follows up by suggesting Barcelona’s Decidim initiative, a free and open-source participatory democracy platform for cities and organizations, may serve as a model for driving increased civic participation. One of Decidim’s core tenants is allowing ordinary citizens to be involved in policy proposals through deliberations on a digital platform. On the other end of the spectrum, Masahiko Shoji, a professor at Musashi University's Department of Sociology points out that the very idea of “digital democracy,” poses significant challenges to society. Two of the most significant issues include the overemphasis on solutionism in ICT and the negative externalities, such as political polarization, that have occurred in response to the popularization and mass adoption of ICT. Nonetheless, he believes that the launch of Japan’s Digital Agency has created a powerful tailwind for the country’s digitalization, the fate of which may well hinge on how well the country can ride that wind of change. Finally, Kei Wakabayashi, editor of the book “GDX - Government Digital Transformation: Principle and Practice” which covers the digital transformation in the executive branch of government in multiple countries, believes the key to success lies in recognizing the essence of the digital transformation as a move toward a more “user-centered” future.

The goal of digitalization should be to harness its power to connect people, bring communities together, and achieve tangible, positive change in people’s lives. While such change is not risk free, the negative aspects of digitalization can be overcome, and the digital transformation can bring about new possibilities for the development of democracy and the revitalization of regional areas.

Executive Vice President, NIRA /Professor, The University of Tokyo