This project lab investigates the intersection of two macro-level changes — the increasing centrality of digital technologies and the rise of decentred governance — that are transforming how we govern and are governed.

The digital age

The digital age is characterized by the emergence of new tools, which support networking and information sharing (e.g. social media, websites, blogs), real-time data and information collection (e.g. sensors, smart technologies, web scrapers), and new data analysis and applications (e.g. artificial intelligence, deep learning, sentiment analysis, predictive analytics).

It is also an era that presents an altered context. It is marked by competing forces that decentralize the opportunity to speak, but greatly centralize the ability to be heard, ubiquitous connectivity (via smartphones and embedded digital technology in the built environment, for instance), and where previously offline processes and activities, such as shopping, dating, service delivery, and advocacy, are now digitized.

The digital age, finally, is one marked by an abundance of data, produced, and released with unprecedented speed and volume. Some of these data are ‘new’ in that they are generated by digital processes and technologies that did not exist before (e.g. sensors tracking vehicles’ movements through a city). Other data are ‘old’, but still novel in that they are now accessible for analysis because of available technology and social pressure, including the global open data movement which has compelled the release public sector data via dedicated open government portals.

Decentred governance

Decentred governance captures a perspective that highlights how we regulate our societies through collective mechanisms other than markets and hierarchy. The capacity and legitimacy of states to enact hierarchical control over matters in their jurisdictions has diminished, and networks of other actors that transcend national borders have emerged to supplant, compete with, or complement domestic and international policies and institutions.

Corporate, philanthropic, and nonprofit actors have gained ground as key governors that set, implement, and enforce rules, design policy, and deliver services, both domestically and internationally. This definition of governance does not neglect governments; rather, it views governments as one actor, albeit with unique capacities, authorities, and responsibilities, within larger, decentralized networks.

Project Aims

The project lab is designed to explore and explain the characteristics and consequences of these intersecting changes for governance. Existing research explores these two trends separately. Little is known about their intersection.

Does digital, decentred governance improve or undermine citizenship and our collective problem-solving capacity? Who gains and suffers from these effects? How do power and change operate in this new governance model?

The lab will wield unique data collection capacity to track online data sources and processing power to aggregate, join, modify, and analyze existing datasets to answer these governance questions and create a research hub in the School of Public Policy and Administration on these issues. Funding for this project is provided by Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

Project Team