Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ S2000 - Conclusion

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 27, 2000

Smart 2000 was an odd convention. Despite high profile speakers and a compelling agenda, the delegates rattled around the spacious Telus Convention Centre like pebbles in a drum. The two or three dozen of us who listened to Diane Francis, for example, probably benefited a great deal. But seldom have I ever seen a cabinet minister from a (popular) government speak to so few people.

Ironically, I think what happened with this convention is that the organizers violated the very principles which were expressed throughout the conference:

-         They aimed the conference at the "decision makers" - CEOs, university Deans, cabinet ministers and deputy ministers - and yet the knowledge is not hierarchal, the best informed person at a school, as one delegate commented, is not the principal.

 -         The created 'silos' of information. Four days; days, four distinct themes. Many people attended for one day and then left. Yet the very important cross-pollination which should have happened, did not

The 'official' conference document will probably say something like this:

-         In e-commerce, everything is customer-centered

-         In e-learning, everything is learner-centered

-         In e-professions, everything is client-centered

-         In e-government, everything is citizen-centered

And while those observations are perfectly true, we need to think about the implications:

-         In e-commerce, monopolies and artificial constraints, such as copyright, no longer work

-         In e-learning, central administration, like acceditation and government management of learning, no longer works

-         In e-professions, a monopoly of information - or of processes, such as genetic manipulation - no longer works

-         In e-government, regulation and legislation no longer work

But, as I said, getting from here to there is hard:

-         Copyrights and patents reward innovation and effort; we need alternative business and income distribution models

-         Accreditation and government curricula are intended to ensure that people are educated; we need alternative educational models

-         Regulations and restrictions in the professions are needed to protect people from quacks, or from killing themselves through self-misdiagnosis; we need alternative information distribution mechanisms

-         Regulations are needed to protect citizens from market failures and excesses (including such things as crime, war and poverty); we need self-government mechanisms

That's the bad news. The good news is that we will get them because we need them. Politics, policy and government in the future will be about who implements these models and who governs them, if anyone. The near future is going to focus a lot more on developing protocols for an information-based form of communication and in building a substratum of information transmission running across - and through -society.

Government will transform itself; it won't become obsolete or irrelevant, as some commentators suggest, but rather, it will become the great arm of society, acting as an enabler rather than a regulator, an agent of empowerment rather than an agent of control.


Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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