Brook Dix­on is an act­ive advoc­ate of the prom­ise of digit­al demo­cracy and the smart cit­ies revolu­tion. The Churchill Schol­ar is spear­head­ing many of Canberra’s smart city and digit­al innov­a­tion ini­ti­at­ives. In pre­par­a­tion for our upcom­ing TEDx­Can­ber­raSalon event, Empower, we’ve spent some time get­ting to know a little bit more about Brook, and the prom­ises – and poten­tial pit­falls – of digit­al demo­cracy.

While the term ‘digit­al demo­cracy’ might all sound very tech­no­logy focused, Brook is at pains to point out that the digit­al city is not about tech­no­logy. In the paper pub­lished as part of his Churchill Fel­low­ship, Brook notes that digit­al demo­cracy is about bet­ter ser­vices, bet­ter exper­i­ences and bet­ter liv­ing. Above all else, it is about people. 

Indeed, Brook lights up with enthu­si­asm when he is talk­ing about the prom­ise that smart cit­ies innov­a­tion holds for empower­ing both cit­izens and vis­it­ors, .

Can­ber­ra is lead­ing the world in many ways in the smart cit­ies and digit­al innov­a­tion agenda. We’re so well posi­tioned to take full advant­age of the bene­fits on offer and we can all be proud of the steps we’re tak­ing as a com­munity to do just that,” Brook says.

At the same time, we have to make sure we don’t squander the oppor­tun­ity by try­ing to make people fit the tech­no­logy, and not the oth­er way around. For a city like Can­ber­ra, with  digit­al aspir­a­tions, it has to work like this: people first, then ser­vices, then tech­no­logy.”

When we approached Brook about lead­ing one of our work­shops for Empower, Brook jumped at the oppor­tun­ity.

It’s like gold for someone work­ing in my field to be able to engage with a curi­ous group of crit­ic­al thinkers to explore just what kind of smart city we could become. I’m also really inter­ested in explor­ing how digit­al tech­no­logy is already chan­ging the face of con­tem­por­ary demo­cracy,” he explained.

And he doesn’t mean by Don­ald Trump tweet­ing poli­cy announce­ments (although that, too, is sig­ni­fic­ant). Rather, Brook refers to the ways in which digit­al cap­ab­il­ity is chan­ging pub­lic gov­ernance and admin­is­tra­tion.  By allow­ing the col­lec­tion of real time feed­back, for people to engage, on their terms, and with great­er con­veni­ence, on issues that mat­ter to them, admin­is­trat­ors and pub­lic ser­vants can have unpre­ced­en­ted access to the genu­ine views of the people. 

Canberra’s digit­al city 3D mod­el is a great example of this. The mod­el allows people to engage in a much more relat­able way to plan­ning pro­pos­als and vis­ions for the future of their city. Rather than expect­ing people to read through pages and pages of bor­ing and impen­et­rable plan­ning doc­u­ments, people can see them­selves in a vir­tu­al city scape, and get a much clear­er and more real­ist­ic under­stand­ing of pro­posed changes to their town.” 

Of course, all this poten­tial comes with an asso­ci­ated warn­ing: to enjoy the full bene­fits on offer, and to ensure that digit­al demo­cra­cies serve social justice out­comes, we all need to pay atten­tion and be involved. 

As Brook observes in his Churchill report, there are power­ful digit­al forces mould­ing and shap­ing demo­crat­ic pro­cesses and insti­tu­tions, some­times gently, some­times with great viol­ence.

We need to engage with this change, pos­it­ively and pro­act­ively, har­ness­ing digit­al cap­ab­il­ity to bet­ter know and serve the people.” 

As part of our Salon, Brook will be host­ing #WeTh­eP­eople: Digit­al Demo­cracy or Twit­ter Kako­cracy? It prom­ises to be a fun, inter­act­ive, inform­at­ive and thought pro­vok­ing ses­sion.

You can read Brook’s Churchill paper in full here.


Leave a Reply