Development 2.0: Putting complexity and risk at the heart of the development agenda

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Are social networking sites changing the governance of sustainable development? A recent report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development tries to provide the answer to what is clearly an emerging field of research. (Hat tip: Rachel Kyte)

The taxonomy used by the author to categorise social media is, in my view, a bit reductive. (By the way, when are we going to get the Development 2.0 equivalent of E-participation or, even better, the Board of Innovation?) As I have argued in the past, classifying social media based on their features, e.g. out of the box vs. hosted, rather than business objectives and models risks missing out on their potential for radical innovation.

However, when it comes to identifying the governance implications of social media, I could not subscribe more fully to the author's observation that "whether you believe...that social networks are a key element in addressing the governance challenges at the heart of sustainable development depends largely on which of two competing sustainable development governance approaches you believe most accurately reflects the world."

At one end of the spectrum, "if you believe that sustainable development is a largely logical process achieved through planning and government policy-making, social networking sites do not fundamentally alter the dynamics of the political landscape." This is what the author refers to as the "rational democratic governance" perspective. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the "adaptive governance" view of the world is rooted in the belief that complexity and risk are at the heart of the development agenda. Here, the ability to quickly adapt to circumstances, collaborative learning and the opening up of the decision making process beyond traditional players are key to sound policy-making. Needless to say, it is the latter view of governance that fully embraces social media as a core mechanism for future policy making.

A governance model that is equipped to plan for serendipity and deal with complexity might be the best outcome we could wish for Development 2.0.

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