Doctoral students from across the University participated yesterday in a “Rapid Reflection Construction Event” organised by the Centre for Cultural Relations for the Scottish Government. The purpose of the event was to develop big picture thinking on digital life which would be used by Ministers and others to inform policy development.
The discussion touched on a huge range of topics. The focus was on (in)security, personal, societal and cultural in the digital space. It went much wider, however, including insights from economics and business; law; sociology and informatics. Coincidentally, the session took place on the day when Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, gave the first live media interview ever given by a senior British intelligence official. In the interview, on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34276525 Parker defended the British surveillance system and backed the government’s plans for new surveillance powers.
The question of the relationship between the state and citizens in the digital age was central to the focus of the session. It stimulated thinking about the accelerating pace of change, the ubiquity of digital technology, the meaning of connectivity, privacy and identity and the roles of state and non-state actors, both corporations and private citizens.
There was an appetite from participants for this kind of big picture discussion, and an invitation has already gone out to continue the conversation. That no doubt reflects interest in the question, but also indicates the potential of the Scottish Goverment’s approach to engagement.
The Rapid Reflection technique was developed by the Scottish Government Strategic Assessment team to contribute to developing a new modus operandi for Government, recognising that Ministers and policy makers need to engage with large scale, complex, fast changing issues, but that current practices are not always helpful. It was refreshing to see civil servants tackling head-on perennial problems of policy development such as how decision making hierarchies can operate in a networked world; opening out the thinking process beyond narrow interest groups; lack of time, bandwidth and attention span, and the primacy given to facts over meaning.
The process develops (literally) a big picture, which places the context of today – which is where decisions have to be made – at the centre of a timeline, showing both key events and path dependencies from the past, and an indication of what the future may hold. It is not intended to be a predictive tool, but it does highlight macro trends, framing policy making and the choices available in relation to past decisions, the range of actors and stakeholders, and environmental factors.