The scale of the Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the need for policymakers facing similar, and globally entwined, challenges to be able to learn quickly from peers what has worked – or not – elsewhere. Yet little is understood about how lessons are learned and ideas shared in relation to government technology uptake, use and governance.
New research at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, University of Cambridge, co-authored by Dr. Tanya Filer, StateUp Founder, and Dr. Antonio Weiss, addresses this gap. It argues for the critical function of small, agile, digitally enabled and focused networks of leaders to foster strong international cooperation on digital governance issues.
This type of cooperative working, described as ‘digital minilateralism’, has a role to play in shaping how individual governments learn, adopt and govern the use of new and emerging technologies, and how they create common or aligned policies. It is also important as cross-border digital infrastructure and services become increasingly common.
Key findings include:
- Already beginning to prove effective, digital minilateralism has a role to play in shaping how individual governments learn, adopt and govern the use of new and emerging technologies, and how they create common or aligned policy. In the future, it will also have a role to play as countries navigate the possibility of increasingly interoperable or cross-border digital infrastructure and services.
- National governments should recognise and reinforce the strategic value of digital minilaterals without stamping out, through over-bureaucratisation, the qualities of trust, open conversation, and ad-hocness in which their value lies.
- As digital minilateral networks grow and mature, they will need to find mechanisms through which to retain (or adapt) their core principles while scaling across more boundaries. There is no singular ‘magic number’ for digital minilateralism, but networks must carefully consider their objectives and the range and quantity of countries that can best help them to achieve them.
- To demonstrate their value to the global community, digital multilaterals must feed into formal multilateral conversations and arrangements. Multilaterals, in turn, should welcome the connection, as it allows them to tap into cutting-edge approaches to emergent digital governance issues.
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