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70th Couchiching Conference
August 9 to 12

The Global Agora: Technology, Globalization and Democracy: Summary of David Agnew's Presentation

Using the results of a study that his firm, Digital 4Sight, conducted over the course of the past two years, Mr. David Agnew delivered a presentation which outlined the process of globalization, its impact on governance, and what governments and corporations need to do to re-engage the general populace.

Mr. Agnew began his remarks by stating that a fundamental shift has occurred in the way that value is created. In the industrial age, value was created by vertically integrated governments and corporations that used scarce natural and physical resources as the base of their wealth. In this era, the customer adapted to the producer. Conversely, in the new information age, the customer drives production and the base of wealth comes from knowledge. The increase in interconnectedness resulting from the technology revolution has created a world in which people are the most valuable asset as knowledge and human capital are paramount.

Mr. Agnew asserted that we "haven't seen anything yet" in terms of the scope of the Internet revolution. As infrastructure becomes increasingly digital, transaction costs plummet and companies have to engage in innovative behaviour in order to survive the competition. In all sectors innovation is viral, expanding like wild fire. The more powerful the value proposition, the quicker it spreads. Such was the case with Napster, Pay Pal and the Stockwell "Doris" Day Referendum held by Rick Mercer and This Hour has 22 Minutes last year.

As the referendum example illustrates, technology has had a dramatic impact on the relationship between government and citizens. Issues of governance have become more complex as individuals wear two hats in their dealings with government, that of the client and that of the shareholder. With globalization, authority is shifting as countries become increasingly interdependent and the prevalence of regional institutions rise. Consequently, different groups have come together to play a role in areas that used to be the sole domain of the government.

Government was slow to grapple with these issues but has started to move from the industrial age to the digital age as they integrate and customize their services so as to engage larger proportions of their citizenry. In this regard, Mr. Agnew purports that government is moving away from the system where a single agency or ministry assumed central control of political responsibility, to the new era of a g-web, where there is knowledge sharing, democratized decision-making, transparency, openness and organizational networking.

These same issues apply to corporate governance as individuals become more informed, connected and inclined to switch brands if they feel that a corporation is not acting in a socially responsible manner. Globalization and the Internet have brought the entire global supply change to light and consumer activism ensures that corporations are held accountable for their offshore production. Recent polls show that consumers believe good corporate citizenship and social responsibility are important factors in investment and buying behaviour.

Ironically, even though citizens are becoming more active and empowered, the democratic process is undergoing a state of decline as trust in politicians decreases and voter participation rates reach historic lows in mature democracies. The declining confidence in government capacity has as its root the perception in the general populace that the government is no longer the relevant, powerful actor. This disengagement breeds skepticism and undermines authority.

The challenge for citizens, governments and corporations alike is now how to leverage technology in order to create a stronger and more responsive democratic system. In order to meet this challenge, fluid, inter-networked organizations that catalyze the resources of a broad range of participants will emerge as the dominant model for the global era. In this new global democracy, power-sharing and accountability will emerge and transparency and trust will be the key words for the networked globe.

Synopsis by: Melanie Martin

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