Remaking Global Cooperation: There’s No App For That

The data revolution can help bring about radically new forms of international cooperation – but instead of challenging the status quo, prevalent data technologies rather exacerbate existing power structures. We need a far bolder approach.

Since the 1970s, our economic system and some aspects of our society have become increasingly interconnected due to two main forces: Financialisation and increasing levels of digitalisation. Incredible changes, both positive and negative, have been wrought upon our political, economic, environmental, and social landscapes by these processes. Our methods and modes of co-operation, however, have lagged these changes in part leading to fragile economic structures, geo-political tensions, and run-away climate change.

Despite it being clear that we need new methods of co-operation for several decades, humanity has left it almost to the point that it is too late for us to establish them. Rather than blindly believe that more data and digitalisation is going to save us, therefore, it is time for us to think deeply about the changes so far and how we can forge the new types of cooperation that we desperately need. This requires an honest assessment of what is needed and what our technologies can help us achieve.

Incremental Change is Guaranteed, But Drastic Re-Organisation Required

It may be an unpopular view, but I believe that our biggest threat to cooperation is that we are all expected to be the same, produce the same, think the same and deliver the same thing that was delivered in the last century. There are a lot of great speeches about change, but frankly most of our cooperation models in today’s world – at national, regional, and international levels of NGOs, Corporations and even Civil Society – are predicated on the same notions of international cooperation developed in the 1950s. Change is slow because participants are forced to agree with the status quo long enough to achieve the right ‘level’ to make extremely basic adaptations. Incremental change is guaranteed when drastic re-organisation is required. As anyone who has ever tried knows – challenging the status-quo may sound glamorous but it is mostly soul-destroying; yet the world desperately needs lots more iconoclasts at every level of society.

As a simple example, our economic system, while it has had a few tweaks here and there, is not that dissimilar to the one of the early post war era. Yes, we have larger, globalised supply chains. Yes, people now move around in a way that they could not prior to the advent of relatively cheap air travel. But the structure of the economic system – the split between people who own land and capital and those that work for those owners has not really evolved all that much. Indeed, we are relying on theories of economic organisation from economists from around that era who are long dead. Are we so sure that Friedman, Coase, Robinson, or any of the others would come up with the same theories if they came face to face with our digital and data-driven world – theories that our modern economists now cling to like life rafts despite all evidence to the contrary?

We Need to Be Far Bolder in Using Data to Change the Status Quo

Despite the transformative promise of data technologies, meanwhile, they too have done less to challenge power structures than we admit – we must admit that they have in many instances exacerbated power discrepancies and created new social problems. Even much-vaunted cryptocurrencies have challenged far fewer existing power structures and modes of cooperation than they boast of – faced with a completely new mode of technology and the opportunity to create a completely new view of what money is, and how it can be used in our society, cryptocurrencies have so far mainly recreated centralised financial instruments in a decentralised fashion.

There is hope, however, but it requires us to be far bolder about what can be achieved, and perhaps more importantly what really needs to be achieved with data and digital technologies. We need to challenge ourselves more and push further. Because we have no option. Our current coordination methods were designed to help humanity work together after two massive wars – we now need ones that can ensure humanity’s survival.

It’s Time For a New Renaissance

In short, we need a new renaissance – we need an era in time where we are brave enough to assess and overthrow the ideas that have gone before us and sweep in a new form of modernity based on science and deep understanding of the humanities. A key aspect of the renaissance period was interdisciplinarity – polymaths spanned the boundaries of science, maths and humanities.  In our new version, however, we need to also span environmental sciences in a much deeper and broader way.

Instead of walking away from education and scholarship, we need more of it forging a path forward and illuminating parts of the way towards socially, environmentally and economically sustainable societies.  Interdisciplinarity at its very core requires cooperation around data and communication of knowledge. Ideally, this would push our political classes far beyond the current rhetoric and into depth of understanding about how to change our world.

As we realise we need to travel less, pollute less, consume differently and ensure a transition to a just and sustainable world, we will need to move towards loosely-coupled coordination methods, ones where high-level agreements can be complemented with regional and local implementations. For example, we at DCentral have placed this as the core of our research agenda – using data and decentralised technologies for the creation of sustainability and social good. Through taking an interdisciplinary approach – combining Economics, Cybersecurity, Information Systems and Design disciplines, we are working to redefine our expectations of decentralised technology and our understanding of the structures of democratic systems themselves in the era of digitalisation.

There is no reason that the digital economy of the 21st Century needs to be organised the same way as the one of the 20th Century. Data now forms the basis of large parts of our economy – but we have done little so far to truly grasp that, engage with it or build out new methods of cooperation. Data both requires new methods of co-ordination to genuinely ensure data is put to work for all, and places in our hands the very tools of the new modes of coordination that we need. We cannot, however, rely on our old models – we need to think through at depth our deepest assumptions of how we should organise human activity, how we should engage with our physical world and those species that share this space with us. We cannot find these new models in our established modes of cooperation – we have no choice but to build new ones.  Rather than fear these changes, we need to accept them for what they are – features of a dying social order – and start to build new connections and new structures of collaboration that work for our entire planet.


Share the article

Leave a Reply

Sign up for our Newsletter

Sign up for our Newsletter