Empowering Citizens Through Social and Cultural Inclusion
This article is part of our Tech for Inclusion Blog Series identifying goals and strategies for deploying tech for social and political inclusion in Europe and the United States. Register now for GMF’s Inclusive Leadership Summit: Tech for Inclusion convening virtually on December 1-4, 2020 to explore these topics further.
Although the common understanding of Inclusion and Diversity usually refers to democratic governance and inclusion in political representation, these values are also and primarily related to cultural and human diversity. From the roots of inclusion in education and culture to the potential renewal of the democratic pact through participatory practices, tech and innovation ecosystems crystallize both the infrastructural means and the activators of inclusive and sustainable societal pathways. The various levels of inclusive strategies—from people to State, from national to international strategies, and from tech and innovation tools to tech and innovation diplomacy—can be considered as different steps of the same ladder. Tech and innovation developments anchored in matters of access, diversity, and representation, can positively contribute to a take-up of inclusive socio-economic development.
Inclusive Societies and Tech Ecosystems
As powerful channels of value transmission, education and culture are not only major battlefields of democratic cementing, but also effective means for an inclusive tech changeover. Rooting innovation in these channels has become a priority in view of growing divides that shake the social fabric of our democracies, and, at the edge, threats of violent extremism that have become a global security issue. Tackling issues of marginalization and discrimination and the lack of socioeconomic opportunities contributes to eradicate some of the conditions conducive to violent extremism, and the underlying distortion and misuse of beliefs, of political ideologies, and of cultural differences that they use to divide nations, cultures, and people[i]. From a cultural point of view, the diversity of voices, identities, and cultures represented in online productions and contents can be reinforced through media and cultural innovations underpinning diversity endeavors. How can technology and innovation invest in new solutions to foster values through education, media literacy, and informal and formal education as a means to enable citizens to have a positive influence on their civic rights and to empower them in an active citizenship and a sound cultural pluralism? This level of inclusive strategies refers to contextual and infrastructural issues that tech and innovation actors can contribute to foster, either internally through tech tools, or externally, by aligning their goals on these societal challenges. The underlying questions that should be addressed are: Who are those who are left behind in the sharing of technological benefits, or who would be the affected publics if a technological solution may have potential risks or undesired societal impact? Similarly, who do we include or exclude with our digital technologies and innovations? Further to representation, inclusion aspires to integrate a diversity of voices in democratic debates on the future of our societies and to actively connect them to decision-making processes, thus enhancing equal opportunities for all citizens, including all underrepresented and vulnerable groups.
The inclusion of society in science and technology can be promoted through participatory approaches to innovation: Aiming at empowering community-based action, such perspectives are also part of improving the science-society relationship through citizen diplomacy and promotion of values such as responsibility, sustainability, transparency, and accountability in public policies. The opening-up of innovative sectors to public engagement allows for a shift from primary concerns (such as inequalities in power) towards an increase of public scrutiny and the avoidance of biases in tech and innovation. Working towards a new equilibrium, inclusive tech unfolds on several levels, from tech development (participation and responsibility in research and innovation, at the level of funding schemes), to tech distribution (Big Tech and platforms), open access of information and networks, as well as, reversely, in tools that can potentially enhance public engagement in the digital public sphere. The move towards sustainability requires diversifying public engagement and ensuring citizens and stakeholders can participate in public decision making, thus allowing for positive societal impact and an active digital citizenship. What are the means to assess the discrepancy between citizen diplomacy and the effective inclusion of citizens’ interests in decision-making processes? Taking stock of new digital participatory tools, what would be the ways to enhance citizen diplomacy through online voting processes, online debates, and participatory events effectively connected to decision-making processes? The practicalities of such an approach refer to technological solutions that can promote participatory approaches fostering public dialogue and inclusion, with the goal of inclusive growth through equal access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the Internet. With the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) framework, Europe has taken the lead in promoting a new paradigm for sustainability in innovation ecosystems and technological development, while accounting for the actual effects and potential impacts on the environment and society, thus ensuring positive outcomes on society[ii]. This commitment is furthered by incentives for positive impact launched through the embedding of societal challenges as policy priorities for innovation in public funding schemes[iii]. The EU provides a strong commitment and model in science, technology, and innovation policy that could be taken up at international scale through channels of cooperation overcoming one region’s leadership.
[i] According to the analysis and recommendations of the UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (24 December 2015).
[ii] The European RRI framework promoted by the European Commission promotes “multi-actor and public engagement in research and innovation, enabling easier access to scientific results, the take up of gender and ethics in the research and innovation content and process, and formal and informal science education”: Official presentation of the Responsible research & innovation framework as part of Horizon 2020, on the European Commission portal. Online: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/responsible...
[iii] European Commission, Horizon 2020 policy priorities. Horizon 2020 is a Research and Innovation program, acting as the financial instrument implementing the Europe 2020 flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness, with nearly €80 billions of funding available from 2014 to 2020.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.