Web 3.0 is the hottest tech term lately. What would this mean for ‘GovTech’, i.e. using technology to deliver citizen-centric public services? A blueprint called “India Digital Ecosystem Architecture (IndEA) 2.0”, released recently by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), provides some clues.
The document outlines how the government should design its digital infrastructure for the Web 3.0 era. The digital ecosystem is defined in the document as “a distributed, adaptive and open socio-technical system with properties of self-organization, scalability and sustainability”. To cite a rough analogy, current GovTech platforms like Aadhaar and UPI, although built using open source software and interoperability principles, are akin to a tightly choreographed orchestra controlled by a single conductor. next generation of GovTech rigs built using IndEA 2.0 design principles might feel more like a jam session.
Although it does not explicitly name Web 3.0, the IndEA 2.0 report seems to have embraced the principle of decentralization which is the greatest promise of the Web 3.0 approach. The first Web, or Web 1.0, was a connected platform where people could access information and start interacting with each other. However, it was mostly a collection of static websites. Web 2.0, also sometimes called the social web, gave us platforms like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter and made the web more dynamic and interactive. However, one of the unintended consequences of Web 2.0 has been that these platforms have turned into giant monopolies or duopolies due to network effects. Due to network effects, Web 2.0 has become too centralized in terms of data, code, services and infrastructure. Unlike Web 2.0, the emerging Web 3.0 architecture is expected to be decentralized, more secure, and provide users with greater control over their data. The IndEA 2.0 report recognizes this paradigm shift in technology architecture by proposing to move from systems to ecosystems and from platforms to protocols. It envisions digital governance as a set of building blocks that can be combined to create citizen-centric services.
Along with the general philosophy of embracing decentralized technology, the report has some specific features that are fresh and noteworthy. First, it emphasizes the need for a federated architecture approach to prevent risks associated with large-scale data centralization, such as data “honeypot” hacking and surveillance. Second, he proposed the concept of “federated identities” to optimize the number of identifiers a citizen should possess. While the details of this need to be understood, the idea that citizens can choose a limited set of credentials they trust for various use cases is promising. Third, it recognizes that building capacity in government for a new generation of GovTech requires new skills and offers a module-based approach to improving skills and changing mindsets in government. Although a historical document, the approach outlined in IndEA 2.0 requires further reflection on some of the “soft” elements of governance and community engagement. The report talks about participatory design, but it needs to be built: how could the GovTech systems of the future be designed with citizens rather than for citizens? Along the same lines, while the report recognizes the importance of data protection, the primary framework for enabling this is user ‘consent’, which we know is broken. Going beyond consent, for example, promoting nudges like privacy “star ratings” and guidelines on actual implementations of concepts like “privacy by design” would help. Unlike Web 3.0 decentralized governance approaches like DAOs, IndEA 2.0 envisions that a government wing, or a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) along the lines of UIDAI (Aadhaar) or NPCI (UPI) should be responsible for managing technical, domain, legal, business and program management aspects of IndEA 2.0. Such an approach is welcome, and the success of this anchor “governance” institution – as a professionally, independently and accountably managed institution – will be critical to the success of the next phase of GovTech. In short, moving the plan from principles to implementation will require more specific and practical guidance. The “Good Digital Public Infrastructure Principles” listed by CoDevelop and MeitY’s white paper on National Open Digital Ecosystems (NODEs) provide useful markers in this regard. IndEA 2.0 presents a bold step forward on reinventing GovTech for a more decentralized Web 3.0 era. , the proof of the pudding will, as always, be in the implementation.
Venkatesh Hariharan is the Indian representative of Open Invention Network, an open source patent non-aggression network. Varad Pande is a partner at Omidyar Network India.
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