Knowledge Management for Democratic Governance of Socio-Technical Systems (Chapter in The Future of Digital Democracy. Lecture Notes in Computer Science.)

The Digital Transformation (DX) is a broad term describing the changes and innovations brought about by the introduction of information and communication technologies into all aspects of society. One such innovation is to empower bottom-up, self-governing socio-technical systems for a range of applications. Such systems can be based on Ostrom’s design principles for self-governing institutions for sustainable common-pool resource management. However, two of these principles, both focusing on self-determination, are vulnerable to distortion: either from within, as a narrow clique take control and run the system in their own, rather than the collective, interest; or from without, as an external authority constrains opportunities for self-organisation. In this chapter, we propose that one approach to maintaining ‘good’, ‘democratic’ self-governance is to appeal to the transparent and inclusive knowledge management processes that were critical to the successful and sustained period of classical Athenian democracy, and reproduce those in computational form. We review a number of emerging technologies which could provide the building blocks for democratic self-governance in socio-technical systems. However, the reproduction of analogue social processes in digital form is not seamless and not without impact on, or consequences for, society, and we also consider a number of open issues which could disrupt this proposal. We conclude with the observation that ‘democracy’ is not an end-state, and emphasise that self-governing socio-technical systems need responsible design and deployment of technologies that allow for continuous re-design and self-organisation.