Governance in the Information Age

ABU DHABI – As the year comes to an end, it is only natural to ask what might lie ahead. But, instead of asking what may lie ahead in 2014, let us jump to mid-century. What will governance look like in 2050?

That is what the World Economic Forum (WEF) asked at a recent meeting in Abu Dhabi that focused on the future of governance under three potential scenarios arising from the ongoing information revolution. With that revolution already marginalizing some countries and communities – and creating new opportunities for others – the question could hardly be more timely.

The first scenario that participants considered is a world ruled by so-called “megacities,” where governance is administered largely by major urban agglomerations. The second possibility is a world in which strong central governments use big data to fortify their control. And, in the third scenario, central governments are fundamentally weak, with markets – and the enterprises that dominate them – providing almost all services.

Each of these scenarios is an extrapolation of a current trend. While all of them could be beneficial in some respects, they also have features that, if left unchecked, could lead to dystopian outcomes. Policymakers should already be implementing policies aimed at guiding trends like urbanization, the rise of big data, and the grouping of people into narrow communities, often based on their relationship to the market.