Emerging Trends | SDG10 | Youth
February 12, 2014

The new digital context

By Doug Court

Borrowing a title from a WEF2014 session which featured Marissa Mayer and John Chambers, this article explores the evolution of customer relationship management (CRM) and how companies are being obliged to engage and respond. There is little doubt that the convergence of new technologies (cloud, social etc.) is completely transforming the relationship businesses have with their customers. Passive consumers are almost a thing of the past as new products and services are increasingly designed through public consultation and collaboration. Start-ups are doing this from the outset, using applications like crowd funding to bring consumers in at a very early stage to give them an active stake in a company’s future.

Each of the corporate giants on the panel in Davos touched on the changing relationship they have with their customers, as information technology creates a real-time feedback loop between them. If a company isn’t seen to be reacting to such feedback, they lose customers. Consumer awareness runs high, and companies have to innovate. Businesses are not the only ones responding. Governments and politicians in some countries are embracing this phenomenon and have active public (online) profiles. As of yet however, most of the world lacks an effective means of engagement and dialogue between citizens and governments.

ITU, as the UN agency for information and communication technology, continues to explore new and innovative methods for engaging people in our work. Prospective methods are often trialled through activities with young audiences, as was the case at the BYND2015 Summit hosted in Costa Rica which highlighted key concerns up-and-coming generations have with the current international ICT ecosystem. Output from the Summit was crowd-sourced from a global audience of young people, and delivered to the UN General Assembly by President Laura Chinchilla in the first ever instance of a publically sourced document being put before a high-level body in such fashion. In the document, young people call for the continued use of technology as a means of engagement between policy makers and citizens, scaling this up where possible and creating a mechanism for follow-up and implementation. Since the Summit, ITU has gone on to publically crowd-source input to its strategic plan; and hosted a series of online ‘Open Talks’ with Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré on issues related to internet governance.

Another excellent test bed comes as the UN is setting the Post-2015 Development Agenda to guide global development work in the period after 2015 and the due date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). If consumer products are being designed through rigorous public scrutiny, it should hold that global policies and frameworks which govern national and international systems could also benefit from this approach. The idea would be a situation where citizens are actively involved in developing and shaping the laws and policies which impact them; although there is still some way to go.

Within the UN system this work is again being carried out by young people, who continue to pursue innovative approaches to everyday work. The issue of youth is relatively speaking still new on the international political agenda, and whereas issues like education and employment have entire agencies working on them, youth is a cross-cutting topic and is still trying to carve out a space for itself on the international stage.

So who better to advocate for their views in the Post-2015 processes than young people themselves? This is the motivation behind a recent initiative launched by the Special Envoy for Youth together with partners in the UN system – including ITU – to ‘provide a platform for youth in the Post-2015 agenda’. Five overarching issues have been identified from previous engagement with young people: education, employment & entrepreneurship, health, good governance and peace & security; and using a unique online crowdsourcing platform called Crowdicity, the next four months will see young audiences pinpoint their precise concerns across these themes – offering tangible suggestions to achieving them and highlighting barriers and challenges. Their combined output will be injected directly into the member state and other processes overseeing the construction of the Post-2015 frameworks, and could in future become a de facto standard for citizen engagement and consultation in such work.

There are promising signs that governments and the UN are aligning themselves and their working methods to capture the collaborative power of information technology. A process which today is being driven almost entirely by young people could in future scale to allow public sector institutions a tangible means of results based assessment and self-evaluation. It’s also resulting in a growing and vital understanding that ICT tools are not just products for consuming entertainment and mass-media, but are a powerful catalyst for achieving sustained economic, social and environmental development.

Join the global partnership for youth in the Post-2015 agenda: http://bit.ly/1gPinTC

@DougiCourt is Focal Point for youth at the ITU and oversees the organization’s engagement with young people and academia.

Photo by Sticker Mule

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The new digital context

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