20 ideas for 2012, part 3

December 20, 2011

By Don Tapscott

The views expressed are his own.

What will happen in 2012? In the spirit of the aphorism “The future is not something to be predicted, it’s something to be achieved,” let me suggest 20 transformations (which Reuters is publishing in four groups of five; the first can be found here, the second here.) We need to make progress on these issues now to prevent next year from being a complete disaster.

These ideas are based on the research I did with Anthony D. Williams to write our recent book which comes out in January 2012 as a new edition entitled Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet.

All 20 are based on the idea that the industrial age has finally run out of gas and we need to rebuild most of our institutions for a new age of networked intelligence and a new set of principles – collaboration, openness, sharing, interdependence and integrity. These big ideas will be the focus of much of my writing next year.

11. Privacy in the age of social networking

The privacy community is in shambles.  In the past the threat was Big Brother (governments) assembling detailed dossiers about us. Then came Little Brother (corporations) creating detailed customer profiles. Today the problem is the individuals themselves.  Hundreds of millions are revealing detailed data about themselves, their activities, their likes/dislikes, etc. online every day.

This situation has turned traditional privacy laws and regulations upside down. Privacy and data protection laws emphasize the responsibility of organizations to collect, use, retain and disclose personal information in a confidential manner. But collaborative networks in contrast, encourage individuals themselves to directly and voluntarily publish granular data short-circuiting the obligations of organizations to seek informed consent.

To make things worse, some social networking leaders confuse this issue with transparency. But transparency is the obligation of institutions to communicate pertinent information to their stakeholders. Individuals have no such obligation. In fact, to have a secure life and self-determination, individuals have an obligation to protect their personal information. Transparency and privacy should go hand in hand.

I don’t buy the view that “Privacy is dead, get over it.”  Privacy is the foundation of a free society. What new can be done to prevent the destruction of privacy as we know it?

12.  Reversing the tide of climate change through global networks

Climate change seems to have fallen off the radar.  The failure of world leaders to negotiate a meaningful response to the problem of climate change has dented confidence in the ability of international institutions to provide effective leadership on this issue.

Rather than waiting for government action, people and institutions everywhere are beginning to collaborate—for the first time ever—around a single idea: changing the weather.  There are now distributed business laboratories where social entrepreneurs can launch experiments, build communities and attract funding for their ventures.

In social networks peers challenge each other to take actions that reduce emissions and measure their collective progress over time. We are seeing the rise of a “green technology commons” where industries share intellectual property and other assets that could hasten the transition to a low-carbon economy.  Web-based tools turn raw data into usable information, allowing stakeholders such as investors, regulators and ordinary citizens to monitor the progress of communities, nations, and corporations towards carbon neutrality.

What are these new networks that are mobilizing households, workplaces and communities around the world to confront the climate change crisis? What can be learned about achieving global cooperation from this extraordinary movement?

13. New models of democracy for the Digital Age

In many countries civic engagement by young people has been growing for years, but as evidenced by the November 2010 Federal Elections in the United States, around the world voting among young people is declining.  Governments and democracy run the danger of becoming irrelevant.  Many surveys show that young people are not comfortable with the old model where citizens are inert between elections and elected politicians and unelected bureaucrats do all the work.

To achieve social cohesion, good government and shared norms, the new realities demand a second wave of democracy based on a culture of public deliberation and active citizenship.  This is not direct democracy: it is about a new model of citizen engagement and politics appropriate for the 21st century.  There are great new initiatives underway, especially at the city level.

14. Opening up the financial services industry

The global financial crisis destroyed long-term confidence in the financial services industry in the U.S. and other industrialized nations. But restoring confidence will require more than government intervention and new rules. What’s needed is an entirely new modus operandi for the financial services industry. Key players (banks, insurers, investment brokers, rating agencies and regulators) need to embrace transparency and integrity as the basis for credible and effective safeguards.

New models based on openness, transparency and participation are already changing many parts of the financial industry — from venture capital to mutual funds and even lending.

So why not deploy a digital response involving collaboration on a mass scale to properly evaluate and assess the value and risk of new financial instruments? Exposing complex financial instruments to the scrutiny of the thousands of experts who have the knowledge to vet the underlying assumptions could restore trust in banks, kick start venture capital, unfreeze the paralysis of lending markets and lay a foundation for a financial service industry that fosters the growth and prosperity of the world’s economies.

15. New models in health: Towards collaborative healthcare

Countries everywhere are struggling to develop effective yet affordable healthcare systems.  But all these debates assume an old model of health where patients are passive recipients of medical care and play little or no role in deciding their treatments plans. Patients are isolated from one another and rarely communicate or share knowledge. Healthcare occurs primarily when the citizen enters the healthcare system.

For many years, this was the only model possible.  But Web 2.0 puts the informed patient into a new context. It enables a new model of medicine experts call “collaborative healthcare.” This approach would be less expensive, safer and better.  For the first time, people could self-organize, contribute to the sum of medical knowledge, share information, support each other and become active in managing their own health.  Engaged patients manage their own health more effectively, reduce costs and improve medical outcomes. Every baby and citizen should have a web site – half medical record and half social network for health.  How do we get the medical establishment buy into it?  What are the implications for healthcare providers and policy makers?


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