IT for Change has responded to the Government of India's consultation white paper for the Strategy for National Open Digital Ecosystems (NODE), by recognising the role and potential of NODE(s) not just as a much needed digital evolution of governance in India, but as also providing an alternative vision of digital ecosystems to the dominant corporate-controlled digital ecosystems that are emerging in different sectors. The NODE framework may help bring back many core governance and infrastructure roles that belong to the public sector but in a digital society are increasingly usurped by a few digital giants.
However, this is just the potential of NODE, not its necessary outcome. The NODE architecture and principles must be based on democratisation norms, and their core governance should always be in hands of accountable public bodies. There have to be strong checks against privileged access to resources of NODE for some private players, as has been alleged with regard to a few digital platform projects initiated by the government. NODE-like digital architectures, to us, represents the future for governance. It is important that we get it absolutely right, giving a lot of attention to all its details. While commending the very good initial effort by the white paper, IT for Change's response suggests some important changes and improvements in the proposed approach and its key principles.
While, most other responses to the NODE paper have addressed issues of technical governance in NODE, we have chosen instead to focus more on the equally important socio-economic interactions around and based on NODE, and their governance. This we consider as perhaps the more significant long term structural impact of the idea of NODE. The difference can be illustrated by using the example of Uber. It started as a technology platform and service (and still claims to be one in order to escape sector regulators' scrutiny). But indeed today Uber is much more a complex socio-economic system – or the hub of such a system – than a technology platform or service. So, in our opinion, will be with NODE and governance in any sector. Though the transformation will understandably take much longer than in commercial sectors.
We take such a forward looking approach to view NODE as an essential direction for governance transformation, to make it fit for the digital age. However, whether we will get it right or not remains an open question. Our contribution tries to suggest ways to get it right.