Sunday, December 02, 2007

Demonstrators for the digital society

What started as an attempt to go beyond alumni reunions led to an interesting scenario of the digital society. On the 28th of November 2007 the alumni association of my high school in Mumbai, India handed over 100 cashless healthcards to teaching and non-teaching staff and ex-teachers (See newspaper coverage here - PS! Vikram and Gerry are the ones who have done all the heavy lifting).

There are a many digital societal elements to this "experiment"
  • technology in the use of open source technology (Drupal) to collaborate, online payments (Paypal) to raise funds and support transparency in fundraising
  • business models for the development of an insurance product for healthcare with a unique model for users, healthcare providers, insurers and financiers
  • organisation design in redesigning the workings of the managing committee of the alumni association to be able to execute such a project, organisational flexibility for the school administration
However, this just the tip of the iceberg of challenges and opportunities -- an attempt to demonstrate that a grassroots driven idea to deliver something of value for many stakeholders can be done and hopefully raise the discussion of how citizens can participate in shaping its society.

For practical reasons, some elements have been out of scope -- elements that are critical for scaling up such ideas and sustaining them. This involves the creation of institutions and solutions that are of a foundational nature. Institutions that are industry-led but not driven by commercial interests, institutions that not only shape legislation but also have the authority to enforce it. The welfare models of the Nordics or Canada can be a source of inspiration but cannot be copy-pasted, they must be designed to suit the diversity, population size, existing infrastructure and maturity of existing institutions.

With the impending rush of baby-boomer retirement (eldrebølge) this is not just a welfare issue, there are some great business opportunities. The challenges are numerous everything from shaping new business models to establishing trust-institutions to harnessing the potential of personal health devices and body sensor network technology that will hit the market.

Now if the Healthcare, Insurance and Telecom providers could pool their resources to drive simple standards for interoperability ... then maybe the Tim Berners-Lee's vision of the semantic web could come to life in a very practical application that affects ordinary people. To my mind this form of catalyst activity is what government should focus on even more.

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