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Digital social governance needs quality development

LIU YUE | 2023-05-18 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

A new energy driverless tractor exhibited at the 6th Digital China Summit in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, on April 27 Photo: CFP

JINAN—The First Forum on China’s Digital Social Governance recently took place under the theme of “Chinese modernization and digital social governance,” hosted by Shandong University in Ji’nan, Shandong Province.

The report to the 20th National Congress of the CPC highlighted the need to improve the social governance system based on collaboration, participation, and shared benefits, so as to make social governance more effective. Additionally, the report proposed moving faster to boost China’s strength in digital development. In this context, digital social governance that combines the construction of a digital China with social governance is gradually moving towards high-quality development amid practical explorations, consolidating the foundation of China’s system for governance for Chinese modernization.

Abstract data, concrete individuals

Endeavors have been made by local governments to benefit digital social governance, such as the Quancheng Smart City platform construction in Jinan City, Shandong Province, and the digital grid management model of Gudang Street in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province. These innovative models represent effective practices driven by the concept of digital governance, substantially reducing the cost of government services for the public.

 “There are still misunderstandings about digital social governance,” noted Ma Liang, a professor from the School of Public Administration and Policy (SPAP) at Renmin University of China (RUC). The field involves a three-dimensional relationship among technology, application, and governance, rather than simple “digital plus social governance.” Mere information construction only reinforces the previous forms and inherent functions of the government, without achieving the deep institutional transformation of digital governance to digitalization and intelligence.

Meng Tianguang, executive director of the Data Governance Research Center at Tsinghua University, noted the reality that technical means primarily work to strengthen governance tools. The common mode for the government is to build data centers for specialized and standardized data processing schemes. While these have the advantage of precisely catering to government needs, they present the obvious defect of “denoising effects.” After standardized treatment, the mechanism delivers only abstract percentages or indices to decision-makers, with the actual individuals hidden from view.

The advancement of technology has practically brought about changes in people’s survival and development needs. In the opinion of He Yanling, a professor from SPAP at RUC, digital social governance should be first examined in light of China’s current development realities. China is currently experiencing a “synchronic” structure of marketization, globalization, and networking. This rapidly changing time-space compression structure has reshaped the relationship between the government and the people. As technological progress has led to the decentralized diffusion of knowledge, human subjectivity has been constantly rediscovered, reconfirmed, and redefined. Human needs are subsequently defined by diversity and complexity, yet not fully embodied in current policy agendas.

He Yanling suggested exploiting the advantages of digital governance requires “seeing” individuals and “accommodating” groups through flexible data processing and application. Traditionally, the high cost of data acquisition has made sampling and representation mechanisms pivotal in the traditional policy-making process. However, the rise of technological means is changing the original policy-making logic based on sampled data. This presents the essence of digital governance.


Smooth exchange of information

Digital governance comes from the need to solve real public service problems, and thus public service is a major topic in the study of digital social governance. “Public services and social governance represent the exchange of information between the government and the public,” said Kong Fanbin, dean of the School of Government at Nanjing University. In the process of governance, the government acquires normative information such as policies and laws, while the public possesses incidental information, including the multifarious and complex demands of individuals. To achieve good digital governance, it is essential to ensure the smooth exchange of information and timely transformation of policy information to meet the demands of the public.

In digital governance, information, rather than data, lies at the core. Only by grasping the hidden information behind the data can one gain a true understanding of society. This actually raises new requirements for the construction of national digital capacity which works to mine information value. In Meng’s view, the acquisition of diversified data helps elevate the participation degree of multiple governance subjects. Meanwhile, corresponding compensation mechanisms can be instituted through picking out and amplifying the personalized yet governance-oriented information and delivering it to decision-makers, thereby returning decision-making to people themselves and making it more precise.

In addition to daily information exchange and processing, efforts also entail building up the resilience of social governance featuring digital intelligence under abnormal contexts. Jiang Xiaoping, director of the Urban Governance Research Institute at Sichuan University, said the key to resilient governance is proper adjustment. No matter the scale adjustment of governance units, the factor combination of governance resources, the conversion frequency of governance modes, or the timing of governance cycles, all need to reach a balanced state to give the society and the public a transitional period, adaptation period, and window period.