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Business News/ Opinion / IndEA 2.0 presents a step forward on re-imagining GovTech for Web 3.0 era
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IndEA 2.0 presents a step forward on re-imagining GovTech for Web 3.0 era

IndEA 2.0 report seems to have embraced the principle of decentralization

Photo: iStockPremium
Photo: iStock

Web 3.0 is the most-hyped technology term in recent times. What would it mean for ‘GovTech’, i.e., using tech to provide citizen-centric public services? A blueprint called the ‘India Digital Ecosystem Architecture (IndEA) 2.0, was released recently by the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY), provides a few clues.

The document outlines how the government should architect its digital infrastructure for the Web 3.0 era. The digital ecosystem is defined in the document as “a distributed, adaptive, and open socio-technical system with properties of self-organization, scalability, and sustainability." To cite a rough analogy, today’s GovTech platforms like Aadhaar and UPI, though built using open source software and interoperability principles, are akin to a tightly choreographed orchestra controlled by a single conductor. The next generation of GovTech platforms built using IndEA 2.0 design principles could be more akin to a jam session.

While it doesn’t explicitly name Web 3.0, the IndEA 2.0 report seems to have embraced the principle of decentralization that is the biggest promise of the Web 3.0 approach. The early web, or Web 1.0 was a connected platform where people could access information and start interacting with each other. However, it was mostly a collection of static websites. Web 2.0, also sometimes called the Social Web, gave us platforms like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter and made the web more dynamic and interactive. However, one of the unintended consequences of Web 2.0 was that these platforms turned into giant monopolies or duopolies due to network effects. Because of network effects, Web 2.0 became too centralized in terms of data, code, services and infrastructure. In contrast to Web 2.0, the emerging Web 3.0 architecture is expected to be decentralized, more secure and provide users greater control over their data. The IndEA 2.0 report recognizes this paradigm shift in technology architecture by proposing a move from systems to ecosystems and from platforms to protocols. It envisages digital governance as a set of building blocks that can be combined to create citizen-centric services.

In addition to the general philosophy of embracing decentralized tech, the report has some specific features that are fresh and noteworthy. First, it emphasizes the need for a federated architecture approach to preventing risks that arise with large scale data centralization, such as hacking of data ‘honeypots’ and surveillance. Second, it proposed the concept of ‘federated identities’ in order to optimize the number of IDs a citizen needs to have. While the details of this need to be understood, the idea that citizens can choose a limited set of IDs that they trust to use for various use cases, is a promising one. Third, it recognizes that building capacity within government for a new generation of GovTech requires new competencies and proposes a module-based approach to upgrade skills and change mindsets across government. While it is a landmark document, the approach outlined in IndEA 2.0 needs deeper thought on some of the ‘non-tech’ elements of governance and community engagement. The report talks of participatory design, but this needs to be built out: how might the GovTech systems of the future be designed with citizens rather than for citizens? In a similar vein, while the report recognizes the importance of protecting data, the primary framework to enable this is user ‘consent’, which we know is broken. Going beyond consent, for example, promoting nudges like privacy ‘star ratings’ and guidelines on real-world implementations of concepts like ‘privacy-by-design’ would help. Unlike the decentralized governance approaches of Web 3.0 like DAOs, IndEA 2.0 envisages that a wing of the government, or a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) on the lines of UIDAI (Aadhaar) or NPCI (UPI) should be responsible for handling the technical, domain, legal, commercial and program management aspects of IndEA 2.0. Such an approach is welcome, and getting this anchor ‘governance’ institution right – as a professionally run, arms-length and accountable institution – will be critical for the next phase of GovTech to succeed. In short, taking the blueprint from principles to implementation will require more specific and actionable guidance. The “Good Digital Public Infrastructure Principles" listed by CoDevelop and MeitY’s white paper on National Open Digital Ecosystems (NODEs) provide useful markers for this. IndEA 2.0 presents a bold step forward on re-imagining GovTech for a more decentralized Web 3.0 era. However, the proof of the pudding will, as always, lie in the implementation.

Venkatesh Hariharan is India representative of open invention network, an open-source patent non-aggression network. Varad Pande is a partner at Omidyar Network India.

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Published: 10 Mar 2022, 11:07 PM IST
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