Information technologies like cellphones and the Internet are generating small acts of self-governance in a wide range of domains and in surprising places.
Sometimes even governments-in-exile find cohesion online. Libya's transitional government formed online a month before most leaders were able to even get
on the ground. Syria's government-in-waiting started haggling online as soon as protesters took to the streets in Damascus. There are no clear examples of
states that have been totally "born digital," but there are many examples of people using digital media to provide governance.
Almost everyone can connect to almost everyone else these days -- cellphone penetration in most countries is upwards of 80 percent. So when the modern state
fails in one or more ways, people go online, check in with family and friends, and make new plans.
Most of the world gets its news from various forms of state-run news agencies. But citizen journalists pop up whenever the state-run media is so corrupt
that it can't provide a reasonable public service. Indeed, before the Arab Spring, the best investigative journalism in Tunisia and Egypt was only found
online, and those exposés on corruption and abuse did much to undermine the regime. Even China's ruling Communist Party has trouble controlling its
bloggers and Weibo users, especially on topics like corruption and pollution. When street shootouts between warring Mexican drug cartels made cities like
Monterrey inhospitable, citizens developed their own emergency notification networks with Twitter. Urban governments failed to provide public warning
systems, so citizens created their own public communication system over digital media.
Almost every country in the world now has a digitally enabled election monitoring initiative of some kind. Such initiatives are rarely able to cover an
entire country in a systematic way, and they often need the backing of funding and skills from neutral outsiders like the NDI. But even the most humble projects to map voting irregularities, video the voting
process, or crowd source the poll station results helped expose and document electoral fraud.
There is lots of technology at work in places we don't usually look. But is it really providing governance? It is not so much that the smartphones have
taken over government, but that people are using information technology to do quick institutional repairs.
Just because a development project uses social media in some way doesn't guarantee good governance. But when states fail to deliver governance goods,
communities increasingly will step up, digitally. This shouldn't be surprising, given how much excitement there is around the prospect that e-government
will significantly improve the capacity of even rich governments to deliver services. However, what we're talking about here is about more than service
delivery: it is about the capacity of communities to set rules, stick to them, and sanction the people who break the rules. A sovereign state is one that
can implement and enforce policies. When states don't have these capacities, a growing number of communities use digital media to not only provide
services, but to do so in a way that amounts to the implementation and enforcement of new policies.