Technology theatre is when a public policy response focuses on the details of the technology intervention instead of addressing the core causes of, or solutions to, the problem. The use of technology theatre is increasingly prevalent as we see the role of technology growing, both in our relationships with governments and in the ways that governments solve problems.
What typically happened through legislative processes is now increasingly happening through procurement processes. That shift from legislation to procurement has three core outcomes. One is, of course, the opportunity cost of doing it right. It is an important investment in the sustainability and the public capacity of any initiative to bring the public along. And engagement is a core democratic mandate in governance.
The second is that, at a structural level, it changes the lens of analysis from the impact of an intervention to the professional responsibility of a contractor, which is a much narrower way in which to understand the impact of public action.
And, three, it elevates the roles of experts. Expertise is of course a very important part of governance. But, when we see institutional growth shaped only by expertise, it means that decisions are made by people who are involved — people who have a stake in the outcome.
One of the reasons that the shift from legislation to procurement is important is that it changes who represents people in those decisions. It also changes how people are able to participate in those decisions. Technology theatre can limit the amount of transparency, scrutiny or effective democracy that we use to make important decisions about how we design institutions.