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The Art of Platform Governance

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The field of technology entails specific kinds of public and private relationships which might affect various groups within the society based on their power.  

To that end, the IoT ecosystem obviously encompasses more than just a mix of business models and cutting-edge technologies.  It also involves non-market factors, such as social, environmental, cultural, and personal concerns.  At large, these concerns animate what traditionally has been thought of as the 

(A) public policy sector — the laws, regulations, and public policies that govern an industry. Additionally, there are; 

(B) product-, partnership-, and certification-policies as well as interaction design and business model choices that can be collectively described as platform governance.  

Both (A) public policy and (B) platform governance are decisive components for a successful rollout of our IoT business as they define (1) why partners and users should trust that value propositions are kept (or due process can be pursued), (2) code defines how transactions can be processed and (3) that stakeholders can participate and ensure transparent and fair governance of an ecosystem. When it comes to governing an ecosystem, the overarching goals should be ensuring a supportive business environment, limiting government’s purview, and creating positive public perception. 

Most fashioners of traditional governance tools seek to control the market behavior of specific organizations to ensure that they act in a certain way in accordance with the market rules. Yet, how to do an act is as much as important as what you do.  In evaluating a proposal for a public policy framework for IoT and develop platform governance, the process might play a more crucial role in comparison to a design model of a technology (“code”) to determine which functional aspect to regulate.  The institutional (“rules”) and organizational (“players”) elements also come into play.  Any governance structure proposed for the IoT ecosystem should address this code/rules/players construct.

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When it comes to human interaction there are implicit or overt rules.  By developing and distributing a shaping view for public policy and for the platform governance, there arises the opportunity to co-create conditions that are fair for the users and partners as well as favorable to business operations.  

With IoT, as with its predecessor technologies like the Internet, public policy should be viewed through an exceedingly broad lens, encompassing all the many ways that the particular uses (and misuses) of technology can be channeled to positive social outcomes.  These institutional rules include principles, best practices, standards, and norms.  Taken together, these rules form the scaffolding for the IoT ecosystem.  

Organizations (stakeholders) and institutions are bound together by a major objective to fulfill their own agendas.  As with the array of potential institutional rules, the overlay of organizational players also constitutes a wide category of options, beyond the traditional reliance only on government actors.  Thus, players can range from legislatures and government agencies, to social entities ranging from universities to trade unions or political parties.  When organized in ways that emphasize broad representation, transparent processes, and democratized decision-making, this mix of players become participants in multi-stakeholder governance.

Collectively these decisions build various governance mechanisms relevant for being implemented to the IoT device or service feature in question.   

In order to attract a vibrant heterogenous group of innovators to put their faith with an ecosystem an effective, fair and trustworthy governance setup is key.  A well-functioning ecosystem will develop in cooperation with governments, regulatory agencies, industry bodies, and standards organizations. 

Users and customers vote with their feet and all innovation and new solutions are ultimately either embraced or dismissed depending if they attract users. 

On a different level, the Norms of the platform creators and maintainers (engineers, businessmen, and prosumers) and Public Perception/Narrative/Vision put forward by platform providers shape the social conduct, style/tonality, and acceptance of an ecosystem. Norms and culture of an ecosystem depend very significantly on the initial condition and basically extrapolate and mutate over time. To put forward a set of values for examples via a code of conduct and to invest strategically to ensure early participants are considerate and smart, e.g. by working with academics and maker communities, are some means to start on the right foot. 

During the emergence of a market like IoT, the projected value and narratives produced by (tech) media and analyst firms are critical, too. 

Of course Law, Policy and Regulation are important as the expressed and enforced power of the state to ensure social order and fair business practices by and for everyone. Next to the multitude of national and international laws ecosystem that participants have to follow, a platform provider has significant means to structure its platform’s market by setting contractual terms and policies for partners and users that incentivise and penalize certain behaviour.

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In order to succeed within the digital sphere of the 21st century, ecosystem literacy is more than crucial ever.

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Ayse Kok
Ayse completed her masters and doctorate degrees at both University of Oxford (UK) and University of Cambridge (UK). She participated in various projects in partnership with international organizations such as UN, NATO, and the EU. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Bosphorus University in her home town Turkey. Furthermore, she is the editor of several international journals, including those for Springer, Wiley and Elsevier Science. She attended various international conferences as a speaker and published over 100 articles in both peer-reviewed journals and academic books. Having published 3 books in the field of technology & policy, Ayse is a member of the IEEE Communications Society, member of the IEEE Technical Committee on Security & Privacy, member of the IEEE IoT Community and member of the IEEE Cybersecurity Community. She also acts as a policy analyst for Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research. Currently, she lives with her family in Silicon Valley where she worked as a researcher for companies like Facebook and Google.

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