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Arjan Widlak - The Digital Cage


In the Digital Cage we follow three Dutch citizens, Saskia, Pieter and Esther, who seem to have been struck by fate. Saskia is obliged to have her stolen car inspected. Because she cannot comply, she is haunted by government with fines and gets into debt. If model-citizen Esther is abroad too often for her work, she loses almost everything, from her parking permit to her voting rights. Like in a Kafka-novel we discover how registries and data exchange are no neutral actors, but that we have build with ignorance and negligence a digital cage that keeps larger and larger groups invisibly imprisoned.

The sharing of information is the backbone of government services today. However we have lost control. We do not know how uses these data and we have no idea about the consequences of an error in registration. In this talk Arjan shows how the information architecture has rendered government blind for the problems it causes with citizens and is unable to correct errors.

The Digital Cage is a book published earlier this year, written by Arjan Widlak and Rick Peeters on maladministration (onbehoorlijk bestuur) caused by information architecture and one of a series of papers. This lecture is an introduction into this theme. The book also contains the “ten principles of good digital government” to give the citizen a voice and central place again in the digital government. It’s a must-read for every government professional.


Arjan Widlak is director and researcher at the Kafka Brigade Foundation. The Kafka Brigade is an action research organization that aims to tackle bureaucratic dysfunction and red tape which prevents people from accessing the services they need and which constrains and frustrates public service staff. The Kafka Brigade Netherlands coordinates the sister organizations and associated researchers in several countries.

Arjan is developer of several serious games concerning complex decision making. His simulations are used by businesses, governments and universities in various countries. He teaches in several program’s and masterclasses about wicked problems, standardization, negotiation and ICT and the transformation of government.




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