What I said at #openconf14 : openness as a goal and as a tool

February 21, 2014

My final presentation at #okioconf14 is embedded above and downloadable here. Finally it became quite different from what I originally planned. Some new concepts, different from previous speeches, are:

  • openness in both science and government share common drivers, impacts and barriers
  • openness should not be a dogma but a strategy, it should be finely adapted to pursue specific goals: for instance, co-creation does not work.
  • but openness is also a goal in itself, a value necessary to both democracy and science. Science is reproducible or is not science.
  • one key question we must address is: is open government just for young, rich, cultivated people? is it beneficiary mainly to the elite? We must work urgently to answer this question.
  • overall, we have achieved lots but have promised more, and we are just waiting for a “bubble burst” of inflated expectations of open government.

what I’ll say at #okioconf14 : discussing early ideas

February 13, 2014

Next Friday, I’ve been invited to speak at Okioconf.es. And I very much look forward to it.

Normally, I give speeches to policy-makers and I have to convince them about the importance of openness. This time, I am preaching to the converted. And as always, I want the speech to be a little bit out of the comfort zone.

Right now I’m trying to think about what I’m going to say. Let me share with you some random thoughts, so that I try to find a good story to tell. Forgive me if this is all a bit random.

I want to talk about openness in different domains: open public services; open policy making; open data; open science.

I’d like to talk about the fact that opening up should not be expected to create dramatic change. We failed dramatically in managing expectations: we promised to change government for good, eliminate corruption, improve policy, and create jobs through apps based on open data. It didn’t happen. It’s not that once you open data and processes, people flood there to reuse the data, create new services. It does not happen this way: not in open government, not in open data, not in open science

Openness does not automatically generate change. It simply removes some of the barriers to change. The key argument is not about the benefit of openness, but about the cost of non-openness. Unpredictably, somewhere, somehow, openness enables impact.

We should not hype the benefits of openness, but denounce the illogicality of closeness.

Another idea I want to share is that it’s not about total openness. We should not be rigid. We should recognise and accept some form of intellectual property, competition, individual interests, egoism and vanity. We need sharing literacy, not sharing culture. Openness is for all, not only for the evangelists!

I think we would all benefit from a more lightweight approach to openness. Don’t push it as the solution to all problems, but emphasise how illogical it is to be closed. Don’t claim that everything should be open, but accept that some things are not for sharing, that sharing does not apply to everything. A kind of third way of openness :)

Once you recognize this, you can really have an impact, because you try to act on the incentives to openness – rather than convincing people that open is good.

Also, I’d like to talk about openness as a mean, not as a goal. I’d like to link openness and sharing to the move from product to services. When the economy it’s service-based, it makes sense to give the product for free, because then you can sell services on top of them (e.g. open source software). But is it right? Is it really true that we should renounce totally to selling reproducible products just because they can be reproduced? Are high margin by definition bad? And conversely, sharing is important today also as a way to be known, to have an audience and then to sell. It’s a kind of advertising or marketing.

So maybe I really want to talk about the possible co-existence of openness and capitalism. Something like “Openness: the highest stage of capitalism“. That would be a good title for my talk.


How can #egov support business growth? Come to learn from the best – Brussels Feb 6th

January 27, 2014

In a little more than a week, on february 6th, we’re hosting a seminar in Brussels which I particularly look forward to.

The basic question is how can e-government services support business growth, going beyond the traditional view of “cutting red tape”. It is superfluous to mention how important it is today to promote growth in Europe.

Our goal (in the context of a contract for the EC) is to identify the key lessons learnt from existing practice, and to understand what are the bottlenecks to be addressed.

To do so, we invited some of the most inspiring initiatives in Europe:

  • Jaana Lappi (Ministerial Advisor) and Benita Troberg (Project manager) from the Ministry of Employment and Economy (FINLAND) – for the case Enterprise Finland
  • Mihkel Tikk from the Department of State (ESTONIA) – for the case of the portal eesti.ee
  • Helle Schade-Sørensen from the Danish Agency for Digitisation (DENMARK) – for the case Nem Handel
  • Lidio Viérin and Guido Piovano, representatives from the single contact point for the Region Valle d’Aosta (ITALY)
  • Giulio Aimeri (Forum P.A.) for an overview of Italian best practices
  • Sergio Jerez, Municipality of Barcelona, on the joint strategy of open data for business startups
  • Stefan Fittner, project manager of the Business Service Portal (Austria)

The seminar is designed for maximum interaction, with input expected from all participants, not only for speakers. We have post-it session, live voting sessions, and we will develop together key policy recommendations for the EC.

Participation is free, on a first come first served basis. Register HERE.


The determinants of science 2.0 adoption #openscience #futurescience20

January 24, 2014

During the discussion I had at the European Astronomical Society, I realise how much science 2.0 implications vary across disciplines.
This made me sketch out a set of factors that deeply shape how science 2.0 deployment plays out in a specific scientific field:

  • the involvement of industry in funding research: if there is strong industry involvement, there are stricter IPR regimes and less willingness to share. Moreover, in disciplines such as astronomy, with little industry involvement, scientists have less possibility to get rich and are more likely to be motivated purely by curiosity and passion. Hence, science 2.0 can be expected to have a greater impact where industry involvement is smaller
  • the kind of data sources: if data are mainly collected through large observatories, as in the case of astronomy, it is often those observatories that decide on data sharing, and it is certainly easier to have highly structured, high quality and curated data, shared through common repositories. In other fields where data gathering is fragmented, there are less central repositories, and data sharing is more costly and difficult
  • the public appeal: astronomy is fascinating for everyone, and it is easier to have citizen science initiatives such as GalaxyZoo.
  • Big vs small science: it is certainly more common for publications in big science to be reproducible, than it is the case for small science.
  • applied vs basic research: related to the previous point, I am not sure how this plays out, but it is possible that basic research is more curiosity driven and therefore keener to openness.

This is obviously just an initial list. What do you think?


Science 2.0 in astronomy: can we please have “telescope citability”? #futurescience20

January 24, 2014

Just out of a great meeting with the European Astronomical Society. Very exciting, lots of insight.

I can’t report on all the content, but just one idea: It’s difficult but fundamental to use alternative metrics. For instance, there should be ways to recognize scientists who build great scientific instruments: a kind of “telescope citability”. There are some scientists that are great at building instruments, but less so at writing papers, and they don’t gain the recognition they deserve.

So it’s not only about data citability, or sharing codes: can we have telescope citability?


Indicators for data reuse: it’s not how many, it’s who #opendata

January 23, 2014

I am in Rolle, Switzerland, on the beautiful Geneva lake, getting ready for a speech on Science 2.0 to the European Astronomical Society. As usual, travelling makes me read, and think. In this case, a great paper on the reuse of scientific data: If We Share Data, Will Anyone Use Them? 

One of the topic I am interested in is reuse of open data. In the domain of open government, the current EU eGov action plan one of the key actions is on indicators for PSI reuse. This is critical: after many years fighting to have open government data, we now need to show they are actually getting used and reused. Just as for online public services, there is a sense of disappointment with the low rate of open data reuse, typically measured by number of downloads of datasets or number of users downloading datasets. Somehow there was the expectation that citizens would rush to play with government data, once they became available.

In my opinion, this is a mistaken expectations. Citizens by far are not interested in government data, and certainly not in directly manipulating them. What matters is not how many people download them, but what do with it the few people who care. It does not matter if spending data are downloaded by few people: what matters is that among those few, someone is building great apps and services, used by millions, generating social and economic benefits.

Based on the literature on eGovernment, we somehow expect that UPTAKE indicators anticipate IMPACT indicators. If you have few users downloading, you expect the impact to be low, and viceversa. But the reality is that the success stories of open data happen when “data meet people”, when the right people come across the right data. When it comes to innovation, uptake is not a proxy for impact. What matters is not how many, but who. Number of downloads and number of users should not be taken as headline indicators to measure the impact of open government.

The same is true in science. Publishing scientific data will not lead to thousands of scientists replicating the findings of other scientists. But we know from the Rheinhart Rogoff case that we simply need one student to reuse the data in order to achieve a huge impact, in this case to uncover the mistaken evidence behind the most important economic decisions of our time.

An Open Strategy, in any domain, should not be aiming to generate massive participation, but at enabling and facilitating the job of those few that actually care about them. That’s design for serendipity.

Findability of the data is key and this is why metadata and standards are crucial to grasping the benefits of open data. Because they facilitate the serendipitous encounter of the right people with the right data.


Three more observatories reviewed: IPP, EEO and DAE #policyobs

January 22, 2014

The website Daeimplementation.eu aims to monitor the progress of the Digital Agenda for Europe. It presents through a dashboard the progress in the implementation of each action by each Member State. The data are uploaded directly by the Member States, which have to provide yes/no answer and the evidence to back up the statements. Based on the percentage of yes/no answer, and on the relative timing of the action, different colors are assigned.

This is certainly an appealing way to present complex topics in a single policy dashboard. It is also interesting that data is provided directly by stakeholders. However, this refers to a set of specific actions under a common strategic framework, rather than to different uncoordinated policy issues.

The European Employment observatory allows people guarantees the “provision of information, comparative research and evaluation on employment policies and labour market trends in 33 countries.”

It allows to search, browse by theme and year and country, existing pieces of content produced ad hoc by the Observatory.

The Innovation policy platform is a project by the World Bank and the OECD. It allows users to browse innovation policy themes and statistics on a country basis.

The search / browse facility allows to identify ad hoc summary and relevant existing reports, through their content management system.


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