Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


May 2008

Government 2.0 and wikinomics at the Lisbon Council

I just attended a very interesting seminar, organised by The Lisbon Council, a nonprofit association based in Brussels.
I really liked the approach and attitude of the people running the project, Ann Mettler and Paul Hofheinz. Passionate, concrete, ambitious and approachable. I suggest to follow their activities.

This time, they invited Anthony Williams, co-author with Don Tapscott of the book Wikinomics, to talk about “government 2.0”. He gave an interesting presentation, and the audience was composed by key people in the European Commission. We also had a lunch which I cannot comment in detail as it was under “Chatham House rule“.
The vision proposed in the presentation was systematic, quite compelling, and very well put. I recommend you to look at the example mentioned, probably the most interesting projects around. As usual, when talking about web2, it did not capture all the important aspect (this is mission impossible, I know it very well).
What I missed was:
– more details on the cases: we need to go beyond the cool experiences and anecdotes if we want to convince senior people
– too much emphasis on “mass collaboration”. Web2 is not only about involving large amount of people, but ensuring the most relevant people are involved.
– weaker forms of involvement beyond co-production were overlooked. I am a big fan of collaborative filtering and recommendation systems, and I think the role of users in commenting/rating content and in providing attention/taste data is crucial because it allows us to “exploit” tacit knowledge and weaker forms of involvement.
– the dilemma individuals vs organizations was not elaborated on. I think this is key to understand web2 (think of consumerization of IT, and of the main recommendation by Don Hinchcliff to companies about implementing web2 in business: do nothing, get out of the way).
Also, I couldn’t help noticing that many of the examples were the same we provided, which shows there is not much more going on. Beyond Intellipedia and Peertopatent, it seems there is no strong. important experience of web2 in government.

A lot of the discussion afterwards focussed on two key questions:
1- how do we ensure equal representation if we open up government processes, so that not only the voices of the elite are heard?
My view is that these tools are not for full representation of the society, but to add value, to leverage unique knowledge, to help government do a better job. It is not about making everybody collaborate on everything. As Lee Bryant often says, it’s about “intimate context”. Also, there are different levels of user engagement. And the process is made transparent for all to watch.
2- this is very time demanding, and we are already swamped with work, information, e-mail.
My answer is that this is true, web2 applications are not making you saving time. In some cases yes, they help reduce e-mail: like in the Allen and Overy case described in our report, RSS feeds are used instead of newsletters, and group blogs instead than e-mail to project members. In the PeerToPatent case, there is some evidence that time-to-patent is reduced. But the greatest impact is not on EFFICIENCY, but on EFFECTIVENESS. You have better, more relevant and more complete information to support decisions and to innovate. In the Allen and Overy case, there is better knowledge of who is doing what inside the company. In the PeerToPatent case, there is better information on the novelty of the patent application. Not to mention the impact on innovation capacity of firms by involving users in the design process.
So the initial cost can be high, but the benefits are higher. Web2 has a different philosophy about technology, it’s not about process reingeneering and top-down planning. As Pang (2005) puts it, “the brilliance of social-software applications like Flickr, Delicious, and Technorati is that they recognize that computers are really good at doing certain things, like working with gigantic quantities of data, and really bad at, for example, understanding the different meanings of certain words, like ‘depression.’ They devote computing resources in ways that basically enhance communication, collaboration, and thinking rather than trying to substitute for them” (link). They AUGMENT human capacity, they don’t substitute human work with computer work.
On this, I will later blog an anecdote that happened at the FP7 consultation workshop.

My final take: still so much work to do to transmit the value and importance of web2. Presentations are probably not effective enough, we need hands-on work on the daily activities of government.

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the future of ePractice

ePractice is the EU cooperation and exchange platform on eGovernment, eHealth, eInclusion.
I just held this presentation at the ePractice mid-term workshop.
I draw a parallel between open, mashed-up eGovernment and open, mashed-up ePractice.
Main point is that it is difficult for government to make and maintain such a platform when there are so many good tools freely available on the market. Also, you don’t need a platform to ensure collaboration. This links to the concepts of Gartner, and to the conversations with Alorza and Paul Canning
But ePractice could be a good way to include eGov practitioners who are not web2 experts in the collaboration.
I think this is crucial, as too many times the “people who get it” behave like a closed elite and are not engaging with the real world. Indeed, one of the purpose of the report I wrote is exactly to convince non-web2 people about the importance of it.
Here is the presentation.

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what research is needed for eGov 2.0?

The European Commission (DG INFSO) is holding a consultation event (Brussels, May 28th) on the research needs in the domain “ICT for governance”. The proposed priorities are very related to web2.0 development. If you are interested, e-mail them.

If you can’t go but would like to contribute, let’s discuss it here!
In particular, what innovative ICT tools have been/could be developed for:
– opinion mining, aggregation (I think of BBC white spectrum; the DowJones presidential candidates; debategraph
– visualization (, several tools from Cairns blog, see all my bookmarks here )
– policy modelling (… predictive markets? )
– mass collaborative platform (katrinaList etc…)
– large scale societal simulation (like in secondlife?)

The way I approach this question is: think of state-of-the-art e-projects in this field, and think what innovation could be implemented there.
Look forward to your input!

Does anybody have data on how many people use RSS readers?

For the presentation at ePractice workshop, I am quite desperate to find some data on how many people are using RSS readers. Anybody has suggestions?

(Report published) Web2.0 in government: why and how?

So finally our report on the impact of web2 in government has been published. It is the written version of the tutorial held in Lisbon at the Ministerial eGov conference.
You can download it here. I hope you find it of interest.
Feedback is of course welcome here or on ePractice.

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2 Spanish visions and values of Government 2.0

The people at Goldmundus have started an interesting exercise. They propose future narrative scenario of an ideal government 2.0, based on the possible usage of web2.0 tools such as Twitter and GCal in government.
I really like the idea. It is a powerful way to discuss possible visions of what government should do.
But I am less enthusiastic about the specific visions they propose. Coordinating your calendar with one of the public sector, or using twitter to disseminate information is not really disruptive.
Anyway, a very good idea to launch the discussion.

On a similar level, Administraciones en Red is proposing some key values of eGovernment 2.0 in the form of Gods’ commandments. The first they propose is: you, government, should not build web2.0 applications if not necessary.
I think this is a VERY important message – as I say in the comment to the post. It points to usual mistakes of government: build custom applications, rather than using what is already available (and better done); try to centralize the discussion on one platform, website, rather than reaching out or partnering with existing experiences.

When we did a scenario exercise on “what can go wrong with web2.0”, the best comment we received was: “government will launch a big web2 platform, which will raise no participation and create general mistrust towards web2 applications in the government context”.

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last day for Italy’s public innovators’ prize

Forum p.a. is one of the main Italian events on innovation in public administration. This year they launch a competitions to identify the best innovators in the public sector. Deadline is tomorrow.
My former boss Gaudenzio Garavini (Emilia-Romagna Region) is in the competition as well. I voted him already as I really enjoyed working with him back in 2004. He taught me how important it is to avoid the hype, to place innovation in the real-life context of public administration, to channel innovation goals in existing power relationships, and to get things done.

As we know, innovation happens not when new things are invented, but when they are adopted. And in government, this is no easy task. It means governing the complexity and putting pressures on the appropriate levers. And I think this realistic view is crucial if we want to promote better government through web2.0 – if we don’t want this to pass like just another hype.
You can vote here until tomorrow.

Disclaimer: I have no personal interest in this, he was my boss several years ago.

eGov 2.0 initiatives in the New Member States

I was recently invited in Prague by Irina Zalisova to speak at the Eastern European EGovernment days.
A good conference with very high level speakers from the New Member States of the EU.
My presentation was largely about a study we did on eGov in the New Member States.
I noticed that eGov policies are becoming more “home-grown”, rather than simple copycat of international policies such as eEurope focussing on putting services online.
Examples of this home-grown development are two projects launched by the Bulgarian and Hungarian governments to fight corruption. They solicitate anonymouys denounces (posted on the web) from citizens about corrupted behaviour of public officials, especially in relation with structural funds.
Of course not everybody might agree on such initiatives, but it is interesting to see how governments in these countries are trying to develop new ways, sometimes risky, to address real government problems. And they start to stimulate citizen involvement for this goal.

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