Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


June 2008

This is a must-do: tell the European Commission about rules for re-use of Public Sector Information

Information from the Public Sector now easier to re-use in all Member States. Easy enough? asks Commission in a new public consultation – Europe’s Information Society Newsroom

The EC is preparing the review of the directive on re-use of PSI. It has opened a consultation to review current implementation. Deadline 31st July 2008

I hope the “web2.0 in public services” people who are reading this blog find the time to respond to this.

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finding the time for web2.0 – the cognitive surplus

Coming back to the issue of web2.0 and its impact on efficiency, I must refer to this post which is already a classic, also because of the nice analogy with Marxist thought.

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus – Here Comes Everybody

Shirky argues that there is a large cognitive surplus – basically the time spent in front of the TV which is a repository of energy which can be used for creative behaviour (like blogging or writing on wikipedia).
Now I think this could be easily translated in the professional government context. What is the work (especially in the public sector) equivalent to watching TV?
How much time is lost on that. And how much could be used for more creative action.

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does web2.0 help dealing with information overload?

Following a previous post about efficiency and effectiveness, I found this interesting post by the guru of enterprise2.0, Andrew McAfee
He stresses how web2 can help reducing e-mail and interruptions – then he shows a quite good visualization.
He also points out that
“This only works, though, if everyone on the project agrees to use the 2.0 project management tools; if the boss still wants everything emailed to her and continues to use email for her updates, Enterprise 2.0 becomes above the flow rather than in it, and so likely increases interruptions rather than decreasing them.”
Which of course is the million dollar question when dealing with network technologies. Many good technologies were just not taken up to the critical mass level that made them efficient. And as the same McAfee points out in another post, new solutions have to be 9 times better to be taken up.

Still, I think the key impact is on effectiveness rather than efficiency. This relates to the famous paper of Aral and Brynjolfsson.

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Personal information: I’m changing job

Just a personal note, in 2 weeks I leave the European Commission.
This blog will continue, and for my new position please check this blog and on linkedin

another thought on italy’s partial transparency

In addition to the previous post about partial transparency: it is quite strange that the same ministry that publishes the full list of consultants of public administration, does not provide any data on the costs of its activities.
For example, checking the projects to fight digital divide, only very general information is given. Look at this example: one hundred words to explain a project to build public Internet points worth 80 Million Euros, with no mention of its cost (I found the information in this report).
I really hope that soon we will find also this kind of information on the Ministry website, as well as the status of implementation, not to mention the take-up.

The drawbacks of transparency

Italy presents now an interesting case on transparency, with its recent government change.
The old government, as mentioned before, just before leaving office published all data on income declaration of Italian citizens in 2006. These data are public by law, although the law of course (of 1973) did not envisage the impact of the Internet on information publicity. Data have then been taken down from the website following a request of the Privacy authority.
The new government, particularly the new Minister for Public Administration, puts large emphasis on transparency. It has therefore published (on the website as indigestible pdf, and an extract on the largest national newspaper) the full list of consultants paid by public administration, together with their salary, at national and local level.
Several friends of mine, temporary workers working full time for the public administration, were “named and shamed” on the largest italian newspaper.
Of course, the newspaper did not mention the length of the contract, so that you could not understand if 50K Euros was for a few days work or for a year’s work. Also, the publication on the newspaper only focused on one body (the national agency for public administration).
So, very partial transparency indeed, and going mainly against many the temporary workers of public administration. Anyway, I think it’s a false step but in the right direction (it would be stage 2 in the methodology I proposed for benchmarking eGovernment 2.0). The problem lies in the fact that there has been not enough transparency, and selective, not too much.
What do you think?

Follow-up to the Power of Information review

“The Power of Information” is the title of a review carried out by Ed mayo and Tom Steinberg for the UK Cabinet. It is highly recommended reading, it can be considered as “the classic” on web2 and government.
So it is highly recommmended to follow the developments after the review – through this blog.
Power of Information Task Force

another commandment on eGov 2.0

I liked a lot alorza’s commandment for eGov 2.0: “don’t create web2 applications in vain”
I would suggest another one: “never present and eGov project in a public meeting without mentioning its COST and its TAKE-UP”
I am fed up with presentation of idea and projects, indicating objectives and potential benefits.
Cost and usage are two essential data, which are ALWAYS available to the project manager – no data collection required. And they address the 2 critical points of eGovernment (high cost and low take-up).
Of course data on real impact would be more important, but they require additional effort for data collection and analysis.

open method of coordination: ideal policy field for web2 applications

The Open Method of Coordination is a voluntary collaboration method between government. In the EU, it is used especially in policy fields where the EU has no competence.
Key tools for Open Method of Coordination are benchmarking, peer pressure, exchange of good practices, institutional learning.
Well, all these are perfect application fields for web2 tools. Not only on eGovernment policies, but on any policy.
If I were a web2 consultant/developer, I would look at these as possible “customers” of web2 solutions in public administration.
One of the problems is: can there be such a thing as institutional learning? or only individuals learn?

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