Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


September 2008

another commandment of govt 2.0: don’t EMBRACE web 2.0

I have been dealing with the commandments of web2.0 in previous posts, as I really like the idea.
The first one by alorza was:
“you, government, should not build web2.0 applications in vain”.

Now I read that a report by the Socitm (society of local government
CIOs in the UK) recommends that :

Senior public sector managers must overcome their status as ‘digital immigrants’ and embrace Web 2.0 says new report from Socitm Insight – and should overcome their natural scepticism about Web 2.0

The report is not public (not very web2.0) so I didn;t check the source, but I think this is the wrong approach.
EMBRACE is NOT what civil servants should do. Experiment, try, but not EMBRACE. Some skepticism is absolutely justified. We have no clear evidence that web2.0 is definitely positive.
And it’s late! You can have this kind of hype at the beginning of a trend, not after 4 years!

So I have an instinctive rejection for this kind of messages. What do you think?

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bubble 2.0: now or never

For a long time I have been discussing whether web2.0 was a bubble or not. You can see my collection of bookmarks on this topic on delicious. Certainly there was an element of hype and irrational exuberance, especially after Google bought Youtube for more than 1 billion dollars. But certainly we’ve expected a burst that didn’t happen, for two main reasons: the reduced costs for running an internet company thanks to services such as Amazon A3; and because revenues were coming in thanks to the rise of online advertising.
Well now with such deep economic uncertainty, it looks like online advertising growth is slowing down . Remember, Google missed earnings in the previous quarters because of economic slowdown, and things certainly haven’t got better.
So I am very curious to see the next Google quarterly report, due mid October. I think the current climate of economic uncertainty has now risen to such a level that it could really affect internet business and create another visible burst, although not at the level of the DotCom bubble.

If there will be a bubble burst, it would be interesting to see if all the values and concepts of web2.0 will remain.
I have sometimes the feeling we’ve been living in a kind of spell over the last years, believing in the values of open innovation, users engagement, free services paid by advertising. And then we wake up to realize that this was just a passing fashion based on a positive economic trend, due to dissolve at the first strong economic difficulties. There have already been articles on the “end of innocence” of web 2.0.

If there won’t be a burst in the next months, then in my opinion the web2.0 model will have made a major step in showing its economic viability.

So I think the next months will be critical. Wait and see.

PS another reasons for looking an the next months is the presidential election in the US. Obama is web2.0, open innovation, users engagement – but also somehow lightweigh. McCain is the traditional approach. So in the election also we will see if and how much web2.0 matters.

PPSS I am getting so tired of the word web2.0. It’s meaningless, now. It’s the web tout court. If you look in Google Trends, web2.0 is in decline.

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another idea: “policyRovr”

Maybe you know BlogRovR. It’s a firefox plugin that scans the blog you read and shows entries related to pages you are browsing. So if you are checking websites about your dog’s health is shows you while you browse new articles on the same topic. This idea builds on that.

It’s designed as a context-awareness tool to enhance the relevance of participation, and lower the costs.

The platform could interact with what I am doing, in the way BlogRovR does. If I search for something, or read an article, it would suggest me law proposals or policy documents which have the same keywords to the article I am reading.
It could be composed of two parts, front end and back end: one for citizens, on for public administration.
For citizens, it will be a firefox plugin which scans the pages I browse and maps the words i look for.
For administration, it could be a tool for publishing in a standardised format policy documents, made available for all public administration in europe. Or it could just be RSS feeds.
It could be proactively done by the public administration, or better it would be a tool where information can be grabbed from public administration websites by other citizens (maybe through geo-referencing of the original website).
The service would work like this. The citizen will just configure on his computer its country/region/municipality, and/or proactively subscribe to the feed / add websites of the public administration he’s interested on. Then, while browsing the internet for his own interest, the software will propose relevant policy documents / decision/ information extracted by public administration websites.
An additional algorythm could help filtering this information according to what other people visiting the same websites have been engaged in.

The same link could be done not with public admininstration websites, but with public engagement websites, such as pledgebank. So you could be proposed to join voluntary causes relevant to the websites you are visiting.

On the citizens side, this could be greatly enhanced by mobility devices and location services (again, to make participation more relevant). So you could be proposed on your mobile with issues relevant to the location you are in. This idea was proposed by my former colleague Yves Punie.

Then of course it will have to respect privacy. This means for example that data should be stored locally – but I havent thought deeply about this yet.

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call for ideas: Imagining future eParticipation

As you might remember, I am involved in the discussion about ICT research needs on eParticipation in the framework of the EC research programme.

First I believe that the key challenges for public participation where ICT could help are:

lowering the cost of participation
augmenting the benefits of participation by making it more relevant   
– making it easier, for the casual participant, without the need for “a manual” (like a Mac, a Wii…)   

How can ICT help?
By acting on functionalities such as collaborative filtering, context awareness, and emphasis on usability.

Concretely: if I were a wizard of software, here is what I would invent for eParticipation.

1. Creating engagement by sharing mark-ups of a document.
I would like a tool that when reading a policy document, it will allow me to comment it by underlining, highlighting, giving values such as “interesting”, I like it, i dislike it. Something like the consultation on the OFCOM review of public service broadcasting.

It will allow me to see which sentences are more commented, and which are having stronger disagreement. Like the discussion on GPL licence .

It will allow me to connect to people who is interested in the same parts which I underlined, and see what other things they are interested in. That way, it will enable me to build further motivation to participate.

It will have to work easily. People don’t read documents on the computer, usually. So it should be used outside the computer. It could be using a reading device such as Amazon’s Kindle, or similar. So this would be the interface between the person and the document.
Or it could be a small highlighter/scanner to be used on traditional paper. I would highlight a document, maybe with a preset of feedback distinguished by colors: i like it, it dont like it, i dont understand it.
The metadata related to my mark-ups and underlining of the document should be analysed through a collaborative filtering algorythm such as Amazon’s “customers who bought this also bought…”.

So for example, if I download the EU constitution, I could:
– underline, comment the document on a reader or with a special pen-scanner
– visualize which parts people underlined, commented and disagreed more and add my comment to theirs (or maybe read only those parts!)
– see what other issues were interesting for people who underlined or liked or disliked the same things that I did (for example, what parts they underlined in the EU service directive)

This would benefit: engaged citizens to get involved even more; not engaged citizens to look only at the most debated issues; civil servants to gain further insights into the problem; politicians to get a quick feeling of people’s feedback. You can easily detect in this the collaborative filtering, context awareness and emphasis on usability, that I mentioned in the beginning.

This could be applied not only to high-level political debate, but also to day-to-day issues such as for example the EC consultation document on “governance and policy modelling” (the paper distributed for consultation).

I’ll add other ideas in further posts.

Please add your ideas here or in your blog (using the technorati tag “egov2research”) or even better in the ePractice community

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I recommend the IT conversations podcast

I’ve been listening for several months to the IT conversations podcast. You can also find it on iTunes.

It contains the recordings of very interesting presentations at key conferences, such as those organized by o’reilly media. It also has great interviews, especially those run by Jon Udell “Interviews with innovators”. You can hear directly from the people running those great services such as, govtrack, etc.

I cannot express enough how much I find this inspirational both in terms of content and of initiative. Highly recommended.

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