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Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy

Month

October 2008

using wikipedia entries to evaluate research policies

I am working on an consultancy and I had to better understand “living labs”. So I do some searching and browsing, and because of the great firefox plugin “Googlepedia” I am first drawn to the relevant wikipedia entry.
Which starts with the following:

This article has multiple issues

Doesn’t this read as a general evaluation of government’s research policies 🙂 ?

This is a half joke. But it is interesting to see how web2 tools are good at limiting the hidden advertising. And in the case of government , I recall two great examples of backlash from exaggerated self-promotion: see the users’ comments on one and two

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eGov 1.0 requires cultural change, egov2.0 creates cultural change

Related to the previous post on leverages, there lies the big difference between traditional IT tools and web2.0.
Let’s take the example of eGovernment.
I argue in the presentations and article that e-government did not deliver its objectives because it required organisational and cultural change. It tried to impose it from the outside in without providing the incentives to change. Government should have become citizen-centric as a prerequisite to take advantage of IT investment.
Web2.0 instead is generates cultural change: projects like patientopinion, farmsubsidy, fixmystreet and theyworkforyou act on the incentives (the leverages, the chinks in the armour) for government change by exposing government behaviour.

Companies somehow have to be customer-oriented because they are profit seeking, but government always struggled to be citizen-centric because they lacked the incentives to do so (being largely a monopolist).
The impact of web2.0 in government can be larger than in business because it finally provides an incentive to make government citizen-oriented.
This incentive is transparency and the deriving public blame/praise.

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The impact of web 2.0: it’s all about leverages

In the last month, I’ve been invited to speak in may different places about web2.0. Thanks to IPA, ConnectedRepublic , CoR , IPTS and EPFL. You can find the presentations on Slideshare
My latest presentations focus on USAGE and IMPACT of web2 in government.
I argue that take-up is not dramatic. Look at peertopatent, patientopinion, farmsubsidy, planningalerts: people are not queuing to participate and engage.
Yet the impact is higher than numbers of users show. Why?
My view is that web2 generates change because it acts on LEVERAGES, rather than simply “push” or “pull”. Let me summarize some of them, collected from the discourse in the blogosphere:
– it puts to use Clay Shirky’s cognitive surplus, where people rather than spending hourse watching TV they edit Wikipedia entries.
– it opens the possibility for very narrow products/services/skills to be used: the long tail
– it augments the impact of data, through better visualisation: consider the different impact between a list of crimes in the police websites, and the mapping done by chicagocrime.com (now everyblock.com)
– it exposes government behaviour through many-to-many feedback mechanisms: consider the difference between traditional customer complaints procedure and the service of patientopinion.org
– it exploits personal vanity and desire of recognition by peers (such as wikipedia, peertopatent)
Some good quotes about web2.0 and LEVERAGE:
– “a problem shared is a problem halved… and a pressure group created” (Paul Hodgkin, PatientOpinion.org)
– “it’s about pressure points, chinks in the armour where improvements might be possible, whether with the consent of government or not” (Tom Steinberg, mySociety.org)
– the recent paper on social leverage points

Traditionally, in analyzing the impact of ICT, the two main categories
are “driving” and “enabling”: the first to indicate contexts where ICT
“pushes” changes by creating new opportunities; the second is about
existing needs and challenges pulling technological development.
Yet probably we should look for the main impact of ICT is when it acts on leverage points – then the impact becomes disruptive.
Which of course opens many questions, such as: how can leverage effect be captured by existing models of measurement of ICT impact?

PS I realize is not a good time to emphasize leverages in view of the financial turmoil due to derivatives!

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first recommendation for ICT policy: do no harm

In my job, I try to help governments design good Information Society policies. (By the way, our report on eInclusion strategies for the UK government just came out, the first of Tech4i2 ltd.).
And it is difficult to find effective ways to promote Information Society, e-government, e-business and so on, from the government side. A lot of effort is spent in that, with uncertain impact and continuous learning by doing.
Yet I find that while it is difficult to promote Information Society, it is much easier for government to hinder it, involuntarily of course. I had some “weak signals” about this recently.
– Every time I go back to Italy, I am struck by the absence of open wi-fi networks. You can find no cafe, pub or library with wifi for customers, even paying. The reason is simple: some years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, a special decree (named after the Pisanu minister) required all Internet Providers to register users, in order to avoid uncontrolled, anonymous access to Internet. The rationale was, apparently, to avoid terrorist submitting anonymously threats and dangerous stuff. Italy is, to the best of my knowledge, the only country to have such a regulation. If you provide free open wifi, you have to register users, and photocopy their ID card. The result is of course that nobody does it, it would be too time-consuming to register users while serving a coffee. So Italy is missing the fundamental trend of pervasive, cloud computing: users are not accustomed to always-on services, industry lacks interest in building services which cannot be used. The whole ecosystem is not being built. My gut feeling is that Italy is missing an important trend, and that the negative impact of the Pisanu law is now much deeper, while its benefit are currently non existing. But I haven’t studied in depth the topic and I’m happy to hear from my Italian friends.
– I spoke at the “OpenDays” in Brussels, and there a MEP spoke about the need to regulate blogs. Yes, it’s true, and he’s a member of the “liberal” party. I was a bit shocked I must say. He should meet and talk a bit with Monica Arino of OFCOM.
– at another workshop I met the boss of one of the largest European social networking sites, who said that his dealings with government are not to promote ICT and innovation, but to prevent government from doing harm (for example, by forbidding cookies)

It is quite paradoxical to do research on how to best promote ICT, and then realize that the main thing is really: “DO NO HARM”. And this is likely to be exhacerbated in the web2.0, where top-down, organization-led planning is less effective.

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