Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


February 2010

Is transparency compatible with “robots.txt”?

Alberto pointed me to a great piece of news, again from Italy.
The Italian government launched some time ago a “transparency initiative” which mainly publishes all the relevant information about public sector managers and workers, such as pay and days of absence, as I explained last year. It is a good initiative, although I dont like “partial transparency: why is transparency applied first of all to (against) public sector workers?

Italian public administrations implemented this directive by mandating the publication of this information on their website. But the article shows that most administration (including the ministry) publish these information in a directory which is not indexable by search engines – using the robots.txt file with “disallow:/operazionetrasparenza/”. So on the one hand they publish it, on the other they don’t allow these information to be indexed by search engine.
The implication is that searching with google the name of a person, you will not find these data. You will have to know that the person is employed by a public administration, and visit the website and check the name. This is obviously limiting the real transparency of the public data.
I assume the excuse is related to privacy: there are different privacy implications if a personal information is searchable or not. This is an important matter, which I would like to understand better. Yet in this case it appears as an excuse.

Real transparency needs machine-readable data, and using robots.txt is a clear contradiction of the principle of transparency. Funnily enough, I wrote about this on the very first post of this blog.

In any case, what is worst for me is that the transparency here focusses not on how government makes decisions and spends money, but on the individual behaviour of civil servants. As the Obama administration shows, for example with the IT dashboard, one should instead start from the former.

First hypothesis: e20 require less investment in organisational change than traditional enterprise apps

[Cross-posting from our blog of the enterprise 2.0 study – see there for more info on the study]

While writing the inception report of the study, we are starting to come up with hypothesis to be validated in the course of the project. Would love to have other people views on this.

A first hypothesis I formulate is that the “organisational changes” cost related to Enterprise 2.0 are much lower than with traditional enterprise application. Because e20 focusses on emergent behaviour, there is no need for extensive investment in things like Business Process Reingeneering.

This has major consequences when calculating the overall economic impact. It is a well known truism that in order to deliver productivity impact, a company needs to invest in organisational change five times more than in technology. It is possible that enterprise 2.0 tools not only are cheaper in terms of technology, but also in terms of accompanying investment. This would challenge a lot of the traditional assumptions about the economic impact of ICT.

recruiting: junior policy analyst


Sorry for writing not about content but I need to find a good junior policy analyst and my guess is that people who read this blog are those who best understand what we do. We look for a young researcher to work with me in Brussels on research projects for the European Commission on e-government, enterprise 2.0, research policy, e-inclusion. Contact me on linkedin or twitter @osimod if interested. Or drop me an email (see about page)

Job profile

ICT Junior Policy Analyst – location Brussels

Tech4i2 provides socio-economic studies in support to ICT and Innovation policies of national governments and international organisations, namely the European Commission. Fields of research include Internet andbroadband, e-government, e-Inclusion, research and innovation policy.

We are a small, highly collaborative, flexible organisation, based in UK but with partners in Brussels and Italy.

We seek a junior policy analyst, based in Brussels, to work in close contact with one of the three senior partners. He/she would benefit from an innovative working environment and would be encouraged to contribute with her/his own ideas to the work.


– excellent written English

– strong academic record

– some work experience (1-4 years)

– self-motivated and reliable

– knowledgeable in ICT and innovation policies

– knowledge of EU institutions

– ability to travel


– preparing proposals in answer to calls for tender

– primary/secondary research activities, literature reviews and drafting research reports

– day-to-day project management tasks

We welcome a wide spectrum of academic backgrounds, but we need people able to work in a multidisciplinary context.

comparing reference management tools

This is a bit out of my usual writing, but anyway.
I have been looking for good reference management tools. In particular, I needed to attribute tags to references, just as I do for delicious bookmarks. I dont’ want folders, I want tags. I start loving because you can tag sentences inside a document.
In fact, even in my laptop I would like to have tags rather than folder. Because too often I use material for different tags.
And tags are great. I usually attribute much more than content-related tags. I add “mustread”, “toread”, “toblog” if its important. I add the name of the project(s) I am using it for. I use for:personname in order to remember the person that I recommend the item to. You can see all this from myTags in delicious.
Anyway back to the topic. I  came out with two stunning ref-mgmt tools, Zotero (hat tip @mpompoli) and Mendeley. Here is my comparison.

  • Tags: they both have it, but they are not interoperable. Is there a standard for tags?
  • Pdf automatic data extraction: both have it, it is a killer application, imagine they extract most relevant metadata from the Pdf in your hard disk
  • Pdf annotation: mendeley has its own reader, which is a bit slow. Zotero instead lets me open files with my reader, which is Skim, where I can easily annotate.
  • Item Recommendations: in both cases, this is starting. It would be a killer app should it work, but I guess it needs a critical mass of data they don’t have. Mendeley is more like a social network, so should do it sooner, but currently recommendations are only based on similar words in the title – useless
  • Web native content: Zotero does it better, but with Mendeley you can import data directly from Amazon
  • Sharing collections: both do it, but I have to use them more intensely to understand what’s better.
  • Local software: both have it, but Zotero is a firefox extension, while Mendeley is stand alone. Mendeley appears more usable to me for this reason.

So in summary, I have a slight preference for Zotero. But I have already tagged so much content on Mendeley and tags are not exportable. So here’s a lesson: no matter if some interoperability is there (both use standard bibilographic format that you can easily import), if user-generated data are not exportable you’re stuck with what you have.
I also think you can see here a beginning of future general tools, such as tag-based archiving and social search.

What research on gov20? Write a paper and win 2500 Euros

We are partner of the Crossroad project, funded by the European Commission to build a research roadmap for governance and policy modeling (including government 2.0).
In the project, we are mapping the different research activities in this field and providing guidelines for future research that the European Commission should fund. We start from the State of the Art, and we try to outline the future developments of government 2.0 and related topic.

In order to draw on the maximum range of ideas, Crossroad just launched a call for contributions, where we ask to provide a short paper on the state of the art of a related field and on future research needs. Deadline is february 25th. The best papers’ authors will be included in the Scientific Committee, rewarded with a lump sum of 2500 Euros.
I am a big fan of such kind of competitions , as they are able to reach out to the real innovators and raise unexpected insight. As I said in a previous post, all too often government funding goes to the “usual suspects”, a self-referential circle of people very knowledgeable about the government way of thinking, rather than of the topic.

The EU would gain immensely from input and contribution by a wide range of gov20 innovators. And the innovators would benefit from influencing EU research funding and make it more in line with state-of-the-art development. To give you an idea, the latest biennial programme devoted 14 M Euros to this research field.

So here is the call. Go ahead, write a short paper on your preferred topic, highlighting WHAT research is needed and WHY. Deadline is february 25th.

Yo can also discuss the issue on the Linkedin group

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European Commission has a first blog written by officials

In the last months, I have been helping the EC DG Entreprise in improving their blog in relation to innovation policies. The EC is launching a new European innovation strategy this year and they fully understand that the key point is about doing things differently, in a more open way.
The EC already has blogs, but they are mostly institutional blog by Commissioners. This blog instead is the first where actual civil servants directly write. They use it as a lateral conversation alongside their official workshops, studies and consultation.
It’s a small change, but I really like the genuine attitude. On top of that, it has been very interesting to understand the internal working of the government when it comes to blogs and platforms.
Please have a look at it and provide your views. For example, there is a good post on public procurement for innovation where I am sure the gov20 community can contribute.

UPDATE: I’ve had comments pointing to the fact that it’s not the first, as for example Representation officed have many. It’s not important being “first” , the substantial novelty here is that these are “normal” civil servants, whose primary job is not communication.

What research should government fund on gov20?

I am working quite a bit for the European Commission on defining the research priorities in the field of ICT for governance and policy modeling. This includes what we call government 2.0, but also harder concepts such as policy modeling (agent-based modeling, forecasting).

(Note: research funding is one of the few ways the EC can stimulate eGovernment, as it has no competence on this. i know we all think innovation is government is about implementation and not research, but we here deal with research policies.)

First, I am working on the Crossroad project, which aims to define the agenda for research in this field for the next 5 years. It’s a great challenge, I worked a lot to get the project out and I will dedicate a lot of my time to it.

It is not easy: we need to reach out to the academic, industry but also to the practitioners in order to get a shared vision on where we want to get and how we can get there. And we don’t have to identify the current best ideas to be implemented, but we really have to make a futuristic leap: what kind of collaborative governance can we envisage for 2020 and what are the new IT applications that we have to create in order to get there.

I obviously will reach out to the community for key ideas. However I put a lot of trasnparency on this project, so you will be able to follow it from the outside.

Secondly, tomorrow I am invited to speak at the consultation workshop where the key priorities for research funding 2010-2011 on the topic of governance and policy modeling will be discussed. To give you an idea, in the previous 2 years the total funding was about 15 millions Euros.

So here is my presentation. I am not sure I am allowed to publish it, let’s see what happens. I only have a few minutes, so I decided to focus on augmented reality and visual analytics, two topics I am fascinated about.

Please let me know: what research should government fund on government 2.0? not only in terms of IT, but in general.


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