Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


April 2010

When gov20 becomes sexy: 40% of US web users accessed raw government data

Just when I had written a good punchline stating that “gov20 applications are not much more used than traditional
e-government services”, here comes PEW with unbelievable survey results. It’s worth quoting:

Government agencies have begun to open up their data to the public, and a surprisingly large number of citizens are showing interest. Some 40% of adult internet users have gone online for raw data about government spending and activities. This includes anyone who has done at least one of the following: look online to see how federal stimulus money is being spent (23% of internet users have done this); read or download the text of legislation (22%); visit a site such as that provides access to government data (16%); or look online to see who is contributing to the campaigns of their elected officials (14%).

This is UNBELIEVABLE. This could be a game changer. Gov20 is not only for geeks and wonks.
Yet I have doubts. This might apply only to the US. Or more realistically, the results might be flawed – they come from a trusted source, but it’s a survey.
So I repeat a pledge that I have often made: Mr Kundra, please make log data of government websites public. There we would see how many people access the website. It only make sense that all gov20 advocate release usage data of their websites!

Co-design ForumPA: using Google Moderator to frame the presentation

As part of the co-design effort we launched for my speech at ForumPA, I am using Google Moderator to collect questions. I will speak for 1 1/2 hour so I want to be sure that I address the issues which matter most to the participants. My main starting point is the idea of “innovation without permission”.

My idea is this: imagine you have all the smartest gov20 people together ready to answer any question you have. People like Vivek Kundra, Tom Steinberg, Ellen Miller, Andrea di Maio, Tim O’Reilly, Tom Watson and more. What would you ask? Now I don’t possess all their knowledge, but I can look for answers while preparing the speech.

The first important question was asked by Alberto in a comment to my previous post: if we all agree on gov20, why it’s not happening (at least in Italy)?

So please go on the platform and ask good questions about gov20 – even if you don’t make it to ForumPA (Questions are automatically translated). Deadline 30th April.
Below a short video interview (in Italian).

The limits to gov20: my presentation at EGOVMONET final conference

On April 8th I gave a keynote at EGOVMONET. As often, I didnt repeat the same presentation, but used it as an occasion to trigger and codify my thinking. And I’m quite happy with the result.

The important points are: contrarily to what I said in my 2008 article, transparency does not (by itself) generate change and impact.

In addition, you need civic hackers to develop cool apps: but only US and UK have and More importantly, you need citizens to pay have civic sense and pay attention to the civic applications developed by hackers. And even in US and UK a very tiny minority of citizens uses gov20 apps. Let’s face it: gov20 applications are not much more used than traditional e-government services. Civic hackers I know often complain about low attention paid by citizens, and successful applications involve thousands of citizens, not millions.

As Lessig states, there is a strong risk of superficial reaction:

“with the ideal of naked transparency alone–our democracy, like the music industry and print journalism generally, is doomed. The Web will show us every possible influence. The most cynical will be the most salient. Limited attention span will assure that the most salient is the most stable. Unwarranted conclusions will be drawn, careers will be destroyed, alienation will grow.”

Yet this does not lead to dropping gov20. Attention to civic issues, civic sense is NOT given: it evolves, it grows and disappears. There are many ways to stimulate it:
– Transparency help building civic sense: making public data visually appealing raises the level of the debate, as, and whitehouse blog debate shows.
– you can encourage civic hacking even in countries with no tradition, as INCA-award showed.
– education (and civic education) is fundamental to ensure citizens can have sufficient critical skills to take part in the debate.

On the last point, I have long repeated an idea: we should teach, in schools, civic education and computer together through classes of civic hacking, where pupils learn to develop gov20 apps on their personal issues (e.g. sport facilities, traffic, bike lanes…). This will lead to more interest in both civic education and IT education. See for inspiration Young Rewired State.

So openness and transparency are not sufficient: they are the beginning of a virtuous civic-sense-building process which needs to be accompanied by other tools in order to have an impact.

(not sure that civic sense is the correct word though, a literal translation from Italian – please suggest better translation)

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