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 mysociety.org and sunlightfoundation.org. 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 gapminder.com, recovery.gov 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)