Within the CROSSROAD project, We’re drafting the research roadmap for governance and policy modelling. We just presented the first draft at a workshop within the ICT2010 event, and I am personally very happy with how it went. Here is our presentation.

But because it was aimed at the research community, it was cryptic: I would like to clarify what we do, why and how. So, what it is all about?
First, the context: we’re setting the  roadmap within the ICT research programme. So we focus largely on technological research. In a nutshell, the EU wants to know what ICT research it should fund in order to improve policy-making in a complex world. So the overarching question is, is there a need for ICT research on public governance? Or is it just a matter of adopting existing tools developed in other contexts? Traditionally, government is seen as an innovative market only in the areas of defense and security, but I believe there is space for research – obviously applied – in this field as well. Google moderator, Google video search, Gapminder are three examples of state-of-the-art tools applied firstly in the public governance context.

It’s a story of challenges and opportunities, and how to grasp them. The challenge is to govern a complex world, where instability is the norm, challenges are global and systemic, citizens are vocal. Traditional general-equilibrium models and eDemocracy tools fall short. The best short reference I can give is this blog post by Irving Wladawsky-Berger.
The opportunities are there: new agent-based models and simulations are able to account for tipping points and the diversity and non-rationality of human behavour. Collaborative tools lower the costs of collaboration and engagement in policy-making, and citizens are increasingly taking an active role in addressing public issues. Interactive visualization allow us to augment the human capacity for pattern recognition.

The vision we have is that there are three combined trends that are radically changing the way policies are designed, implemented and evaluated. More data are becoming available, through open government data, citizens-generated data (participatory sensing) and sensors (Internet of Things or Web Squared). More people are being involved in analyzing the data and collaborate, thanks to democratisation of software and lowering costs of collaboration. Better modelling and simulation tools are available, based on agent-based modelling, system dynamics and related non-linear approaches. The combination of these three trends could lead to a paradigm shift in policy making.

Yet these opportunities are far from being realized and research is needed to do that. We identified 4 grand challenges to be addressed in order to take full advantage of these opportunities, articulated in specific research challenges. The goal is to create a shared understanding of the key issues in order to orient future research. The titles below will bring you directly to the uservoice platform we are using.

How to assist policy makers in taking evidence-based decisions in our complex, unpredictable world? Existing econometric models are unable to account for human behaviour and unexpected events. New policy modeling and simulation are fragmented, single purpose and work at micro-level. There is a need for robust, intuitive, reusable collaborative modeling tools that can be integrated into daily decision-making processes.

Grand Challenge 2: Data-powered collaborative intelligence and action
How can we make sure that increased transparency translates into actual more open and more effective policy-making? Current tools require high involvement and attention, therefore engaging only the very committed people. They are designed facilitate conversations, rather than action. There is a need for more intuitive collaborative tools that are able to engage also less interested people, maximizing the impact of short attention span and low-engagement, as well as for ICT based feedback mechanism that are able to encourage real action and behavioral change.

How to provide high-impact services to citizens, businesses and administrations in a way that allows for co-design, public-private collaboration, citizen interaction and service co-generation. Allowing for 1-stop, 1-second service delivery at very low cost and administrative burden. Allows for completely new services, through mash-up and interoperability-by-design

How to make ICT-enabled governance a rigorous scientific domain, by providing formal methods and tools. The systematic classification of problems and solutions and description through formal languages, in an effort to make diagnosis and prescription of solutions a deterministic process that will allow building on top of existing knowledge

In the links above, you will see the specific research challenges we identified. You can comment on them, vote and add other challenges. I am quite sure we miss important points – for example William Heath added personal-data-management tools. We need your knowledge on the specific research issues – we’re not the experts on all of these themes.

It’s your chance to tell the EC what reasearch should be funded. Deadline 15th October!

A final important point. Of course it’s not only about what research to support, but how. My impression is that EU funding is currently not optimized to capture innovation in this field, which is very much bottom-up, emergent, serendipitous, design-driven, multidisciplinary. So next discussion will be about the how.