Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


May 2013

Lessons learnt from online engagement: don’t expect policy co-creation #policy20

This is part of the open Q&A on online engagement that I launched to prepare for the Policy-Making 2.0 conference. Hope to see you there!


When it comes to online engagement on public policy, one common mistake is to expect co-creation of policies from scratch.

In reality, collaborative creation “wiki-style” is the hardest to achieve. The transaction costs are very high, to enable many people to work together on a text. You simply spend a lot of time discussing and explaining. This is not fun and people are discouraged to take part. Moreover, writing a self-contained good piece of content is hard work.

It is much more suitable to design lighter forms of engagement, and more structured. We consider three phases of online collaboration: brainstorming, drafting, reviewing. The actual drafting part is very hard to do in an open way. It is easier and more effective to stimulate public engagement in the initial brainstorming phase, where people can submit short ideas, simple to create. This is often very effective to reach out to collective intelligence by asking information and ideas that is already there, at the “fingertips” of participants. In this phase, tools such as Uservoice and Ideascale are typically best, because they let anyone contribute ideas and vote on other people ideas. Unfortunately, research shows that voting is not an effective system to let innovative ideas emerge… but that’s another story.

The actual drafting of structured documents (based on this brainstorming phase) is far easier to implement through a small group.

This restricted drafting should be followed by an open commenting phase through tools such as co-ment. It’s easier and effective to have participants to comment on a prepared text, rather than create one from scratch. Also, comments tend to be very valuable and high-quality here because the full context is provided.

This need for lighter forms of engagement is also reflected in the fact that wikis have not become hugely popular, while blogs have.

This process (open brainstorming, closed drafting and open commenting) is what worked in the  Open Declaration on EU Public Services. It is also the way OpenIdeo is designed: the initial inspiration/brainstorming phase and the “clapping” phase are those with greater public engagement.

So, if you want to engage citizens in policy-making, design simple processes that do not require extensive collaborative drafting but rather exploit collective intelligence in the brainstorming and reviewing phase.

Last days to enter the #PolicyMaking20 prize

The Crossover project, together with UNDP CIS, the Democratic Society and Euractiv, is organising the first “Policy-Making 2.0” prize [1]. It goal is to raise awareness and consolidate the community about a new set of tools to support policy making, such as as open and big data, visualisation, opinion mining, collaborative governance, modeling and simulation, serious gaming.

Submit your application using this simple form (takes 5 minutes to complete): 

The 3 prizes, a symbolic iPad mini, will be assigned by a high-profile jury [3] including professors, policy-makers and web entrepreneurs.

The prize will be given at the fist policy-making 2.0 conference , where you are also invited to participate [2]. At the conference we will present the final Roadmap for Policy-Making 2.0, where your comments are very welcome [4].

Hope to see you there!





How can technology improve public policy? Come and find out in Dublin!

David Osimo, Giulio Quaggiotto and Anthony Zacharzewski

Join us in Dublin 17 and 18 June

This June, policymakers and techies from around Europe will come together in Dublin to discuss how technology can be used to improve the policymaking process.

The challenge

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have supported decision-making processes for many years.

Whether used for analyzing datasets, managing processes, or monitoring expenditure, governments have been a traditional large user of technology.

Today’s ICTs are well-suited to dealing with predictable, traditional problems that can be cracked with brute computing force, or a simple linear process.

Unfortunately, the world we live in is not linear, and definitely not simple. Poor policy decisions have flowed from the use of tools ill fitted to anticipate either the problems or impacts of policy decisions. The financial crisis is just one example, enabled by a reliance on models and algorithms based on untested assumptions.

As a policy maker during the crisis, I found the available models of limited help. In fact, I would go further: in the face of the crisis, we felt abandoned by conventional tools.” (Jean-Claude Trichet, former Head of the European Central Bank)

At the same time, social media have accustomed citizens to voice their opinions, but have not yet provided the tools to genuinely improve policy.

The opportunities

The rise of social media and networked tools provide opportunities to take ICTs in government out of the engine room and put them into the public space.

In recent years, we have seen the emergence of an ecosystem of “policy applications” which use technology to improve the quality of policy making:

· Linked, open, big data help making sense of big data, for instance to monitor government performance (as in TopBraid )

· Visualization tools help us better understand the nature of public policy issues, such as demographic problems (see Gapminder)

· Collaborative tools such as help analyze public policy documents in detail through collective intelligence and collaborative commenting

· Opinion mining solutions such as Discovertext helped to analyze and make sense of thousand of public comments to regulation proposals

· Serious games and persuasive technologies such as Glowcaps induce behavioural change, such as exercising more or sticking to medication, by enhancing feedback and peer pressure

· Systems modeling and simulation such as Gleam help anticipate the impact of policy decisions, taking into account the complexity of human behaviour and feedback systems

The discourse around government 2.0 and open government has focused mainly on open data and collaborative public services.

New models of open, networked governance take these conversations wider and make them richer.

“Open” in this context does not mean passively open like a door, but actively open like a shop, seeking out people to come and join in.

As web 2.0 turned the web into an environment that was experienced and moulded through social action, policymaking 2.0 should turn government into a more social, flexible and participatory experience.

For us to make the case for policy making that fits this century (rather than the last), we have to champion, advance and experiment with models that recognize human beings for what they are: complex, connected and diverse.

More than that, we have to make the case in public for these new approaches, and give credit to those who are leading in the direction we want others to follow.

Time to make it happen!

It is now time to bring together this dispersed community, create links between different experiences and raise the awareness of policy-makers.

For this reason, the Crossover project, UNDP, the Democratic Society and Euractiv are launching the first conference on policy-making 2.0, which will bring together researchers and practitioners from the global community.

The conference will be held at Trinity College, Dublin, on 17 and 18 June, 2013 (alongside the Digital Agenda Assembly 2013).

Speakers include:

– Miguel Gonzalez Sancho, Member of Cabinet of Commissioner Kroes

– Emer Coleman, former Deputy Director of UK Government Digital Service

– Tomislav Korman, Croatian government, Head of Online Communication

– Prof. Igor Mayer, University of Delft, Serious games for policy

– Prof. Eliot Rich, University of Albany,  Systems Thinking, System Dynamics, and Group Decision Support

– Anna Carbone, FuturICT flagship project

– Alberto Cottica, Policy-Making powered by Networks

– David Osimo, Crossover project, The Research Roadmap on Policy-Making 2.0

At the same time, we’re launching the Policy Applications Prize, designed to reward the most impactful and innovative software solutions for policy making.

>> Register for the conference

>> Submit your policy app and win a prize

Getting ready for Policy-Making 2.0 conference: interview with @Alberto_Cottica

In preparation of the Crossover conference on Policy-Making 2.0, to set the tune, I start interviewing some of the speakers about their perspective on the future of policy-making. Here’s my first interview with social networks research hacker Alberto Cottica.

Soem background: policy-making 2.0 has become the central topic of my work in recent years, both in research and practice.

As Crossover project, together with OpenPolicy and UNDP, we’re organizing the first conference on Policy-Making 2.0 in Dublin, on June 17th-18th.

This is, for me, the natural prosecution of the Public Services 2.0 workshop which we organised with Dominic Campbell and Lee Bryant in 2009 (full report here).

We want to establish policy-making 2.0 as a proper research and practice domain, which encompasses part of the e-Democracy and traditional economic modeling. These are tools to improve the quality of policy-making based on simulation, modeling, visualisation, opinion mining, open data and more (see here for a full description).


We’re gathering an impressive list of speakers that will shed light on the different aspects, on the opportunities and challenges.

On top of that, we’re launching the first “Policy Making 2.0 prize“, where a high profile jury will identify the best applications for policy making. And we’re publishing the Research Roadmap which is currently commentable here (yes, it’s the same software of

Registration is open and free here.


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