Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


February 2014

What I said at #openconf14 : openness as a goal and as a tool

My final presentation at #okioconf14 is embedded above and downloadable here. Finally it became quite different from what I originally planned. Some new concepts, different from previous speeches, are:

  • openness in both science and government share common drivers, impacts and barriers
  • openness should not be a dogma but a strategy, it should be finely adapted to pursue specific goals: for instance, co-creation does not work.
  • but openness is also a goal in itself, a value necessary to both democracy and science. Science is reproducible or is not science.
  • one key question we must address is: is open government just for young, rich, cultivated people? is it beneficiary mainly to the elite? We must work urgently to answer this question.
  • overall, we have achieved lots but have promised more, and we are just waiting for a “bubble burst” of inflated expectations of open government.

what I’ll say at #okioconf14 : discussing early ideas

Next Friday, I’ve been invited to speak at And I very much look forward to it.

Normally, I give speeches to policy-makers and I have to convince them about the importance of openness. This time, I am preaching to the converted. And as always, I want the speech to be a little bit out of the comfort zone.

Right now I’m trying to think about what I’m going to say. Let me share with you some random thoughts, so that I try to find a good story to tell. Forgive me if this is all a bit random.

I want to talk about openness in different domains: open public services; open policy making; open data; open science.

I’d like to talk about the fact that opening up should not be expected to create dramatic change. We failed dramatically in managing expectations: we promised to change government for good, eliminate corruption, improve policy, and create jobs through apps based on open data. It didn’t happen. It’s not that once you open data and processes, people flood there to reuse the data, create new services. It does not happen this way: not in open government, not in open data, not in open science

Openness does not automatically generate change. It simply removes some of the barriers to change. The key argument is not about the benefit of openness, but about the cost of non-openness. Unpredictably, somewhere, somehow, openness enables impact.

We should not hype the benefits of openness, but denounce the illogicality of closeness.

Another idea I want to share is that it’s not about total openness. We should not be rigid. We should recognise and accept some form of intellectual property, competition, individual interests, egoism and vanity. We need sharing literacy, not sharing culture. Openness is for all, not only for the evangelists!

I think we would all benefit from a more lightweight approach to openness. Don’t push it as the solution to all problems, but emphasise how illogical it is to be closed. Don’t claim that everything should be open, but accept that some things are not for sharing, that sharing does not apply to everything. A kind of third way of openness 🙂

Once you recognize this, you can really have an impact, because you try to act on the incentives to openness – rather than convincing people that open is good.

Also, I’d like to talk about openness as a mean, not as a goal. I’d like to link openness and sharing to the move from product to services. When the economy it’s service-based, it makes sense to give the product for free, because then you can sell services on top of them (e.g. open source software). But is it right? Is it really true that we should renounce totally to selling reproducible products just because they can be reproduced? Are high margin by definition bad? And conversely, sharing is important today also as a way to be known, to have an audience and then to sell. It’s a kind of advertising or marketing.

So maybe I really want to talk about the possible co-existence of openness and capitalism. Something like “Openness: the highest stage of capitalism“. That would be a good title for my talk.

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