Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


March 2015

Despite the rethorics, planning is more important than ever

This is a “off the top of my mind” post. Don’t expect anything useful.

There’s lots of talk about the need for emergent structures as opposed to ex-ante planning. About the death of traditional planning, the illusion of control, unpredictability and the role of black swans.

But in my daily worklife, I see planning becoming more, not less important.

Professional project management practices is becoming more, not less, important. It is percolating into more and more areas. Project management is a more important skill in the workforce, across sectors.

Great, modern startups and organisations are super professional in the way they manage projects. They always use templates and structured processes.

True, management is changing, becoming more flexible and less imposing (read: from MS Office to Asana). But scale matters more than ever, and you can’t scale without structured processes.

To sum up: it’s true that we moved from MS Project to Asana. Despite or because of that, project management is more pervasive and mainstreamed than ever.

Open Data in real life: some reasons to keep it closed

I have just registered my kid for school in Barcelona, it was an exhausting experience. Basically, if you have a two years old and live in Barcelona, chances are you’ve devoted the last three months mostly to this.

By the end of the process, I learnt what data are most used for decision:

  • number of teachers per pupil
  • number of external activities per trimestre
  • non-usage of textbook in primary school (indicator of openness/modernity)
  • socio-economic standing of the families
  • facilities (garden, sport, etc) but even basic things such as windows in rooms (some schools don’t have it)
  • own kitchen
  • additional services (e.g. logopedy)
  • average results of kids in secondary school test

On top of this basic data, most used it the feedback of other parents – provided think like you.

But because of the procedure used for subscription, the fundamental datum is oversubscription rate. You should choose a school that is not oversubscribed, and therefore the oversubscription rate is fundamental.

Obviously, these data are often not available and you have to chase them. I expect soon some app becoming available gathering such data.

But the fundamental point is that these data are not being published in easily readable format on purpose. The argument is that if data, and in particular the average results of pupils, were made available, parents will flock to the best performing schools and enhance the inequalities of the system. 

In other words, transparency would create a “rich getting richer” effect. The difficulty in getting the data ensures that only those who are really interested are getting this information.

Is this argument sound? Is it applicable to other domains? What are the main counterarguments? For sure this can be applied to mortality rates of the hospitals.

It reminds me of another apparently sound argument for limiting the openness, i.e. the embargo period for scientific publication coming from specific datasets in order to allow the author of the dataset to write his conclusions. This is also recognized as a valid limitation, but is it really so?

I wrote in the past on the need for “sharing literacy” rather than sharing culture , because one should know when and where to be open.

Can we identify a set of valid arguments to limit openness across domains?

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