Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


October 2015

Accountability and moving targets: the importance of version control

At Open Evidence, one of our main activities is tools that allow tracking of policy progress, for instance of the Digital Agenda for Europe, eGovernment Action Plan, the Startup Manifesto, the Innovation Union, the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs. Here, people in charge of each action are allowed to update data on its progress.

One problem we experienced, when you giver users full control, is that there are many changes to the original plan so that it becomes impossible to actually detect delays.

This is not an exception, but the rule in bureaucratic organisations. For instance, I just detected a beautiful graph from Linders, D., & Wilson, S. C. (2011). What is open government?: one year after the directive. 12th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research (dg.o 2011), 262–271. doi:10.1145/2037556.2037599.

It compares the performance of the Open Government plans before and after the update of the action plan.

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 12.25.53

This shows clearly that updating the plan levelled out the differences between “good” and “bad” performers.

We should provide tools that monitor not only the performance against plan, but the changes in the plan itself across time.

The rethorics of left wing reaction

One of my favourite books ever is Hirschman, A.O., 1991. The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy.

It shows that the criticisms against progress have been the same for civil, political and social rights. Reactionary argument always stated that any such change would: make real conditions worse; not have an impact at all; hinder the progress already made so far.

I would suggest a similar analysis, today, on criticism towards free trade agreements such as TTIP.

First let me state that I am against the dispositions of the treaty dealing with special tribunals for disputes between companies and governments; and that I am generally in favour of free trade and against protectionism (see Ricardo and Krugman).

I see a common pattern of criticisms towards free trade agreements:

  • they create looser regulation (e.g. on environmental standards) by removing non-tariff barriers;
  • they favour multinationals;
  • they favour outsourcing jobs towards third countries hence leading to job losses.

For instance, the criticism towards TTIP are similar to those made towards the TPP here.

I think it would be nice to study if previous free trade agreements which are today considered as “given”, including the Single European Act of 1986, encountered similar criticisms to those listed above.

This would help putting the debate in perspective and eliminate criticisms defeated by history – hence giving more weight to well-founded criticisms.

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