Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy


March 2016

#OpenGov future scenarios: triumph or defeat?

Cross-posted from 

It’s a defining moment for open government. more than seven years after Obama came to power, many experts are voicing disappointments over its achievement. While the normative importance of the goal is not under discussion, the concrete achievements seem not to have lived up to the expectations.

At least, that is the tone of the posts such as this one by Alberto Cottica, or the recent book by Beth Noveck quoted in the same post.

Yet on the other hand, there is very little evidence behind such statements. Is it the opinion of some experts or is there tangible evidence? And if so, what is the reason and most importantly, what should government do next? Is it a problem of design, or one of implementation?

Precisely these are the question that our new study for the European Commission, OGS, is trying to answer through desk research, case studies, surveys and interviews. On April 28th, we will present the results in a highly interactive workshop that will aim at co-designing the future scenarios of open government.

Let me take sides in this debate. I think open government has not achieved its promises, and that’s ok. There are much more data available than people are actually using, and that’s ok. Perez taught us that over-investment is a necessary part of going from installation to deployment of a new paradigm.

We should remember the fundamental assumption that openness and transparency are elements of good governance in themselves. They are goals, not means.

Yet, these goals come at a cost, and they must be feasible. It’s a problem of managing expectations and updating plans, in an agile manner. Not everything went according to plan, but we know that you can’t plan this ex ante and you should dynamically adapt during implementation.

What matters now is to maximize learning from experience so that we can update our plans and focus on what to do well, and set the right expectations for the future.

It’s a matter of calculating costs and benefit:  not in absolute terms but in comparison with what is traditionally done by government. We know open government hasn’t work perfectly but is there genuinely an alternative? It’s not like government worked perfectly before and then open gov came to create problems.

In broad terms, my feeling is that open government did good for society at relatively moderate costs. In the future, it should focus on some specific activities that worked – I will write on this in my next post.

Over the next days, I will start launching ideas on what is dead and what is alive for open government.

We want to develop together future scenarios for open government in order to set the scene for the workshop.

The final goal of this study is to provide concrete recommendations for the next eGovernment action plan of the European Commission. Alberto Cottica says its all about embracing complexity, Beth Noveck that the focus should be on identifying the right expertise in citizens.

What is your idea? We need all the help we can get out there!

Feel free to comment here, or to provide your answers to the online survey here.

Is mainstreaming the perfect killing? For policies, I mean

In our work of policy evaluation, many times I’ve come across policy changes.

A specific policy priority, such as open policy, foresight, social innovation becomes important. It has now a dedicated measure, a funding system or an organisational unit.

Then after a while, the funding or the unit disappears. The official explanation is that it achieved its goal and it is now being mainstreamed across all government policies.

But maybe this is just a nice way to kill a policy that didn’t achieve its goals?


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