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Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy

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April 2016

What has #opengov achieved so far? An initial checklist

cross-posted from Joinup

When thinking about future scenarios for the forthcoming workshop, it can be useful to look back at what we promised, as open government advocates, and what was actually achieved. What worked, and what didn’t? Using an Hegelian metaphor: what is alive and what is dead of open government?

I refer mostly to what I see among my clients, that is EU, national and regional organisations. Hence, I don’t refer to the majority of organisations, but probably to the most advanced ones.

PARTICIPATION

  • ACHIEVED: The nature of policy discussions has certainly  become more open in the government domain. Civil servants are now frequently participating in twitter, facebook and Linkedin. Policy workshops frequently integrate dynamic interaction methods, such as World Cafe methodologies, rather than traditional powerpoint followed up by scant discussions. The manifest goal of many policy discussions launched by government is to reach out beyond the “usual suspects”: the novelty of the people involved is becoming one of the quality criteria of online engagement.

NOT ACHIEVED: The link between open engagement and policy remains unresolved. The final loop of participation, the modification of the policy and the feedback to the participants, remain an exception rather than the rule. As a good practice, consider the charter of “Parlement et citoyens”, which engages MPs to provide a video feedback to citizens about what they did.

TRANSPARENCY

  • ACHIEVED: Open data have become the default option, not only because of the revised directive, but most importantly in the mindset and expectations. The trend continues, with for instance research data funded through H2020 being public by default by 2017. The main benefit remains in term of transparency and accountability: for instance, recently Open Corporates was instrumental in the resignation of a Spanish Minister.

NOT ACHIEVED: uptake of open data remains minor. A minority of citizens download datasets; and the economic benefits by startups reusing public data have most probably being overestimated.

COLLABORATION

  • ACHIEVED: a culture of co-design of public services and public sector innovation is becoming widespread. Many government agencies have created a “Lab” designed to promote innovative methodologies, and there are many specialised provider in service design, agile methods, innovation without permission. The benefits of co-design public services appear clear, also in economic terms.

NOT ACHIEVED: co-design of public policy is much more challenging, as Beth Noveck show in her book. The questions are more specialised, require greater engagement and it is difficult to gain meaningful insight. Collaboration in policy design remains more a goal in itself than an actual effective way to design better public policies.

NOT ACHIEVED: Integration of offline and online collaboration. Successful co-creation requires live interaction. Online tools are important before and after (through open discussion and open feedback), but actual concrete co-creation requires live collaboration. In this sense, we could say that pure online collaboration is no longer a viable option: online and offline have to be considered as integrated tools, but too, in  practice, they still aren´t.

METRICS

  • ACHIEVED: metrics for participation and collaboration are becoming more and more common. Most online tools show the numbers openly in the homepage (e.g. ideascale.com). Uptake is now, finally, considered a key performance indicator, while this was not the case at the early stage of e-government and e-participation.

NOT ACHIEVED: The focus is more on the quantity of participation than in the quality of the contribution. The success of online engagement is too often measured only in terms of “number of tweets”.

What are your views? What do you consider as the main achievement and shortcomings of open government so far?

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To rank or not to rank, this is the question cc @bettermeasured

I have always been wary of rankings in policy analysis. Benchmarking and histograms seem to over-simplify reality, trivialize discussions and encourage “me-too” policy competition.

This is why our policy dashboards (see here, here and here) do not produce rankings, but visual summaries which emphasize the diversity and richness of information.

So when we decided to elaborate, together with the European Digital Forum (i.e. the Lisbon Council and Nesta), a report presenting the results of our startup manifesto policy tracker, our first version contained few rankings and lots of qualitative information: it was designed as a “policy map”. After several iterations and discussions, we accepted to pivot it towards a “policy scoreboard” with plenty of rankings: which countries do more to support startups?

The methodology, previously discussed on this blog, was finally mutuated from the OECD Going for Growth: a simple percentage of implementation of the recommendations contained in the original Startup Manifesto. Every recommendation has the same weight, even if some are crucial (e.g. legislation on second chance for entrepreneurs) and some are of dubious effectiveness (e.g. having a national champion).

I am pleased to communicate that the report has just been published and presented to Commissioner Oettinger and widely discussed on Twitter.

I have to admit that the online discussions always started by an assessment of how a country has scored. The rankings where the single “point of entry” into the discussions, that then evolved into insightful quali-quantitative reflections.

For all their limitations, rankings were clearly necessary for communication and, most importantly, in order to kickstart meaningful discussions.

In conclusions, rankings are nor good neither bad. They are just an important tool in policy analysis, that has to be used appropriately.

 

 

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