That between Nadia El-Imam and Bror Salmelin is a really unlikely alliance. She’s an Afro-Swedish interaction designer in her 20s, rooted in the hacker culture and suspicious towards large public bureaucracies; he is a Finnish senior officer at the European Commission in his 50s, technology expert (he had an important role in the birth of the Living Lab movement) and with a very institutional role. Despite many language differences, the two managed to understand (somewhat) and respect each other, and together they conceived and deployed Future building for wikicrats, a really innovative initiative: rather than setting up their own Brussels event, the Commission launched a workshop within Reboot – that, for people unfamiliar with it, is an event of the international hacker community started in 1998, where you can rub shoulders with people like Howard Rheingold, Tim O’Reilly and Dave Winer. The workshop’s goal is to share a new way of thinking about technology policy, that takes the best from both the governance culture (accuntability, impartiality, inclusivity, orientation towards the common good) and the hacker culture (sharing. radical transparency, meritocracy, autonomy).
They invited people that, with a few exceptions, are not technology policy experts. They are people just like you and me, who create or use technology; they are very diverse for culture, personal history, profession and interests. They are also interesting people. Gianluca Dettori is a venture capitalist; Robin Chase is an entrepreneur interested in transport; Amelia Andersdotter is a key figure in the Swedish Pirate Party; Elvira Berlingieri is a digital law expert; I should be speaking for the creative world (pretty tall assignment); Freek van Krevel works at the Commission, and together with David Osimo he is only professional technology policy expert.
I expect that, interacting within a context of shared values, these people acquire new metaphors to think about tech policy through the people who do it and who are impacted by it. Civil servants say “hi-tech firms”, and they think of Economics 101 models mashed with neoliberal rhethoric; well, these models are light-years distant from the people who actually build companies, and interacting with Robin and Gianluca might help amending, deepening or downright discarding them. Similiarly, many hackers think of “Eurocrats” as some kind of grey trolls obsessed with the shapes of bananas; and they have no idea of the real interest and – yes – ideals of people like Bror and Freek. Participants to FBFW can act as personae for each other. Its personal approach should help this, and I really hope it could enhance mutual understanding across tech policy stakeholders.
Knowing a little the stiff-upper-lip style favoured oy the European Commission, this is really a giant cultural leap. We’ll see how it goes. For now: kudos Nadia and Bror. We need more stuff like this IMHO.
Twitter hashtag: #wikicrats
Livestream URL: www.ustream.tv/channel/wikicrats-at-reboot11
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