What Paul Johnston has to say

Paul Johnston leads The Connected Republic, Cisco’s initiative on the public sector: we worked together on the Open Declaration on European public services. A few days ago we had a chat about my book, that he is reading through Google Translate. he was very supportive and thinks what I am doing is relevant, but he also presented me with two difficult remarks:

  • that would not have happened in the UK. In chapter 4 I tell the story of a project called Visioni Urbane (this paper tells its story in English if you can’t stand Google Translate). The problem there was to prevent a regional administration from building Arts Centers doomed to abandonment for lack of public funding for running costs. Paul was very surprised at this: would not the local people rebel against such irresponsibile behaviour? Would not local newspapers exact a heavy toll on politicians responsible for obviously wrong decisions? They would in the UK. Witness The Public in West Bronwick, a £65 million Arts Center (that’s more than 20 times the Visioni Urbane project), whose business plan that had to be killed by its evaluator, because it would not hold water: the press did call it a public liability and even a monument to idiocy, but the money was gone by then. But of course Paul’s point got me thinking about how much of my book is relevant outside the Italian context
  • the wiki government does not scale, because it is based on bridge-building and community-bootstrapping skills that are scarce and almost invisible to search. According to Paul, it’s hard to imagine starting Peer-to-Patent without Beth Noveck (blogger and technology expert on one side, professor of patent law on the other side), or Kublai without me (musician on one side, regional development economist on the other side). I disagree, though. In the real world scaling happens over time: it is probably true that, three years ago, it took someone like me to imagine Kublai (paper in English), but today, in my opinion, that community has around 150 very expert users of online communities. About 10 of them would be able to launch their own community: in fact, some of them have done so. My experience is that 2.0 projects produce users that know to inhabit them, and generate new ones. And if the number of potential initiators goes up tenfold over three years (three from design, two from launch) that’s pretty good scaling. 🙂

4 thoughts on “What Paul Johnston has to say

  1. Paul Johnston

    Thanks Alberto for this record of our conversation. I am not sure you quite captured what I was trying to say about scaling. As I understand it, you were suggesting that implementation should be done in a community-based way, i.e. instead of traditional formal processes, start by bringing together all the relevant stakeholders and then let the community drive the solution. My worry on scaling was that for every bit of implementation it will be quite a sensitive issue to work out who the relevant stakeholders are and then once you have done this, it will require quite a lot of skilful work to create a sense of community between these people and ensure that they deliver a solution rather than start squabbling amongst themselves 😉 So for a bureaucrat who wants to deliver quickly and likes nothing better than a simple easily repeatable process, this new way of doing things may be a challenge! But you did convince me that trying to do the sort of things you are talking about is definitely the way to go! 🙂

    1. Alberto Post author

      Thank you Paul, maybe I attributed to you my own doubts 🙂
      Actually in the book I write that it’s more often than not impossible to map out stakeholders. Why? Because of emergent spillover effects in policies: a crisis in waste management in Naples (attributable to policy mistakes that started in the 1980s) backfires on the public image of the whole area: mozzarella producers in other areas of Campania, though unaffected by the waste problems, see their overseas demand slump, because consumers in Norway or the US can’t tell Naples apart from Aversa. Aversa mozzarella producers turn out to be stakeholders in waste management in Naples, but this was impossible to see coming – they themselves would have thought it silly if anyone had tried to get them involved in that decision making process.

      So? So my recipe is let self-selection work. You step out: you declare that you want to address a certain problem; you adopt a community approach, throw the doors wide open and make sure you get an interesting conversation going. People will decide for themselves if they want to be involved or not, if they are stakeholders or not.

  2. Enrico Alletto

    Mi soffermo in particolare su questa tua ultima affremazione:

    oggi, secondo me, la community ha 150 utenti esperti e animatori di una comunità online. Di questi, una decina sarebbero probabilmente in grado di usare la loro esperienza Kublai per lanciare una loro community (alcuni l’hanno già fatto). Nella mia esperienza i progetti 2.0 producono gente che li sa abitare – e, in prospettiva, generarne altri a partire dall’esperienza fatta. Se il numero di fondatori potenziali si moltiplica per dieci in tre anni (due a partire dal lancio), è un bello scalare.

    Su cui (indovina?) sono daccordo ! 🙂 L’ “esempio” genera interesse e spirito di emulazione.

    Spesso (sempre?) esiste solo una difficolta’ ad immaginare internet come un luogo diverso da e-commerce, facebook ed affini, ma quando lo si vede in azione in un altro modo e si “tocca con mano” che FUNZIONA le cose … non cambiano subito 🙂 ma possono cambiare, si avvia nelle persone un percoso di cambiamento che va continuamente alimentato, ma che esiste e puo’ produrre un cambiamento positivo ! (Troppo ottimista?)

    1. Alberto Post author

      Enrico, Dio ti benedica per il tuo ottimismo, anche perché è critico e consapevole – nè potrebbe essere diversamente viste le difficoltà incontrate dal tuo progetto. Pensavo proprio a Reti Glocali, Angeli x viaggiatori, Spotus.it etc. quando scrivevo il post.


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