Tag Archives: David Osimo

Not just shiny toys: future policy is about distributed power and decentralized permission

I am just back from Dublin. I was at Policy Making 2.0, a meetup of people who care about public policies, and try to apply to them advanced modelling techniques and lots of computation. Big data, network analysis, sentiment analysis: the whole package. What results, if any, are we getting? What problems are blocking our way? What technology do we need to make progress? Lots of notes to compare. Thanks should be given (again!) to David Osimo, the main hub of this small community, for organizing the conference and bringing us together.

At the end of it all, I have good news, bad news and excellent news.

Good news: we are starting to see modeling that actually works, in the sense of making a real contribution to understanding intricate problems. A nice example is a href=”http://www.gleamviz.org/”>GLEAM, that allows to simulate epidemics. What’s interesting is that it uses real-world data, both demographic (population and its spatial distribution) and on transportation networks (infection agents travel with the people infected, by plane or by train). To these, you add the data describing the epidemics you are trying to simulate: how infectious is it? How serious? Where does the first outbreak start? And so on. The modeler, then, patches it all together into a simulation scenario.

Bad news: making rigorous AND legible models is very hard – no wonder we normally can’t. The rigorous ones fully take on board the complexity of the phenomena they attempt to describe, with the result that often they cannot really give a simple answer beyond “it depends”; the legible ones (in the sense that their results are easy to understand, and often based on shiny visualizations) pay for such surface visibility by sweeping under the carpet the understanding of how they get to those results – at least as far as most citizens and decision makers are concerned. This problem is further complicated when Big Data come into play, because Big Data force us to rethink what we mean by “evidence” (this argument deserves its own post, so I will not make it here).

Excellent news: the community of researchers and policy makers seem to be converging on what follows. Public policies will make the real leap into the future when they are able to devolve power and leadership to an ever smarter and better informed citizenry. That is, if they will be transparent, participatory, enabling, humble. Technology is ok: we need it. But without a deep fix in the way we think and run policy, future public institutions risk looking much like the Habsburgers Empire’s Cadastral Service, circa 1840 (rigid hierarchies, tight formal rules, bad exceptions management, airtight separation between administrations and civil society, communication with citizens only through regulation…), only with computers and perhaps infographics. Over coffee breaks, we mused a lot about iatrogenics (public policies that, though well-meaning, end up doing harm for lack of the intellectual humility to leave alone a complex system that is not properly understood); transparency as a trust generator, as well as a goal in itself; and we phantasized about public-private partnerships to troubleshoot policy when the normal mode of operating mode fails, a sort of commandos of social innovators and civic hackers. This would be my dream job! The Dutch Kakfa Brigades gave it a try, but based on the website the project does not seem very active.

The community has spoken. We’ll see if the Commission and the national policy makers will pick up on this consensus, and how. Of course, reform that goes so deep is really hard, and does not depend on the goodwill of the individual decision makers. The wisest thing we can do, maybe, is push the edge a little further out, without too many expectations. But without giving up, either. Because – and today I am a little more optimistic – we have not quite lost this one yet.

Another small step forward: Policy Making 2.0 in Dublin (and a prize)

A little more than four years ago David Osimo convened a workshop in Brussels with the title Public Services 2.0. It was quite new for the context, both in method (the European Commission was asked only to provide e room and wi-fi connection, while speakers and participants donated their time and even paid their own travel expenses) and in content (a peer dialogue among person that were already delivering – as opposed to proposing public policies through the Internet. Many Commission officers showed up, probably moved by curiosity: who were these people who dared to mix two ingredients coming from two totally different spheres? Why did they seem not to ask anything of the Commission itself, and seemed more motivated by talking to each other?

That workshop turned out to be foundational. With some of the people and the projects (like MySociety or Social Innovation Camp) that I met there for the first time I started a dialogue that continues to this day, and from which I learned much. At the time I was the director of Kublai, a much-praised but little imitated (or at least little wellimitated) project: in Brussels I found out that my team and I were part of a global movement, still tiny but determined to change forever the way to think about public policy.

Our small “homemade” movement has grown a lot, though it remained a minority. And today it prepares yet another step: Policy Making 2.0, a conference that wraps up two years of preparation of a road map (commentable here for research on public policies in the Internet age: what are the trends? What the promising leads, the main roadblocks? What is missing? No way I am going to miss it. This is an interesting and urgent discussion if the open government community is to work side by side with the scientific community.

For good measure, David has added a prize for policy making 2.0, and even asked me to be one of the judges. Any project out there that wants to claim it? I would be delighted to support some intelligent, brave civil servant.
A questo giro, David si è inventato anche This entry was posted in Open government and tagged , , , , , on by .

Blog like it’s 2004 (Italiano)

Da diversi anni partecipo a vari social networks. Ma non ho mai smesso abbandonato i blog, nè come blogger nè come lettore, e non ho nessuna intenzione di farlo. Dopo settecento post e duemila commenti, sono molto grato al mio blog: mi ha messo in contatto con persone e idee che sono diventate importanti per me (tra l’altro, gli devo il mio lavoro attuale). Scrivere mi aiuta a organizzare i pensieri, e a non perdere il filo di un percorso che non è sempre lineare.

Ma sono anche grato ai blog altrui. Negli anni i blog che leggo sono cambiati quasi tutti (anche perché alcuni che seguivo hanno chiuso i battenti, come quello di Luca e Mafe); ma continua a piacermi il rapporto che ho con i blogger che leggo, certo intellettuale ma stranamente intimo. Nel confronto serrato e prolungato nel tempo con una persona e le sue idee mi sembra di riuscire meglio a fare crescere le mie. Voglio quindi dedicare questo post alla seconda generazione del mio blogroll, i blog che leggo (e commento) adesso, in pieno spirito del 2004 e della breve età dell’oro del blogging.

Sui temi delle politiche pubbliche Internet e del governo aperto continuo a leggere David Osimo. David scrive da Bruxelles, e ha una bella prospettiva europea, anche se nell’ultimo anno, credo preso da altro, ha scritto meno che in passato. Da qualche mese ha ripreso a scrivere anche Beth Noveck, dopo una lunga pausa durante la quale ha diretto il progetto open government alla Casa Bianca di Obama: spero non si stanchi di nuovo, il suo contributo è davvero importante.

Grazie a Dave Kusek e a Francesco D’Amato riesco a tenere nel radar anche l’economia industriale della musica, uno dei miei primi interessi professionali. Il primo, americano, insegna alla Berklee School e ha una prospettiva generale sulle tendenze di mercato; il secondo, italiano della Sapienza, si interessa in particolare di crowdfunding: su questo tema è diventato molto esperto. Leggo anche un paio di blog tecnologici: quello di Alberto D’Ottavi, uno dei primissimi blog che abbia mai letto, e quello di Vincenzo Cosenza, molto forte sul tema Facebook e social media.

Sono un lettore fedele anche di due blog non specialistici ma ben scritti e che mi fanno pensare pensieri per me insoliti. Uno è quello dello scrittore di fantascienza britannico Charles Stross: intelligente, immaginoso e speculativo come solo la migliore fantascienza sta essere. L’altro è stato aperto recentemente dall’economista italiano Tito Bianchi, una specie di Tristram Shandy dell’economia che salta con leggerezza da un argomento all’altro riuscendo sempre interessante. Infine, se usate Google Reader, vi consiglio di seguire Costantino Bongiorno (si autodefinisce “engineer and troublemaker”). È troppo timido per tenere un proprio blog, ma fa un ottimo lavoro di filtraggio e condivisione dei blog che si occupano di hardware hacking, Arduino e affini. Grazie, amici bloggers, continuate così.

E voi? Volete suggerirmi qualche bel blog?