Tag Archives: Giulio Quaggiotto

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.

Wikicrazia: Legion of Superheroes

“Who are we going to ask for a preface?” When my publisher decided to release Wikicrazia he asked me this question, which I had manage to overlook completely. A journalist? Well, the big names tend to have care little and know less on such specialitic matters. A politician? They are by definition partisan, while I am very keen on maintaning my profile as a bipartisan advisor.

The solution we fund was a lateral move: there is no preface. It was replaced by short endorsements written by people who know me and whom I exchanged ideas with on the topic of public policies in the times of the Internet. I ended up collecting eight of them, from a true Legion of Superheroes of internet-enabled policies. I am very proud to parade their contributions on my book, and to be able to boast a little: wow, I actually hang out with these people! They are my colleagues!. In alphabetical order:

  • Beth Simone Noveck. She teaches at New York School of Law and is the founder of Peer-to-Patent, the original 2.0 project of the U.S. federal administration. She is also the author of an excellent book on the topic, called Wiki Government, published in July 2009 as I was writing my own. I am sort of following in her trail!
  • David Lane. American probabilist, he is a member of the Santa Fe Institute‘s Science Board. I mention often his thinking in this blog, because he is one the scientists I admire most, and I hope to be able to collaborate with him someday. He has been living and working in Italy for the past few years.
  • David Osimo. He is a leading European expert on e-government 2.0. He worked for the European Commission, and has since moved on to start his own company in Brussels.
  • Filippo Solibello. In Italy he is the most famous of the bunch: a radio and TV host, with whom I share an approach of looking at our country bringing to the foreground the things that work and the people who make them work, rather than concentrating on scandal-mongering.
  • Gilda Farrell. She is the director of the Social Cohesion Research and Development division at the Council of Europe. She has a global outlook, and carries the flag of innovation in the public sector.
  • Giulio Quaggiotto. He works at the World Bank in Washington D.C. His work is focused on the role of the private sector as an engine of economic development, and he is one of the authors of one of my favourite blogs
  • Marco Magrassi. He comes from MIT, the Inter-American Development Bank and windsurfing. He now works in the Evaluation Unit at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development.
  • Tito Bianchi. He, too, comes from MIT and works at the Evaluation Unit. He is also the man I answer to for Kublai, and my coauthor.

To all of them goes my most heartfelt THANK YOU. Up, up and away! 😀

Wikicrazia: Legion of Superheroes (Italiano)

La prima presentazione pubblica di Wikicrazia avverrà martedì 21 settembre alle 14.00 all’Urban Center di Milano (Galleria Vittorio Emanuele). L’evento fa parte della Social Media Week ed è condotto da Mafe de Baggis (anche su Facebook).

“A chi facciamo scrivere una prefazione?” Quando l’editore ha deciso di pubblicare Wikicrazia, mi ha fatto questa domanda, a cui non avevo assolutamente pensato. Mica facile: i giornalisti — quelli famosi, almeno — tendono a non avere né competenze né interessi sui temi di cui il libro si occupa; i politici sono di parte, in fondo è il loro mestiere, mentre io ci tengo molto al mio profilo di tecnico al di sopra delle parti.

La soluzione è stata una mossa laterale: la prefazione non c’è. Ci sono invece brevi testimonianze di persone che mi conoscono e che hanno scambiato con me idee e esperienze sulle politiche pubbliche al tempo della rete. Ne ho raccolte otto: una vera Legione dei Supereroi delle politiche pubbliche in rete. Sono davvero orgoglioso di potere ospitare i loro contributi sul mio libro, e di potere dire “Ehi, io con queste persone ci parlo! Sono i miei colleghi!“. Eccoli, in ordine alfabetico:

  • Beth Simone Noveck. Insegna alla New York School of Law e dirige Peer-to-Patent, il “progetto madre” 2.0 dell’amministrazione federale americana (mi piace pensare che Kublai possa svolgere un ruolo simile in quella centrale italiana). È anche l’autrice di un libro sull’argomento, uscito nell’estate 2009, proprio mentre scrivevo Wikicrazia, e che si chiama Wiki Government! Insomma, seguo le sue orme. Adesso ha un incarico prestigioso (vice Chief Technology Officer) nell’amministrazione Obama.
  • David Lane. Americano, probabilista, è membro del Science Board dell’Istituto di Santa Fe per lo studio dei sistemi adattivi complessi, dove è stato anche responsabile del programma di economia. Parlo spesso delle sue idee in questo blog, perché è uno degli scienziati che ammiro di più e con cui spero un giorno di poter collaborare. Da qualche anno vive e insegna in Italia, in particolare all’Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia.
  • David Osimo. È uno dei più accreditati esperti europei di e-government 2.0. Ha lavorato per la Commissione Europea, e ora dirige una sua società a Bruxelles. Alcuni di voi lo conosceranno per la sua lectio magistralis al Forum P.A. di quest’anno.
  • Filippo Solibello. È forse il più famoso del gruppo, perché da anni conduce Caterpillar, un programma radiofonico di grande successo su Radio RAI 3. Condivido con lui molta musica e la voglia di raccontare il mondo a partire dalle cose che funzionano invece che dallo scandalume vario.
  • Gilda Farrell. Dirige la divisione Social Cohesion Research and Development al Consiglio d’Europa. Ha una mentalità internazionale e un approccio molto favorevole all’innovazione nella pubblica amministrazione.
  • Giulio Quaggiotto. Lavora alla Banca Mondiale a Washington. Si occupa di sviluppo trainato dal settore privato, e scrive su uno dei miei blog pubblici preferiti.
  • Marco Magrassi. Ex MIT, ex Banca Interamericana di Sviluppo, ex campione di windsurf, oggi è in forza all’UVAL al Ministero dello Sviluppo.
  • Tito Bianchi. Anche lui ex MIT, anche lui componente dell’UVAL, è il mio referente per Kublai e mio coautore.

A tutti loro va un GRAZIE grande come una casa. E via, più veloci della luce! 😀