Tag Archives: Italia

Why the Italian government should not create an open government unit

Apparently the new Italian government is determined to move to adopt open government practices. It is plausible: several ministers are curious enough to investigate new ways, and smart enough to live out this space as protagonists. Regional cohesion minister Fabrizio Barca has written a review of my book of open government that shows a deep and sophisticated understanding of the topic. The most determined in this is probably Education minister Francesco Profumo, who in 2011 – as the newly appointed CEO of the National Research Council, was taking steps to open up its governance. Not by chance, Profumo requested and got the competence on innovation.

The interesting problem is how to open up the Italian public administration, overcoming its inevitable resistances. To keep it simple, consider two possibities: a top-down strategy, focused on the production of regulation and guidelines, and a bottom-up one, focused on building capacity in the various agencies of the central State, but also – and mainly – of the Regions.

The top-down strategy consists in building a strong open government unit in the Innovation department. This unit writes regulations that mandate the adoption of radical transparency and citizen engagement practices; and it produces tools for the various government agencies to do so (for example guidelines, definitions, technical documents). If it works, this strategy results in a new central institution that can do open government.

The bottom-up strategy consists of infiltrating the various state and regional agencies with open and transparent policies and projects. The goal is not to concentrate competences, but to distribute them; and not to set up transparency and openness as add-ons to the policy process, but rather embedding them in each phase of the policy cycle, from design to ex-post evaluation. If it works, such a strategy builds new capacity in the existing agencies to whatever it is they do (education, health care, infrastructures and so on).

Clearly, the two strategies are not alternative but complementary. Nationwide regulation is needed: for example, we need a Freedom of Information Act as a legal tool of last resort, and you can only do this top-down. But I believe that the bottom-up strategy should be the main one. Here’s the reason: a technical unit that owns open government risks to be considered as a nuisance by the frontline agencies; and the latter can jeopardize open government policies simply by not cooperating, or treating them as more red tape, another bureaucratic requirement. It would be a disaster. Contrived open government is very likely to turn into a sad charade.

Some unsolicited advice to Profumo: minister, resist the temptation to gather the best and the brightest around you. Promote, rather, a community of practice of the Italian civil servants engaged in open government practices; set up an annual conference, reboot Innovatori PA, open channels of cooperation with the world’s leading administrations; use the authoritativeness of your role to reward those who perform well, at any level of the hierarchy; open up spaces of dialogue with the civil society. Don’t create another silo; rather, let open government’s women and the men work from the trenches, were public policies are deployed. Do this to stimulate the agencies’ demand for openness rather than push it down their throat. We risk the emergence of a typically Italian uneven situation, with some agencies performing much better than others. Well – that beats an evenly dismal situation.

Open Data summertime

Sorry, this post in Italian only. It is a call to arms for a collaborative translation into Italian of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Data Manual. The rationale is that many Italian public authorities seem to be sincerely considering opening up their data, but they find taking the first step quite intimidating – lots of jargon to cut through. If you know enough Italian to help, read on!

È un buon momento per gli open data in Italia. Diverse amministrazioni mi sembrano considerare con sincero interesse l’idea di aprire i propri dati, nell’interesse della trasparenza e della collaborazione. Fare il primo passo, però, richiede il superamento di una certa timidezza iniziale. Lo capisco bene: ci sono scogli giuridici da evitare, un’infarinatura di know-how tecnico da acquisire, e la tentazione del “chi me lo fa fare” è sempre in agguato. In più, molta letteratura rilevante è in inglese.

E così, nella mitica mailing list di Spaghetti Open Data a un certo punto è nata l’idea di tradurre in italiano l’Open Data Manual della Open Knowledge Foundation, che è un documento ben organizzato, scritto per persone che non sanno nulla di open data. Come per tutte le cose veramente sentite, non è chiaro chi abbia avuto l’idea: qualcuno ha dato la colpa a me, ma io sono sicuro di non avere proposto nulla del genere (può essere che abbia detto “sarebbe bello”). Comunque sia, un paio d’ore dopo quelli della OKF avevano caricato il Manuale sul web per la traduzione.

È un venerdì di agosto. Proporre ora un’esperienza collaborativa (tra l’altro impegnativa come una traduzione) va contro ogni regola della comunicazione web. Ma va bene così: è un’operazione che si è montata praticamente da sola, e questo in genere è un buon segnale. In effetti, al momento in cui scrivo abbiamo già tradotto il 15% del manuale! Per il rimanente 85, tutti i lettori di Contrordine Compagni sono invitati ad arruolarsi. Va benissimo anche tradurre solo una o due frasi. Istruzioni:

  1. andate qui e registratevi.
  2. andate qui. Cliccate sul link “Open Data Manual → all.pot” e poi su “Translate now”.

Io sto facendo la mia parte e sono qui.

8, Quai des Bateliers

On July 1st I started on a new job with the Council of Europe. There will be time to share just what I am doing here. The point I am trying to make at present is that I have become a migrant again (I spent a couple of years in London in the 90s), joining the growing host of my fellow Italians who decide to pursue their own development abroad. I’m renting an apartment in Strasbourg, on Quai des Bateliers: from my windows I see the cathedral, on the other side of the river.

Hanging out on the Italian side of blogs and social networks I got the idea that many Italians, when they move abroad, slam the door on their way out. I had a sort of tag cloud in my head, where expressions like “stagnating country”, “incompetent ruling class”, “talent is not recognized”, “innovation-averse” hang fluctuating, in large colored letters. But when I thought better about it, actually none of the Italians working abroad I know (and there are many) use these expressions. Sometimes I have noticed a hint of bitter irony in comparing their trajectories in London or Berlin with those of their previous lives in Cosenza or Sassuolo, but it is of course not really fair to compare London with Sassuolo. There are a few world cities, and qualified migrants tend to end up there. Italy has no city of this class, as is true of most European countries. The expressions of this particular tag cloud, I now think, are mostly used by people who have not left Italy, and who feel, right or wrong, underrecognized.

I certainly don’t feel that way. I have no reason to think my talents, if any, have not been recognized in my own country. I moved out firstly because my intellectual development brings me to seek closer interaction with smart people all over the world, and secondly because I am an European patriot; I think Italy makes sense in the context of Europe, and that Europe would be mutilated without Italy, the astounding traction of its civil society, its ability to make things happen without delegating everything to a nanny State, yet staying away from extreme individualism. Now that I have left Italy, I hope I can be even more useful and more present to my countrymen. I work in an international institution as an Italian, and I want to be an open channel between my country, my continent and the world.