Tag Archives: politica

Photo: Greg Goebel

Can politics be collaborative?

In Edgeryders, we study  and practice collaboration, especially online. Time and again, we find it the most powerful force that people with next to no wealth and no power, like us, can evoke. We are getting good at it, though much work remains. Proof: we are a mutant company with no office, no investors, no business plan. We have nothing but each other – a tiny core of founders, and the Edgeryders community. And yet we are out there, with top-notch global organizations among our clients, and we are growing. 2016 has been a good year for us – we’ll be blogging about this soon.

2016 has also been a year of uncertainty and discontent in world politics. Many people dear to us are sad, angry or scared. Almost no one seems satisfied about their politics and their leaders. That goes both for the losing camp and the winning one. We consider this contrast, and wonder. As a culture, we are getting better at working together in diversity. Why does this not translate into more constructive politics?

As we looked into this, we realized that our default frame for politics is combat. There are opponents and allies. Its protagonists focus on winning. This is understandable but useless, except maybe as a spectator sport. What happens if we drop this frame and adopt a collaboration frame instead? What would happen if a political entity were run like a collaborative project? What would happen if lawmaking worked like Wikipedia? What if policy happened like the next release of Apache or Ubuntu?


  1. Enabling as core mission. A state, or city, or region, exists only to enable the people who live there to do what they want to do. It does not need a vision, because people have their own. It only needs to enable the largest possible outcome space for the largest number of people. In return, it gets compliance and tax revenue. This would be the only focus of collaborative politics. Compare with political visionaries, who try to sell you their way of seeing things.
  2. By default, do nothing. When faced with a proposal for radical reform, the community around a collaborative project discusses it. These discussions can last a long time. Then, almost always, the radical reform does not go ahead. This is because, whatever its other flaws, the project in its current form works. Its next version might be much improved, but no one can guarantee that it will work, and when. Reform needs a rock-solid case to go forward. Compare with I-need-to-leave-a-mark-on-my-term.
  3. Focus on infrastructure. Collaborative software projects do not make things, but building blocks that people can build things with. Enabling, remember? The point is not to decide which color is best for people’s web pages, but to write code that allows anyone to easily choose any color for their own page. In the policy world, this means building infrastructure– and infrastructure is hierarchical. The more general, the better. Aqueducts are better than hospitals. Hospitals are better than arts centers. Arts centers are better than exhibitions. Compare with bullshit pet projects of elected representatives (“Let’s make an incubator for social innovation”).
  4. Unglamorous leaders. Narcissistic, flamboyant personalities do not do well in collaborative projects. People’s attention needs to be on building, so attention seekers are a liability. The most respected members of these community are nerdy, reliable people that won’t waste your time. Compare with modern politicians near you.
  5. Avoid controversy. Any successful open source project has lots of controversial proposals for moving forward. But it also has many on which everyone agrees. Controversy is a waste of time, so people go for the low-hanging fruit first, and build the things everyone agrees on first. This builds mutual trust, and might take the project in directions that make the controversy disappear altogether. Compare with politics-as-combat.
  6. Do-ocracy, not stakeholder representation and deliberation. Stakeholder representation has served us well when societies were simple and hierarchical. In those salad days, a dozen people around a table could make decisions, and depend they would be acted upon. This no longer possible. In a collaborative project we don’t discuss what to do. Within the (broad) core values of the project, you can do whatever you want as long as you have the capacity to deliver it. Who does the work calls the shots. No one gets to tell others how they should contribute.  Compare with endless debates and cross-vetoes everywhere.

You get the idea. This how we work when we build online encyclopedias and web server software. Or companies like Edgeryders. Could this be how we work when we build our cities, national parks and energy grids? Could we do that not in the name of an ideology, but simply to build our own happiness, and that of those we love?

Could there be another space to get down to building? A terrain so hyperlocal and fragmented as to be too expensive for narcissistic strongmen and Machiavellian schemers to enter? A move so lateral that it will not even exist in the same space as post-truth politics?

We don’t know, yet. But, in the wake of the dark tide of 2016, we see people in our network asking new questions. Something new, something big is on the move. As always, we will stand by our community, and help as best we can. If you, too, have been waiting for something to get in motion; if you want to be a part of building it, and figuring out where it takes, get in touch. Nadia will be revealing some of our immediate plans at AdaWeek in Paris, on November 22nd (info): if you can’t make it there, get in touch with her or join our mailing list.

[written with Nadia El-Imam]

The credibility singularity of institutions

So, I care about democracy, and dream about fixing it. For years, and in many different contexts, I have been weaving narratives of collaboration between citizens and their institutions towards the common good. These narratives have provided ideological scaffolding for creatives, radical changemakers and civil servants to work together, reaping the benefits of diversity and discovering that they can get stuff done.

This, however, is getting harder and harder. Global problems press humanity on (take your pick: climate change, feral finance, loss of biodiversity, mounting inequalities); a globally connected citizenry, fueled by the Steve Jobs-Obama ideology of change as desirable, possible, a moral imperative even, has raised their expectations levels. Institutions, while probably not moving any slower than they did twenty years ago, have failed to keep up with the acceleration. The result is a sort of (negative) credibility singularity: you can feel people getting more impatient by the week. And not without reason: the failure to take serious action on climate change after decades of talk is very hard to justify outside the institutions’ corporate walls. What could any government agency answer to Anjali Appadurai’s passionate call to action in the video above? “Give us ten years!” to which her answer is “You just wasted twenty”. “We must not be too radical”, to which her answer is “Long term thinking is not radical”. What is there to say? She’s right.

The singularity point itself is the place where people decide democratic institutions are not delivering, and route around them to get things done. I am not looking forward to it. In fact, I happen to think democratic government institutions are still humanity’s best asset towards cooking up a coordinated, global response to global threats. But if this is to happen, a lot more radical thinking needs to take roots in Brussels (and Rome, and London, and Washington D.C. etc.). And to do it fast, while credibility can still be restored.

(Thanks: Vinay Gupta and Jay Springett)

Detoxifying politics: open data and our common future

Sorry, this post in Italian only. The gist is that open data only empower citizens if there is a critical mass of data literate citizens that can give rise to competing interpretations. Otherwise, they risk toxyfying further the political debate, and governments are party right to be wary of just putting everything out there without a context.

Non mi sento quasi mai a mio agio nel discutere di politica. Il modo in cui decidiamo sul nostro futuro comune mi sembra qualche volta completamente fuori centro: si parla delle personalità dei leaders invece che delle loro politiche. Le stesse politiche sembrano assumere connotati molto diversi a seconda di chi le propone: i “nostri” tagli di bilancio sono un’assennata misura di controllo degli sprechi, mentre quelli degli avversari sono stangate indiscriminate su servizi essenziali. Il tutto è decisamente troppo emotivo; troppo perché votare “di pancia” rischia di avere conseguenze gravi (chi fosse interessato può leggersi Il mito dell’elettore razionale di Bryan Caplan). Nel corso della recente campagna referendaria, per esempio, si è parlato molto poco di energia nucleare e di modelli di gestione dell’acqua: hanno prevalso affermazioni vaghe ed emotive come “non mi fido di questo paese” (ma la usi la sanità pubblica? La scuola? Le autostrade?) o “restituiamo il futuro ai nostri figli” (nel senso di usare il nucleare perché produce meno gas di serra o di usare più carbone e petrolio perché non sono radioattivi?).

Mi sono fatto l’idea che i dati in formato aperto potrebbero essere un elemento di riequilibrio della discussione. Non solo i dati contengono fatti, ma discutere sull’interpretazione dei dati conduce ad analisi sempre più sofisticate: “guarda, il PIL è cresciuto molto più sotto il governo dei Grigi del misero 0.3% all’anno dell’amministrazione dei Colorati!” “Vero, ma considera che gli anni di amministrazione dei Colorati hanno coinciso con una depressione mondiale. L’indicatore giusto è il differenziale di crescita tra il nostro paese e la media mondiale, ed esso rende giustizia alla sagge politiche di rilancio condotte dai Colorati.” Per prevalere, i duellanti sono costretti a confrontarsi con il dato. Cosa misura veramente? Come interpretarlo?

Perché questo succeda, naturalmente, i dati sono essenziali, ma non sufficienti: ci vuole anche una fetta di opinione pubblica, per quanto minoritaria, che sappia usarli per costruire storie sul nostro vivere insieme e proporle alla discussione comune. In mancanza di questo i dati possono venire usati male, o branditi come armi, e diventare strumenti di riduzione della qualità del dibattito. È per questo che sto nel movimento open data, e, in quel movimento, mi sono autoassegnato il ruolo di proporre iniziative di stimolo della domanda di dati e data literacy. Nel video qui sopra (20 minuti) provo a spiegare meglio la mia posizione.