Third-person vanity post. My book Wikicrazia is being quoted in high places, even though it is already three years old. It takes center stage in the chapter on open government of Riccardo Luna’s Cambiamo tutto – currently # 1 in the bestellers list for nonfiction; and it is quoted as underpinning the reflection on open and transparent government in minister Fabrizio Barca’s political memo, hotly debated by policy wonks in these very hours. My collaborators and co-authors and I wished exactly for this: to forward the debate and inspire action. These are small, but encouraging signs that wek indeed did manage to do a little of that. I wish to acknowledge their invaluable contribution and to share with them whatever credit the book might deserve. Good job, ladies and gentlemen!
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.
“Data are the new oil”. Technical advances in computing and a pervasive social Internet make vast datasets on human behavior – as well as the tools to process them – available for cheap. Trouble is, democratic institutions don’t look like they are ready to tackle the big data challenge and the many thorny issues it brings about (privacy, anyone?). They risk playing a distant second fiddle to large hi-tech corporates. Last Friday I shared some musings along these lines at the Future Data conference, held in Florence by initiative of the Italian local authorities’ statistics society (thanks for inviting me!). I was busy with the RENA Summer School in Matera, so I had to send a video. It’s in Italian, but I plan to do more work in English around this.