Last Tuesday I evangelized. I had been asked to introduce the theme of Open Data to a group of managers and employees in the Bologna City administration. I did it my way, by offering the point of view of someone who believes in Open Data as a valid strategy but does not deny its limits and difficulties (my presentation is titled “Lies, damn lies and open data”). In particular — it’s one of my many obsessions — I made a case for creating a context for those who tell convincing data-powered stories about the society we live in to shine, be admired and inspire others: a sort of TED for Open Data.
My point of view is summarized in my slides. But the most interesting thing in the seminar was certainly the enthusiasm and the energy of the participants. Attendance was very high (about a hundred people); the top management was there en masse, and had invited along colleagues from the Regional administration and the University e-gov people; participation was vibrant (even too much: when I finally made it to lunch it was 2.30 p.m.!); and questions were very high-level. The organizers themselves were taken by surprise.
I would like to take credit for the result, but it would not be honest. It was obvious that an old story is looking for new ground to unfold once again, and that is the story of the civil servants that made Bologna and the whole Emilia region a source of inspiration for local administrations worldwide. Brilliant people, motivated by a strong public ethics, who designed the city’s future and built it under the leadership of effective and well-loved mayors like Giuseppe Dozza, never surrendering to the economically powerful. The Emilian model lost its magic decades ago for many reasons, not the least of which is a deteriorating quality of political leadership in the region. And yet Tuesday proved that civil servants in Emilia maintained a culture of serving the public, and are autonomous enough to raise their gaze from the day-by-day to interact with economist-musicians and their weird ways. The administration’s autonomy is clear from the date of the seminar: it was held just before the elections, so there was no one home to give or deny permission. These guys just went out and did it.
Let’s not get carried away, but it looks like the story of the Bologna city administration is about to get going once more. It is a powerful story, and it could have far-reaching consequences.