Tag Archives: collaborazione

The distributed author: Wikicrazia readers present Wikicrazia

I receive many invitations to speak at public events to present Wikicrazia, my book on government in the age of Internet collaboration. The topic is hot, and it is going to stay hot: from my vantage point it seems that Internet-enabled spaces of collaboration between citizens and public authorities are sprouting up all across Italy, and there are trailblazers in most democratic countries. I see my role, at least in part, in helping those people to connect to each other and with the global open government movement. I grew up in a small town, and I know well how empowering it feels to take action on your home turf while feeling a part of some global-scale phenomenon.

I am not in the country; it is much harder than usual for me to attend events in Italy, and I was resigned to stop doing so for several months. Last week, however, I got a really interesting proposal, and I had the idea to ask the organizing team if they would accept someone other than myself to present my book. They accepted with enthusiasm. At this point I published an update on Facebook to probe whether my friends and readers would be up for it; to my great surprise, in a couple of hours I got half a dozen volunteers. Fantastic: a book on collaboration,written collaboratively and now even presented “wiki style” by an open community! This must be a first.

Here’s the deal. Navarra Editore and I are looking for volunteers to present Wikicrazia on my behalf in the coming months, when I can’t make it myself (which will be most of the times). We require:

  • being familiar with the book. You need not agree with it: a critical presentation is perfectly acceptable.
  • being comfortable with speaking in public

And we offer:

  • my gratitude!
  • my famous slides (with notes).
  • payment of travel and hotel expenses.
  • a Skype or phone session to discuss how to set up the presentation (as suggested by one of the volunteers).
  • a small gift from the publisher, to show appreciation

Our goal here is to build and “advanced wikicrats” group with members in most Italian regions (and abroad?), people that can contribute in a useful, competent and confident way to the public events that are organized therein. I have a feeling that such a group could be useful to do other things as well.

We are kicking off with an event in Riomaggiore, at Cinque Terre, on 29th, 30th and 31st of July. See how it goes.

L’autore distribuito: i wikicratici presentano Wikicrazia

Ricevo spesso proposte di presentare Wikicrazia, il mio libro sull’azione di governo ai tempi della rete. Il tema è caldo, e lo rimarrà: dal mio punto di osservazione ho l’impressione che in tutta Italia si stiano costruendo spazi di collaborazione tra cittadini e istituzioni abilitati da Internet. In questi mesi di viaggi e di incontri collegati al libro, ho avuto la fortuna di incontrare veramente tante persone competenti, idealiste e appassionate, certamente in grado di fare proposte credibili di governo wiki nei loro territori. Vedo il mio ruolo, almeno in parte, nell’aiutare queste persone a stabilire collegamenti le une con le altre e con il movimento mondiale dell’open government. Sono cresciuto in provincia, e so bene quanta forza possa dare l’agire nel proprio territorio sentendosi parte di un fenomeno globale.

In questo periodo mi trovo all’estero. Mi è molto più difficile del solito spostarmi, e mi ero rassegnato a sospendere gli incontri per diversi mesi. La settimana scorsa, però, ho ricevuto un invito particolarmente interessante, e ho chiesto agli organizzatori se fossero disposti ad ascoltare la presentazione del libro, invece che da me, da qualcuno che lo conosce bene e che si riconosce nel movimento per un governo aperto. La risposta è stata entusiastica. A questo punto ho pubblicato un update su Facebook per sondare la disponibilità dei miei amici e lettori; con mia grande sorpresa, nel giro di un paio d’ore una mezza dozzina di persone (alcune delle quali non conosco personalmente) si sono rese disponibili a presentare il libro. Fantastico: un libro sulla collaborazione, scritto in modo collaborativo, e perfino presentato da una comunità aperta in stile wiki! Non credo sia mai stato fatto.

A questo punto vi faccio una proposta più articolata. Io e Navarra Editore cerchiamo volontari per presentare Wikicrazia al mio posto nei prossimi mesi, quando capita (e capiterà sempre più spesso) che io non possa andare di persona. I requisiti per farlo sono:

  • avere letto il libro. Non è invece necessario condividerlo in toto; potete anche fare una presentazione critica se vi sembra giusto così.
  • essere disposti a parlare in pubblico.

L’obiettivo è costruire un gruppo di wikicratici avanzati distribuiti tra le varie regioni italiane, in grado di parlare con competenza e disinvoltura di queste cose nelle occasioni pubbliche che si organizzano nei diversi territori. Ho la sensazione che un gruppo così potrebbe essere utile anche per fare altre cose.

A people, not a target group: why advertising thinking can damage the collaboration between people and government

The campaign for this year’s municipal elections in Milan left us with a precious legacy: the awareness that many citizens are willing and able to collaborate with their elected representatives in a constructive way. Thanks to the large number of people involved, their great creative energy, and their Internet tools to coordinate towards common goals, the connected citizenry’s potential to contribute to a much needed general renewal of the country is out of the question. The Italian civil society claimed a role for itself; there was no Obama to summon it. As it turns out, it has proven to be at least as advanced as any other in the world, and possibly more so.

This legacy, it turns out, has a dark side. Besides citizens, the protagonists of the Milanese campaign were Internet communication experts, who tend to have a marketing background. The marketing-derived approach makes sense for election campaigns, because voting has near-zero cost; low thresholds for access; and above all is often driven by non-rational, gut feeling motivations. All of these characteristics carry through to the purchase of consumption goods. So, political communication experts speak the language of marketing and advertising: they tell stories like Nixon losing the presidency to Kennedy because, in the key TV debate, he was sweating. Their job is not to help the citizenry to build a realistic idea of what is needed in the next term, but cajole them into voting for a certain candidate, even if they do it for superficial or wrong reasons. Granted, it is not particularly noble, but it works.

Collaboration between citizens and public authorities is very different from competition for votes, and the analogy with purchase of consumption goods does not carry through. Designing and enacting policies is a high-cost, prolonged activity; it requires rational argument, data, competence. In this context the marketing profession’s seduction techniques don’t work well; what’s more, they risk doing damage. In particular, they risk creating participation bubbles: initially luring into signing up people that later, faced with the exhausting wrangle of designing policy, get disheartened and defect en masse – leaving themselves with a bad experience and others with the chore of reorganizing the whole process. Enacting the wiki government is not about attracting large crowds, but about enabling each and every citizen to choose whether to engage, and just what with, while giving her honest information about the difficulties, the hard work, the high risk of failure associated with participation. Indicators, too, have different meaning than in marketing: in the advertising world attracting more people is always better, whereas in the wiki government there is such a thing as too much participation (it entails duplication of information, with many people making the same point, and reduction in the signal-to-noise ratio, with low-quality contributions swamping high-quality ones).

There is a fundamental difference in the way the decision to engage is modeled: in wiki-style collaboration participants self-select, in marketing the communication experts selects a target in a top-down way. In the former the participant is seen as a thinking adult, that needs to be enabled and informed so that she can make the right decision; in the latter the consumer (or voter) is seen as a stupid, selfish individual that reacts to gut stimulation, and that needs to be led to do what we know must be done. The outcome of collaboration, when it is well designed, is open and unpredictable; the outcome of marketing, when it is well designed, is meeting some target set a priori.

All in all, a shift towards marketing of the discourse on collaboration would be a mistake. An increase in the number of participants to a single process does not automatically mean an improvement; a mayor is not a brand; a willingness to help out is not a trend to be exploited on the short run (and if it is we have no use for it, because collaboration on policy yields results on the medium to long run); and above all citizens are not a target, because they don’t need to be convinced: they need to be enabled to do whatever it is they want to do. It is crystal clear that Italians are up for trying out a collaboration with any half-decent public authority; this collaboration needs space and patient nurturing to grow healthy and strong, sheltered from hype and unrealistic expectations. I hope that the leaders of Italian authorities – starting from the new mayor of Milan Giuliano Pisapia, the leader who best synbolizes the current phase – resist the temptation to frame collaboration as a campaign, citizens as voters, rational conversation as hidden persuasion. Yielding to it would mean shooting themselves in the foot, and wasting an opportunity that the country cannot afford to miss.