Tag Archives: Fabrizio Barca

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.

Policy hackers: three movers and shakers of governance

Last week I had the good fortune of meeting three public servants of three different countries, each with a very high intellectual profile. Each of them is a point of reference in his or her field.

On Wednesday I was with Geoff Mulgan, British, founder of Demos, CEO at the Young Foundation, appointed to lead NESTA. He comes from a communication background. In the UK he is a star, having served in top posts under the Blair administration; and it seems he is about to becom one in Europe, too, because his voice is heard with attention in Bruxelles on the issue of social innovation, just as the EU is making investment decisions in this field. He is committed to designing Prime Minister Cameron’s Big Society – a controversial, yet carefully studied model. That’s not surprising, because it is the only one that promises a solution for defending the European welfare state in a globalized, finance-dominated world..

That same evening I had dinner with Fabrizio Barca, Italian, director general of the Ministry of the Economy and advisor to the European Commission for the reform of regional policy. He comes from an economics background. He got to be in government coming from Banca d’Italia, together with Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (Ciampi is possibly the best statesman in the history of Italy after unity: a partisan turned central banker turned Prime Minister and then Minister of Treasury, who then went on to be one of the most popular Presidents ever). Ciampi and Barca shared an exceptional experience of institution building, recruiting a group of technicians with international experience to work on the issue of development of lagging Mezzogiorno. The result was the National Strategic Framework, the smartest, noblest policy document I have ever read. Fabrizio has an incredibly wide strategic outlook in which he subsumes everything from scientific papers to policy documents and his own conversations with civil society leaders, and is ultrafast (he answers his mail in minutes, and his colleagues say it is almost impossible to stay ahead of him). He is a leading authority on the issue of economic development.

I spent Thursday with Beth Noveck, American, founder of Peer to Patent, former deputy CTO at the White House, about to start a new appointment with the British government on OpenGov. She comes from a law background. Of the three, Beth is the one I feel I know best (we have been in conversation for a year, and she helped me with my book), and the one I am closest to in terms of interests. We both care about the collaborations between citizens and public authorities, and she is a world class expert in this field. Unlike the other two, she is above all an academic.

My take home from meeting these people is the usual one, always worth repeating: I have still much, much, much to learn. And learn I will.

Policy hackers: tre protagonisti dell’azione di governo

La settimana scorsa ho avuto una fortuna straordinaria: incontrare tre servitori dello Stato (anzi degli Stati, visto che parliamo di tre paesi diversi) dal profilo intellettuale molto alto. Ciascuno di loro è un punto di riferimento nel proprio campo.

Mercoledì ero con Geoff Mulgan, inglese, fondatore di Demos, CEO di Young Foundation, in procinto di andare a dirigere il prestigioso NESTA. Viene da studi di comunicazione. Nel Regno Unito è abbondantemente una star, avendo ricoperto incarichi di rilievo nel governo Blair); e mi pare che lo stia diventando anche nel resto d’Europa, perché la sua è una voce molto ascoltata a Bruxelles in tema di innovazione sociale proprio nel momento in cui l’Europa sta decidendo di investire sul tema. È impegnato nella progettazione della Big Society del primo ministro Cameron, modello controverso ma studiato con attenzione da tutto il continente – anche perché è l’unico che aggredisce esplicitamente il tema della difesa del welfare in un mondo finanziarizzato e globalizzato. .

La sera dello stesso giorno ho cenato con Fabrizio Barca, italiano, direttore generale del ministero dell’Economia e consigliere della Commissione Europea per la riforma della politica regionale. Viene da studi di economia. Negli anni Novanta dirige il servizio studi di Bankitalia: quando Carlo Azeglio Ciampi lascia la Banca per diventare ministro del Tesoro lo porta con sè. Insieme danno vita a una straordinaria avventura di institution building, reclutando un nucleo di tecnici di livello internazionale e mettendoli al lavoro sul tema dello sviluppo del Mezzogiorno. Il risultato è il Quadro Strategico Nazionale, il documento di policy più intelligente e nobile che abbia mai letto. Fabrizio ha una visione strategica molto ampia in cui integra di tutto, dalla letteratura scientifica ai rapporti governativi e alle discussioni con i leaders della società civile), ed è molto veloce nell’interazione (risponde alle mail in un minuto o due, e i suoi collaboratori raccontano che quasi nessuno riesce a stargli dietro). È un’autorità internazionale sul tema dello sviluppo.

Giovedì ho passato la giornata con Beth Noveck, americana, fondatrice di Peer to Patent, ex vice CTO alla Casa Bianca, in procinto di assumere un incarico nel governo britannico in tema Open Government. Viene da studi di diritto. Beth è quella che conosco meglio (ci scambiamo pareri da un anno, e ha collaborato al mio libro), ed è anche quella che sento più vicina come interessi: il suo campo è lo stesso in cui mi muovo io, la collaborazione tra governo e cittadini, di cui è un’esperta di classe mondiale. È l’unica dei tre ad essere soprattutto un’accademica.

La conclusione dei tre incontri è scontata, ma fa sempre bene ripeterla: ho ancora tanto, ma tanto, ma tanto da imparare. Imparerò.