Tag Archives: visioni urbane

The practical economist: Visioni urbane delivers the goods (with a side of Wikicracy)

Economists are commonly deemed to be more prone to abstract reasoning than to concrete action. There must be a grain of truth in this, because it is quite common to hear economists jokes in Economics Departments. This one, for example:

After a shipwreck, an economist ends up stranded on a desert island. He looks around and sees a wooden box, washed upon the shore by the waves. He opens it: it is full of canned food, nutritious and long-lasting! However, he does not have any tools to open the cans: is he doomed to starve amidst abundance? The economist does not lose his cool, and he tackles the problem the way his profession tas taught to to: “Assume I have a can-opener…”

Many of us yearn for concreteness. This is why I am so happy to fly to Potenza on Friday 4th: in May 2007 the Ministry of Economic Development asked me to help the Basilicata regional administration in designing a policy to build creative spaces, and now the first space (called Cecilia) is here, and the other four will follow in a matter of months. Not only have they been designed chiefly by the local creatives that are going to use them; they also come with clear guidelines for being turned over to private sector– and third sector entities or running them, which the competent local authorities have signed off to; and are integrated with a pretty advanced governance model of the Region’s cultural policy.

The project is called Visioni Urbane. I have dealt with it before. I’m told it’s becoming some sort of flagship project for the regional adiministration; the “Visioni Urbane method” is being demanded on tackling other policies (for example setting up a regional Film Commission), and the administration itself is building upon the partnership with the creatives created within Visioni Urbane to launch Matera’s bid for European Culture Capital 2019. It is no coincidence that the person in charge of Visioni Urbane, Rossella Tarantino, has been appointed as coordinator of that bid; and another Visioni veteran, Paolo Verri, is serving as scientific director.

My book Wikicrazia contains a lot of Visioni Urbane war stories, and the grandopening of Cecilia will include a book presentation. But what I’m really looking forward to is the joy of witnessing a policy that I helped to develop go live, live and so concrete that I can actually sit and listen to a concert in it. For an economist, this is a thrill, alas, all too rare.

What Paul Johnston has to say

Paul Johnston leads The Connected Republic, Cisco’s initiative on the public sector: we worked together on the Open Declaration on European public services. A few days ago we had a chat about my book, that he is reading through Google Translate. he was very supportive and thinks what I am doing is relevant, but he also presented me with two difficult remarks:

  • that would not have happened in the UK. In chapter 4 I tell the story of a project called Visioni Urbane (this paper tells its story in English if you can’t stand Google Translate). The problem there was to prevent a regional administration from building Arts Centers doomed to abandonment for lack of public funding for running costs. Paul was very surprised at this: would not the local people rebel against such irresponsibile behaviour? Would not local newspapers exact a heavy toll on politicians responsible for obviously wrong decisions? They would in the UK. Witness The Public in West Bronwick, a £65 million Arts Center (that’s more than 20 times the Visioni Urbane project), whose business plan that had to be killed by its evaluator, because it would not hold water: the press did call it a public liability and even a monument to idiocy, but the money was gone by then. But of course Paul’s point got me thinking about how much of my book is relevant outside the Italian context
  • the wiki government does not scale, because it is based on bridge-building and community-bootstrapping skills that are scarce and almost invisible to search. According to Paul, it’s hard to imagine starting Peer-to-Patent without Beth Noveck (blogger and technology expert on one side, professor of patent law on the other side), or Kublai without me (musician on one side, regional development economist on the other side). I disagree, though. In the real world scaling happens over time: it is probably true that, three years ago, it took someone like me to imagine Kublai (paper in English), but today, in my opinion, that community has around 150 very expert users of online communities. About 10 of them would be able to launch their own community: in fact, some of them have done so. My experience is that 2.0 projects produce users that know to inhabit them, and generate new ones. And if the number of potential initiators goes up tenfold over three years (three from design, two from launch) that’s pretty good scaling. 🙂

Sostiene Paul Johnston

Paul Johnston dirige The Connected Republic, l’iniziativa di Cisco sul settore pubblico: abbiamo collaborato alla dichiarazione aperta sui servizi pubblici europei. Qualche giorno fa ci siamo fatti una lunga chiacchierata su Wikicrazia, che lui sta leggendo via Google Translate. Mi ha molto incoraggiato ad andare avanti, ma mi ha anche fatto due osservazioni:

  • in UK non sarebbe mai successo. Nel capitolo 4 racconto Visioni Urbane, e scrivo che il problema è evitare che vengano aperti centri culturali che poi restano vuoti perché è difficile trovare, nei bilanci pubblici, i fondi per coprirne i costi di gestione. Paul trasecola: ma come, ma la gente di lì non si ribella? I giornali non mettono in croce i responsabili di decisioni che sprecano il denaro pubblico? Beh, in realtà mi risulta che anche nel Regno Unito sono stati fatti investimenti importanti in Arts Centers che poi, a lavori finiti, sono risultati non avere un business plan difendibile: un esempio è The Public a West Bromwich, costato 65 milioni di sterline (oltre venti volte Visioni Urbane!) e definito dopo l’inaugurazione debito pubblico o addirittura monumento all’idiozia. Però l’osservazione di Paul solleva un problema: ci sono pezzi di Wikicrazia che hanno senso solo nel contesto italiano?
  • il governo wiki non scala, perché si basa su competenze di costruzione di comunità dal basso e connessione tra mondi diversi che sono rare e quasi invisibili alla ricerca. Secondo Paul, la fondazione di Peer-to-Patent è difficile da immaginare senza Beth Noveck (blogger ed esperta di tecnologia da un lato, insegnante di diritto dei brevetti dall’altro); così quella di Kublai (capitolo 5) senza di me (musicista da un lato, economista dall’altro). Secondo me questo non è vero, se si considera la dimensione tempo: è probabilmente vero che tre anni fa c’era bisogno di uno come me per immaginare Kublai, ma oggi, secondo me, la community ha 150 utenti esperti e animatori di una comunità online. Di questi, una decina sarebbero probabilmente in grado di usare la loro esperienza Kublai per lanciare una loro community (alcuni l’hanno già fatto). Nella mia esperienza i progetti 2.0 producono gente che li sa abitare – e, in prospettiva, generarne altri a partire dall’esperienza fatta. Se il numero di fondatori potenziali si moltiplica per dieci in tre anni (due a partire dal lancio), è un bello scalare. 🙂