“Challenges in Government” conference at Oxford:
a Global Conversation on Innovation in Government [EN]
As part of the “Challenges in Government: The Innovation Imperative” conference at the Oxford School for Government, Ms. Elana Berkowitz, a consultant and Tech Fellow with the New America Foundation and formerly the Innovation Advisor to Secretary Hillary Clinton at the U.S. State Department, interviewed Séverin Naudet about the role of Open Data for the future of government.
Q: Why is the imperative for great government innovation so intense right now? What are the greatest challenges facing society that requires innovative solutions?
Internet and its applications have jolted our old democracies, and call for their renewal.
One of the greatest challenges today is that we must tend to the permanent adaptation of our States and their structures to this worldwide revolution.
Ignoring the reality of digital networks – of their newfound wealth and might – would disconnect governments from the deep evolution of our societies.
The traditional organization of States has actually too often collided with the open, horizontal and decentralized architecture of the digital society.
Government must rethink its structures, its missions, its culture and behaviour. It must strive to find a new model better suited to our times: a more open, a more transparent, a more collaborative governance.
Q: What is the most interesting/exciting idea you've heard of this year in the field?
President Sarkozy stated last April in Paris that “Internet has strengthened the expectation of transparency that citizens rightly demand from their elected leaders […]. We must embrace it, and, from my standpoint, there is no coming back”.
Open Data is an answer to this expectation: publishing the information gathered and produced by the public sector online, in raw, reusable and machine-readable formats, will grant citizens access to core information on our nations – from public finances or the quality of our environment, to culture, and the performance of our health system – and enable them to invent new applications to this data.
Opening government data is key to enhancing transparency and to building new services for citizens.
It is an important development in support of the digital economy, which fuels a major share of growth and jobs creation in France and the European Union: a recent study for the European Commission measured the social and economic impact of Open Data as more than 140 billion euros in the European Union in 2008.
Its future impact could be even more far-reaching, spurring research and innovation, catalyzing sustainable development and igniting the information society.
France measures Open Data’s importance as a historical turning point. This is why we have embarked on an ambitious Open Data policy, as have the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and as, we hope, will other countries throughout Europe and the world.
Q: What is the role of citizens in a more innovative government?
A democracy that stands still is a democracy that stands to fall. Failing to renew the trust citizen place in government would pave the way for populism and for extremisms of all kinds at a time of great challenges.
Opening public data will contribute to reinforce the trust in which we hold our public institutions.
It will also enable private initiative to develop the services that government has yet to create. As such, it opens new fields of possibilities with no limit other than that of human genius.
The creative potential embodied in public data hinges on its re-users – citizens, developers, entrepreneurs, and start-up founders. Citizens can invent a second life for public data, which will fuel the rise of new online services, new innovative products, new useful applications that benefit everyone.
Q: What will it take to increase the level of innovation in government, to achieve a sort of Moore's Law for government innovation?
We can find an inspiration in the models of the new economy, which are often still under construction: they are built on the notion of discovery.
Young, inexperienced, literally excluded from their universities, the founders of Google, of Microsoft, of Facebook, had at their start no other asset than their knowledge, their ideas, and their unyielding will to put them to the test.
If, before even starting to work on their products, they had had to gather thousands and thousands of dollars on the strength of their ideas alone, they would have failed. Millions of highly qualified jobs would not exist today, let alone the transformative impact these three examples have had on society.
In order to increase their level of innovation in government, democracies must embrace these models: they should make their data open, and encourage its reuse by innovators and entrepreneurs.
This is the model that the Prime Minister has established as a principle for public sector information reuse in France: broad access and free reuse to French public data, as widely as possible.
Q: How does human resources in government need to change? How to we better train the public sector to develop and implement more innovative programs?
Direct evaluation by citizens helps reinforce government efficiency and effectiveness. It opens a conversation between public bodies and the citizens to which they’re accountable.
But transparency does not imply finger-pointing. Rather, it means seeking improvement through constructive criticism – accepting it, preparing for it, learning from it. Openness focuses efforts. Precise measurement enables lasting progress.
Access to public data helps bring government closer to citizens, and sheds light on the accomplishments of our public services and civil servants.
Universal access to information furthermore helps promote equal opportunities for all. It is up to government to embrace this paradigm shift and to evolve accordingly.
Q: Where do you turn, and where can governments turn for inspiration?
New, emerging online behaviours by digital citizens call for new modes of governance by the State.
By turning to citizens, developers, journalists who invent new innovative products and services, we can find tremendous inspiration for this new governance.
Open Data places citizens at the forefront of this innovative new mode of governance.
This is why it has emerged as a powerful policy instrument at the hands of society and of elected leaders, and will play an important role in meeting tomorrow’s overarching challenges.
This is why broad access to, and free reuse of public data will contribute to the renewal of our democracies and the growth of our economies.