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Harnessing the Unexpected: a public administration interacts with creatives on the web

Harnessing the Unexpected: a public administration interacts with creatives on the web

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Published by Alberto Cottica
The Italian government explores the web 2.0 as it deploys a policy towards the creative industries.
The Italian government explores the web 2.0 as it deploys a policy towards the creative industries.

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Published by: Alberto Cottica on Mar 22, 2010
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Harnessing the unexpected: a public administrationinteracts with creatives on the web
Tito Bianchi - Department of development policies, Italian Ministry of economicdevelopmentAlberto Cottica - Kublai, Italian Ministry of economic development
Regional development policy is supposed to foster new business. However, thematching between business projects and economic development policies turns out to bevery far from perfect because of the State
s lack of understanding of the merit ofcreative projects; of the interference of rent-seeking intermediaries; and of differences incommunication styles between the creatives and policy-makers. Trying to bridge thegap, the Italian Ministry of Economic Development launched an initiative called Kublai. Ithelps creative young people living in the lagging areas of Italy generate entrepreneurialideas and develop them into feasible projects. To do so, it adopted an uncompromisingweb 2.0 strategy, and found itself exploring the potential of the collaborative web inpublic policy.
Kublai has put in place and animates a small, mainly online community of peopleinterested in developing projects with economic development potential in the creativeindustries. It is meant to be a welcoming environment for those who want to discuss thegrit of creative ideas, where competence is rewarded, and transparency makes anyshared knowledge easily accessible.This experience shows that 2.0 methods can effectively yield results of public interest
that would be out of reach if the government had to rely only on its forces. Creativeindividuals find in the project staff and in their peers the incentives to develop ideas intofeasible projects, while the most innovative projects find partners and supportiveinstitutions online. Furthermore, as they validate each other
s ideas, evaluation andranking of creative projects (a notoriously tricky activity) spontaneously emerges as a
by-product of their interaction.Paradoxically, in order to exploit this potential, the government has to learn not to doeverything on its own, but enabling the initiative of outsiders and acknowledging its ownlimits. And a policy-maker needs to be very clear about the goals he is pursuing, toafford being so permissive.
What follows recaps the experience of a project called Kublai. Now entering its thirdyear, it is the first - and, to the best of our knowledge, still the only - e-government 2.0project undertaken by a branch of the national government in Italy. This is ironic,because it did not aim at exploring the supposed virtues of the web 2.0 in government.Rather, web 2.0 tools were deployed to solve what the Ministry of EconomicDevelopment - the branch on the Italian public administration in question - perceived tobe a weak side of its policies: the evaluation and selection of immaterial, creativeactivities as drivers of economic development. Like President Mao Zedong, we did notcare what color the cat was: a 2.0 cat was perfectly acceptable, as long as it seemed
capable of killing this particular rat. For the purposes of this article, this may be anadvantage: if e-government 2.0 is to be more than just hype, it must prove itsusefulness in solving problems facing public authorities, even - and especially - thosenot particularly interested in e-government 2.0 per se. While Kublai concerns itself withthe creative economy, we believe that the aforementioned evaluation problem reachesway beyond that, onto areas of government such as education or research, and so dothe lessons we draw from this policy experiment.Section 1 states the problem we were facing in terms of processing information. Section2 describes Kublai as seen from its front end. Section 3 takes a look at its back end,and highlights the role played by its continuously reasserted value system. Section 4describes Kublai's early results. Section 5, finally, draws preliminary conclusions.
Development policies: an information processing failure
At the end of 2007 a group of civil servants in the Italian Ministry of EconomicDevelopment were growing dissatisfied with the inability of development and cohesionpolicies to find their way to young people with backgrounds in the creative industries.The latter seemed very promising as beneficiaries: highly educated and exposed to
global trends, they are less self-referential than many traditional beneficiaries in laggingareas, and sometimes their thinking is quite radical, embodying significant potential forchange. As we looked on groups of youngsters trying, against all odds, to set up filmfestivals and web start-ups in remote mountain villages in the Italian South - andsometimes succeeding - it was clear to us that a potential resource for growth wasthere.We discovered that, even in regions that are flooded with public aid for entrepreneurshipand job creation, there are people doing fascinating experimental work, sometimes themost innovative on the local scene, without any help from the state. They do not
receive, nor apply for, public funding, among other reasons, because many of themperceive public authorities as distant and opaque, when not downright hostile or corrupt.Our diagnosis was that development policies send out the wrong signals: they confrontwould-be doers with vague jargon, lengthy forms and less-than-transparent allocationdecisions. Worse, public policies are seen to be the hunting ground of intermediariesand consultants that appear to have no hardcore knowledge or skill, yet are able tomount a project on just about anything, from renewable energy to social inclusion ofimmigrants - and to get funded by paying lip service to the right buzzwords. Though thisis not always true, the message that reaches the creative people is that public aid onlyreaches people who have no in-depth competence or delivery ability about any of theissues they aim their proposals at, and in fact have no real passion either.We conjecture that this happens because of two reasons. The first one is thatinformational requirements for public authorities to effectively judge proposals fromcreative people are simply too high. In order to assess the value of, say, a digital artsfestival in the Salerno area you need a thorough knowledge of the area and its people,as well as of the digital arts scene. Given the staggering diversity of the creatives
 obsessions, there is no way that any one authority can possess all of that skill internally.The problem is worsened by the fact that most of these projects start out at a smallscale, needing seed funding of a few tens of thousands of euros; whereas backlog-ridden public authorities prefer to fund larger projects, given the high unitary cost ofeach selection process. Also, a lot of creative projects have large immaterialcomponents, which makes civil servants nervous on accountability grounds. Focusingon single strands of creativity would appear to solve the problem, but in fact it hidescircular reasoning: in order to select, say, cinema as a priority over dance, you wouldneed to know enough about creative trends in both cinema and dance to establish thatone is more conducive than the other to regional development. No public authority canreally know that: and if it could, it would then know enough about creativity and thecreative industries to assess proposals comparatively over a broad spectrum.The second reason is that most creatives (as, indeed, most humans) are simply notvery good at communicating their ideas in a rigorous, written form - a notoriouslydifficult, time-consuming activity. They are right at rejecting the obscure jargon ofbureaucracy - but wrong in rejecting written communication and business planningtechniques altogether.
Civil servants explore the web 2.0: designing Kublai
s front end
How could creative people be induced to learn how to communicate clearly their ideas?Who could convince them that putting energy into writing a project is worth the effort?

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