PEOPLE | Jan 22, 2020

PA between Open Innovation and Open Data: an interview with Gianluigi Cogo

Open Innovation: how to break down the barriers between Public Administration, the production sector, the academic world and active citizenship?

There is a lot of talk about Open Innovation, not always associating it also with the Public Administration. In the Veneto Region, instead, the Digital Agenda adopts an Open Innovation 2.0 model, based on the quadruple helix paradigm. “This is a methodology which breaks down traditional silos between the public administration, the productive sector, academia and active citizenship, bringing together their multidisciplinary points of view in order to promote teamwork, as well as the collaboration and sharing of ideas” – explains Gianluigi Cogo, head of Innovation Lab and Veneto Agile in the Veneto Region. “By working together you can create a new shared value that benefits all participants, in what becomes an actual innovation ecosystem. In this paradigm, digital technology plays a key role in building stable networks and connectivity. The value of the projects and actions which are managed with this method is characterized by a long-term vision, focused on improving social conditions, processes and performance in organizations. Success is therefore measured in relation to the ecosystem as a whole, rather than by and for the individual units which form it. The reference to the Aristotelian principle is therefore clear: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

DESI has failed Italy for several indices over the years, but promotes it for Open Data. Can we consider ourselves really good? And if we can improve, where and how can we do so?

“The DESI is a huge weight for our country and undoubtedly should make us reflect on the sterility of the actions carried out so far. Precisely for this reason, the topic of Open Data, which instead seems to be more mature and more productive in terms of products and services based on the reuse of open data, needs to be further pushed and disseminated, thanks precisely to this multi-player management. Bringing Open Data into the ecosystem of the Veneto Open Innovation through the involvement of all the players of the quadruple helix was a precise programmatic choice of ours, and to do this we chose uncontaminated and external environments. With the Innovation Lab call for applications we indicate open data as the raw material in order to develop products and services in places outside the Public Administration, therefore free from rules and constraints and for this reason fast and innovative, as well as creative and disruptive. Each Innovation Lab must (under penalty of reducing their public contribution) increase the number of data sets on which to operate and, on a quarterly basis, develop products deriving from the reuse of the data sets provided, such as apps, chatbots, infographics, dataviz, decision-making dashboards, web services, etc.”.

As a Region, you have also adopted smart working. What does the Veneto Agile project consist of, what effects have been observed?

Veneto Agile is an ambitious project which will try to demolish a few preconceptions, unfortunately very widespread. Today, thanks to cloud technologies, mobile tools and connectivity everywhere, it is possible to relocate many work activities in the public sector too. All this is already law and has been trialed by many projects which have provided benefits and offered ready-to-use implementation models. In recent years we have worked together with 5 other regions and some municipalities in the Ve.LA project, funded by the national PON GOVERNANCE and we have managed to define a kit for the rapid implementation of this law in each PA. The kit is multidisciplinary and addresses all the issues related to the law: regulation, rules of the relationship, training, safety, instrumentation, indicators, spaces, technologies and more. We have replicated this scheme in the Veneto Region and, thanks to the analysis and availability of the kit produced in the Ve.LA project, we have now set up a multidisciplinary working group to define our rules, our technological equipment, our training path. Once this is done, we will make it shareable and promote it, thanks to an agreement with the regional ANCI (National Association of Italian Communities), throughout the Veneto region. The promotion will have to break down cultural barriers and mental reservations, but the data encourage us. Where adopted, Agile Work increases productivity, trust, collaboration and above all, empathy. Furthermore, in the Innovation Lab call for applications we have already envisaged that compulsory hospitality should be provided to all public employees who intend to carry out their work outside the traditional office. By doing this we will ensure that the freelancers, the start-uppers and the civic hackers who will attend the Innovation Labs can also contaminate public employees with their ability and creativity, as the latter strongly lack transversal skills”.

How important is data for building digital public services closer to citizens? How much is data used today to steer some choices in the PA?

“On the Open Innovation portal of the Digital Agenda of Veneto, some European projects of Transnational Cooperation which we are taking part in are well emphasized. I wanted to underline this because the experience of a constant debate with foreign partners has made me perceive a need which was little known in Italy. The question highlights how Open Data can demonstrate its effectiveness where its use is perceived as useful. Unfortunately, products derived from the reuse of open data are still little known and those who work in this sector still tend to consider the topic only from a regulatory (compliance) and technological (data exposure and metadata standards) point of view. All this is not enough. Ordinary people don’t care. Companies are even less interested. Therefore, the final effectiveness of the model is not perceived as useful. We need to emphasize reuse cases more and therefore derivative products. To do this, the paradigm must be reversed, that is, first of all we need to insist more on this aspect and create a catalog of successful cases, i.e. a HUB of products (infographics, apps, services, etc.) allowing the data portal, the technological one, to be relegated to a supporting role. The open data technology portal is for technicians, developers and analysts. Citizens want concrete and reusable things which provide tangible benefits for their daily well-being. They want end products. The EU already has a rich catalog of reuse cases, Italy does not have one. In recent days, thanks also to the friends of the ForumPA, of the Lombardy Region and of the Municipality of Palermo, but thanks mainly to the Open Data community, we have started to design this new phase which should turn the tables. If you ask me for a useful app, I tend to answer: it’s up to you! You must find what is useful or ask the community (this is where the quadruple helix system returns) to develop for you, or help you develop, that product of yours for you. Here in Veneto we do it in the Innovation Labs. Obviously, the vast topic of data decision making indicated in the question will also be triggered as an induced effect. To date, few use data to make decisions. It is up to us, always in the Innovation Labs, to produce indicators, analyze them, literally design them in infographics to be distributed to decision makers. Then it will be up to them to take action”.