PEOPLE | Sep 22, 2016

Data-Driven Governance for the PA? Interview with Paolo Barberis

Barberis is the Innovation Advisor to the President of the Italian Council, Matteo Renzi

It is called information asymmetry and is the condition under which information is not fully shared among the individuals that are part of a specific process. This means that some of the officials involved have more information than other participants and can gain an advantage from this configuration.

What has asymmetric information got to do with Data-Driven Governance, namely with that set of strategies that sees digital data as the tool upon which to base administrative and governmental actions?

barberisA whole lot in fact! If only because it closely resembles a situation of “imbalance” that if applied to the public administration from the perspective of governance   can create dangerous situations. We addressed this issue with Paolo Barberis, Innovation Adviser to the President of the Italian Council, Matteo Renzi.

Let’s start with the assumption that one of the main advantages of the digital world is that today you can have your finger on the pulse of situations, with reporting systems and KPIs that are able to daily and punctually capture the current status of things. Data is central to this scenario in which all participants, whether businesses or PA, can and must be able to rely on data access and consultation to make decisions.

It is clear that there is nothing worse than seeing data in the hands of a few custodians while the other key players of the various ecosystems are destined for “ignorance.”

Yet it is actually this very alleged “ignorance” that hides the real reason for striving to combat and defeat information asymmetry, thus necessarily arriving at the transparency that reduces the margins for alibis that have too often over the years been evoked by governmental administrators to justify various inefficiencies:

The situation in Italy sees local governments often hiding behind a lack of data or updated information to justify certain inefficiencies: we did not have that particular updated data; had no evidence of that information; are the most frequent replies.

Data-driven governance, geared to use data as a tool to best understand the available data, could easily change this nasty habit.

It is clear that this is not an easy, convenient scenario, or one that can be immediately implemented by the Italian authorities :

While for companies it is natural and almost necessary to place oneself in a digital, data-driven perspective to meet the challenge of competitiveness, for the government it is more complex because the factors in play affect different domains. Open-data initiatives oriented toward greater transparency exist; let us consider Open sites, an initiative that together with others gives us visibility on many things that the Country is doing.

A structured scenario to which another complexity of a technical nature is added:

the analytics are so complex to interpret that there is a need to focus on appropriate skills. It is a discipline that is growing and should continue to do so, if only because from analytics to Big Data, the future lies in reasoning on the correlation between large amounts of data. This is the part that can and should, in my opinion, be key in the development of governance.

Also of central governance. Italia Login, for example, which seeks to be the tool to facilitate dialogue and exchange between citizens and the PA, could become a full-blown dashboard for managing data relating to citizens, based on the data available and providing support to Government choices.

Certainly in the future we may envisage not having to wait for half-yearly or annual reports to understand a situation, thanks to real-time data-driven logics. I would say that at that time we will need to decide, however, which data the individual decision makers must see. It is clear that this will need data scientists who can identify the data and the most significant correlations.

What is certain, concludes Barberis, is that Data-Driven Governance is the future for administrations and data evidence will be instrumental not only in battling the endemic ills of the Italian administrative machinery, such as waste, but also in promoting the data culture.

Data will, in essence, constitute the means to get to that “information symmetry” that will put all the players in the Italian system (PA, companies, citizens) in a position to make the best decisions based on measured and measurable data.

Asymmetry is to be fought with culture: today the importance of data-driven logics are still the preserve of a few but the growth of the digital culture as a whole and data, specifically, can only improve the situation.

Mariangela Parenti