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The Europe Roundup: Wikitalia Foundation, Another Step to Open the Government

BY Antonella Napolitano | Sunday, November 13 2011

  • Italy | Wikitalia Foundation: Another Step to Open the Government

    Next Monday in Rome a special celebration of the World Wide Web will take place: "Happy birthday web," a public event made of talks and workshops on the web, innovation and democracy.
    The meeting will feature a keynote by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the WWW.

    The event will also launch Wikitalia, an open government foundation, modeled on the values and activities of MySociety and Code for America. In the next few months Wikitalia will launch some pilot projects in three cities, trying to create new forms of collaboration between public administration and civic hackers. Wikitalia was created by a coalition of open government advocates: journalists, civil servants, civic hackers, developers, information law experts.

    The birth of this organization is one of the important recent steps in the development of the Italian open data scene, so far made mostly of a passionate community but only few government agencies.
    Last month, in fact, the Italian government launched its national open data portal and published a handbook for all public administration agencies in order to encourage the opening of datasets by providing all the technical and legal information needed.
    The third step of Italy's government strategy is Apps4italy, a contest open to all EU citizens, associations, companies and developers to design applications based on the use of public data. The contest will start on November 20th.

  • EU | The First "Institutional" Hackathon
    Hack4Transparency, the first hacking event happening in the European Parliament, took place in Brussels earlier this week, on November 8th and 9th.

    Google's European Public Policy blog publishes the list of the winners and tells what happened during the 23 hours:

    The coders worked on one of two challenges. First, they aimed to give consumers greater knowledge about the quality and speed of their Internet connections by updating M-Lab code. M-Lab, short for Measurement Lab, is an open platform for researchers. Second, the coders promoted transparency by attempting to improve our Transparency Report by visualizing the number of times governments have asked to remove content from Google servers.

    After 23 hours of intense (and for some teams – all-night) coding during which Google’s Chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf joined the fun through a Google+ Hangout.

    On the Hackathon website you can learn more on the tools that have been created  (Global Transparency track and Internet Quality track).

  • Italy | A Campaign Built on People - "With a Little Help" from the Internet
    Last spring Milan's Mayor election surprised many and was indicated as a first sign of the end of the political influence of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi: after almost 20 years of right-wing government, left-wing lawyer Giuliano Pisapia defeated the incumbent candidate, Mayor Letizia Moratti, the favourite in the race.
    The most interesting fact was that, for the first time, the campaign became the story as it was seen as a remarkable (and pretty unusual) example of the participative web in Italy.

    A few months after the dust has settled, the EP Webeditors' blog features an interview to Roberto Basso, Pisapia's campaign manager, that explains how people were mobilized and the role of the Internet in fueling the campaign.
    Apparently Basso took two lessons learnt: the Internet and a local community can be "very good friends". And centralisation is not the key to success.
    Basso says more about the relation between the elements:

    The online dimension has been important but we shouldn't overestimate it. It wouldn't have produced the same effect if there hadn't been a previous organisation and mobilisation on the ground, with committees and groups working for months. Internet added the real time dimension and the speed that we wouldn't have achieved otherwise, but we shouldn't forget that Giuliano met at least 50.000 people in person.

    Milan is called "the economic heart of Italy" and has 1,300.000 inhabitants, not a huge number considering that it is the second city of the country (Rome's population is more than the double).
    Running against a candidate that has a budget that is 8 times bigger than yours might be initimidating.
    In this respect the web may be the only way to fill the gap, but also a choice. Basso says:

    We had to make a choice in the beginning: either we proposed a coordinated and centralised campaign, or we encouraged the enthusiasm and energy of the people, supporting and re-launching their initiatives. We went for this second option, firstly because we didn't have the money for the first one, secondly because it matched better the spirit of the candidate and the demand of participation that was there. This meant taking risks, of course. But it proved successful.

    An effective social media communication helped the campaign spreading knowledge on the candidate's program and aggregating people in real-life. The candidate's Facebook page (that had 15.000 fans in the first weeks of the campaign and ended having more than 115.000 by the end of it) was key to organizing rallies and other kind of events, Basso recalls, mentioning a bike tour that gathered thousands of people: the impromptu gathering was organized on Facebook in just a few days.

    "What seemed somewhat of an obliged choice resulted in a winning communication strategy," admits Basso "Because both channels – the "street" and the "internet" are intrinsically democratic, and allowed the participation of the citizens, who became the real "creative" and "spin doctors" of the campaign. But you have to accept to lose control." he concludes.

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