According to INSITE lore, innovation brings about undesirable spillovers like climate change, feral finance and mounting inequalities: and this not by chance, but by structural positive feedback dynamics. Can we somehow imbue innovation activities with values that will prevent or mitigate these effects? Our group at Alicante is exploring an indirect attack to this problem: can we design for emergent effects of social dynamics? If it turns out we can, we might just be able to design the bad spillovers out of innovation activities through the appropriate innovation policies.
Our candidate tool for designing emergent social dynamics is network science – we have already done some work exploring it. Now we would like to expand the conversation, and take it to the public policy space. Policy makers are constantly, in a way, designing for emergent effects: they allocate funding for research in the belief that this will result in more research. They tax certain activities and subsidize others, trusting self-interested economic agents to adjust their behavior in a way that will result in a desirable outcome. In doing so, they have a well-developed toolbox: however, network science is so far not well represented into it.
This is – at least to – counterintuitive. Many public policy problems involve information flows, collaboration patterns, financial plumbings etc. that lend themselves well to be looked at in terms of networks. Can health care costs be reduced by increasing the role of patients in diagnosis and treatment? That’s a social network problem. Can public projects be evaluated by members of the public? Social network problem. Every time we consider co-production of public services, we are looking at networks.
So, we propose an experiment: Masters of Networks, a workshop in which to bring together policy makers and network scientists under the INSITE aegis. The former are asked to present policy problems which they have a hunch can be framed as network problems: the latter to help in getting to a precise framing. Both sides would then brainstorm as to how to go about cracking these problems. The projected outcome of the workshop is to come up with a specification in terms of networks of some public policy problems, and a viable strategy to address them in new ways. The idea to do this came out a year ago, from a seminar I gave at the Complex Social Networks course at the European University Institute: I laid out my own policy obsessions to a roomful of network scientists. It was great fun, and it was also clear that policy people and networks people don’t talk as much as they should.
Masters of Networks will take place in Venice on 21-22 January 2013. A full programme and more precise information are forthcoming. We are issuing invitations, but there is always a place for new, interesting people: so join us if you care about these issues. We are looking specifically for elected officials or civil servants with a public policy problem on their hands; and network scientists who want to get their hands dirty with real world problems. But whoever you are, if you think you should be in this, we would like to hear from you. Write directly to me at alberto [at] cottica [dot] net.
An important caveat: we recognize that policy makers and network scientist don’t speak the same language. For collaboration to work, each side must be prepared to go the extra mile to explain itself. We request from all participants a willingness to meet in a new territory, as yet uncolonized; and promise, in return, to do our very best to make everyone’s experience welcoming, with no presumption of any one type of knowledge to be somehow superior to any other.
Update – The Masters of Networks agenda and worktracks are now available here.