“IGNORE THE CITY ADMINISTRATION AND JUST DO WHAT IS NECESSARY”

25.12.2012, 12:05
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Alper Çuğun is member of the board of Hack the Government foundation where he helped to shape Open Data policy in the Netherlands. He participated in Moscow Urban Forum as a speaker of Open Data and the General Agenda session. In his interview he talks about the future of city management and how to make a local initiative into a successful project.

— The authorities’ activity in Russia is traditionally closed to the citizens. How can we break this tradition? What are the methods of work with such clumsy structures as city administration?

— The method we used with our city administration — and believe it or not they were probably as clumsy as yours — is to ignore them and just do the things that we felt were necessary. It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission. We started out as a voluntary and very much fringe initiative without clear goals or outcomes but with a clear idea of an ideal future. This approach of ‘whoever comes is the right people’ created a broad network of interested actors who took the core ideals of a better and more open government and ran with them into all kind of directions. From there on we continued tirelessly to talk with whoever would listen and kept pushing and advocating for this change to be implemented in and outside of government. Here and there we reaped some small successes which snowballed into larger successes and finally we managed to organize a couple of all out events (like Apps for Amsterdam) that put this cause on the map for once and for all. So with any civic tradition: start with what works for you and build from there and at some point you will have created a new reality where it will be in the best interest of any administration to get on board of.

— How do you think city management will change in 50 years and what impact will those changes have on the shape of our cities?

— I hope that city management in 50 years becomes much more agile so that everybody can interact with services and objects in the city in a way that suits their personal goals and ideals best. Our urban management’s mandate is exactly that: to optimally service the needs of its inhabitants. I can’t properly tell what shape cities will be then, but I hope they will be open.

— What possibilities do you see in Moscow?

— Any truly large city such as Moscow with its issues can benefit from opening up the data and processes of the city to civic innovation. Any one person can tap into that to service their needs and of those like them and all of those initiatives combined and cross-pollinating with each other, can in our experience yield something that is far larger than the sum of its parts. However distant practical applications seem for most people right now and however unwelcoming authorities seem right now to civic initiatives, there is no better time to start than now. The costs of experimenting have never been so low (and are still continuing to drop) but the benefits will accumulate over time.