Earlier today I had the pleasure of meeting senator Kate Lundy in Canberra, Australia. She is a very well known figure in the government 2.0 scene and a recent keynote speaker at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington D.C.
It was a quite enjoyable experience. It all started with a meeting I had this morning with a CIO, who told me that the senator would be pleased to meet me if my agenda was open.
I could not believe it. Used to the attitude of Italian policy-makers, I found extraordinary that she would ask me to find some room in my agenda for her. My colleagues in the Canberra office were great to arrange this at such a short notice and she was available to see me during my first available slot, at noon.
So I went to the Parliament House, an intriguingly modern building, very much unlike the parliament and senate buildings I am used to in the rest of the world. We were welcomed by Pia, a member of her staff whose business card says “Geek liaison”. As I found out that she reads my blog, I guess I am now officially a geek!
I met the senator on the way to her office, close to the cafeteria, where her assistant got some coffee for all of us. I knew she was good looking from her pictures, but I found out that pictures do not make her justice . She is very elegant, but in a low key and most natural way, one of those women who can dress anything and always look great. This being said, her outfit would make her Italian women turn their head and either nod in approval or be envious.
She is a very affable person, open and knowledgeable, as well as willing to listen. She shared with me several initiatives she took in the recent past, ranging from Public Sphere for public consultation to her pivotal role in leading the charge for innovation that ended up with the excellent work done by the government 2.0 taskforce. We were on the same wavelength chatting about the implementation challenges to make the taskforce recommendations work. I had a chance to share my views about the asymmetry of gov 2.0 and how using people-generated information is as important as providing open data, if not more.
What I was most impressed with is that she really gets it. From how government needs to be where people are, to admitting that politicians have an easier life when it comes to social media: in fact they can and must be personal in how they engage, as they are responsible for everything they say, while civil servants always risk to be seen as speaking on behalf of their organizations. And her staff is at the same level: Pia is a smart, capable person, who is clearly instrumental to how well prepared Kate is on these topics.
As we came to the end of our meeting, I could not help asking myself why Italy is not blessed with people like Kate Lundy or Vivek Kundra in the US or Maria Munk in Denmark or Bill McCluggage in the UK and the many other professionals, career civil servants and politicians who are both smart and wiling to take risks in leading the charge for change.
Or most likely we have those people, but I have little chance to talk to them. As (I think) Latin historian Plinius wrote, nemo propheta in patria: no man is a prophet in his own land. Still, I am more than happy if great people in other countries care about some of my thoughts, and give me a chance to talk to and learn from them.