Two years ago, I met Helmut Willke, the author of Smart Governance: Governing the Global Knowledge Society, at a hotel cafe near the great cathedral of Cologne. Professor Willke is a sociologist who teaches Global Governance at the Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Late in 2009 I became interested in Governance as a system of decision-making and Professor Willke had written an excellent book exploring this topic. While the Professor is German, he writes extremely well in English and his book very well written and insightful. Like a lot of philosophical texts, it is not an easy read. Dense descriptions, long sentences, and theory backed by ample example make it a book you have to read at least twice to fully comprehend.
It had snowed a lot that year. It was white from Brussels to Berlin, and Cologne was still covered by eight inches. The square in front of the Dom was clear, and I had spent the morning before our meeting visiting the Roman museum across the square. Cologne is an ancient Roman city and the ruins are collected in a fantastic museum right next to the Dom. Of course there are columns and pediments, but also beautiful mosaic floors, jewellery, stained glass, and decorative arts. There is a model of the Roman city and you can see how the Germans built the city on the same street grid with walls built on top of the Roman walls. Of course, much of this was destroyed by allied bombs in WWII, but some remnants remain.
Looking back at Roman colonial rule of Cologne was an excellent introduction to the systemic ideas of Governance Professor Willke and I discussed over coffee that afternoon. He is not a tall man, mostly grey late-50′s I would say, with bright blue eyes. He makes an immediate impression, and is passionate about his book. I had used the book as text for a class I taught at the Bucerius Law School on Data Governance in Hamburg that January. My students did not entirely appreciate the dense prose and abstract ideas, but through class conversation we did ultimately appreciate the idea that Governance is a system of decision-making that could be described and modelled. And we used Social Networking metaphors to explore the idea of policy-making, human behaviours in a system of Governance, and how to model potential outcomes. Of course there is political science, which describes political models of Governance – Democracy, Dictatorship, Monarchy, etc – but what is unique and important about Professor Willke’s book is the application of systems theory to Governance.
We had some coffee and talked mostly about how the Professor wrote the book and why. As I had in 2007-8, the Professor had used the Global Credit Crisis as a use case to describe failures in Governance. I had covered this topic from a Data Governance perspective, arguing that hundreds of incremental failures in business processes and data quality had produced a domino effect that plunged the global economy into Depression. He covered the topic from a decision-making perspective, and while we approached this topic from different directions we arrived at similar conclusions – policy-makers can’t possibly make the best decisions without understanding the consequences of those decisions on incredibly complex and interconnected global systems. And those consequences are impossible to understand without new information systems that render the complexity with software and illustrate how the policies will be accepted and resisted.
In my class at Bucerius, my students complained that the Professor had not done enough to provide solutions to the problems he had identified, or that his solutions were too abstract. I presented these criticisms to him at our meeting and he responded that it was not possible to offer concrete solutions because every systemic problem needs to be modelled to understand the variables and outcomes – that there is no one size fits all. At the time, I thought this was a dodge. It took me a few more years to understand that he was right.
There are no Governance Solutions that can auto-magically produce the best outcomes for every decision. But it is possible for policy-makers to use systems theory and software to construct decision-making models that can plot many of the actors, objects, variables, and potential outcomes to understand the impact of policies on complex systems made up of hundreds, thousands, and even millions of human beings with unique behaviours.
After my course, I synthesised concepts from the book with ideas from my students to create the Six Steps to Smart Governance. It’s not meant to be a Framework. Frameworks and models are nice tools to help people feel more secure about challenges they seek to overcome, but they are not useful in making better decisions. The Six Steps are meant to be a structure for decision-making that one would apply iteratively; in which each of the six steps would involve different data points and variables. Of course, it is highly summarised, flavoured with marketing. And I would say in hindsight, its not really useful as a practical or operational tool. It’s really just a theory, a simplification of the better documented ideas Professor Willke writes about in his book.
And I think we can do better. In the IBM Data Governance Council we will soon begin to explore dynamic simulation models that go far beyond the Six Steps to Smart Governance, and I recommend reading both the white paper and Professor Willke’s book:
Today, thanks to really powerful simulation software, we can create dynamic models that help demonstrate the impact of policy on people, processes, and technology. The Data Governance Simulation Project will revolutionise the field of Data Governance by applying theory, software, and observed practices to an interactive model that will yield powerful insights into Data Governance Value Creation and Risk Mitigation.
A lot of people ask me, “how do I show the value of metadata?” Some say, “how do I make the business case for Data Governance?” Consultants and Gurus will have a framework or process to offer you, a get started guide with use-case examples, graphics, and legends about their successes. But these myths won’t help you, because your challenges are unique. Your politics are special, and your people are not machines. Best practices are useful examples of glorified solutions that are very hard to replicate outside the lab. And as many are already finding out, people resist policies they don’t think apply to them and its really tricky to understand how to change organisational behaviours on an on-going basis without policies that dynamically change with new circumstances.
Data Governance is, by nature, a systemic challenge and you can’t solve systemic problems without systemic solutions. Projects and teams that expect quick hits and 90-results are the reason you have systemic Data Governance problems in the first place. But it is possible to create software models that allow you to plot the goals, metrics, policies, communications, outcomes, variables, and modifiers and evaluate the impact of new policies and controls on your environment.
And that’s the lesson of Smart Governance: you can model complex environments through Simulation and make better decisions. To learn more about using Simulations to make better decisions, take a look at the IBM Smarter Cities Demo. In that demo, the complex interactions of human beings living in a city are compared to the goals of human policies, the metrics measured by interactions, and potential outcomes.
Many of our organisations are as complex as small cities. Policy and Politics share the same ancient Greek root word – epolis. epolis is a city, which itself is an aggregation of human beings who require Governance to arbitrate their diverse interests and achieve better outcomes for all. Today, we can simulate those interactions and help Policy makers profile the impact of their policies before they are deployed. Its a kind of Visual Risk Calculation.
Only members of the Council will be able to participate in this exercise and you don’t want to miss this because it will fundamentally change Data Governance.