Namur, April 11, 2018

There are some words that we try in vain to translate but do not manage to clarify satisfactorily. This is the case with the English words policy and policies. We can, of course, get close to the meaning when, in French, we allude to une politique [1] or les politiques publiques. Except that policy does not necessarily relate to a political context [2] and does not always belong to the register of the public arena. The Oxford English Dictionary defines policy as a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual [3]. Policies can therefore be organisational, corporate, individual or collective, and can assume multiple forms, from intention to action, including streams of ideas and their execution in legislation, regulatory implementation and everyday changes [4]. For a long time, the Anglo-Saxon academic world has adopted the distinction between politics and policies, indicating moreover that policies may be public. Thus the London School of Economics and Political Science distinguishes between British Politics and Policy and UK Government, Politics and Policy [5].


1. Intentions, decisions, objectives and implementation

Drawing its inspiration from the works of theorists in the concept, especially the Yale University professors Harold Dwight Lasswell (1902-1978) [6] and Aaron Wildavsky (1930-1993) [7], the Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration (ed. 2015) defines Policy as a decision or, more broadly, a series of interlinked decisions relating to a range of objectives and the means of implementing them. The author of the definition, William H. Park, a lecturer and researcher at a British military academy [8], states that this process involves identifying a problem that requires a solution or an objective that is worth achieving, evaluating the alternative means of attaining the desired results, choosing between these alternatives and implementing the preferred option, in addition to solving the problem or achieving the objective. Park observes that such a process should entail the participation of a limited number of decision-makers, a high degree of consensus on what constitutes a policy problem or a desirable objective, a capacity for evaluating and comparing the probable consequences of each of the alternatives, a smooth implementation of the chosen option and the absence of any impediments to achieving the objectives. This also implies that this process ends with the execution and implementation of the decision [9]. Clearly, however difficult it may be to grasp the notion, it is above all the rationality of the process that seems to characterise it [10]. There is also the fact that, as Lasswell points out, policy approaches tend toward contextuality in place of fragmentation and toward problem-oriented not problem-blind perspectives [11]. This second consideration points to the systemic aspect, which we prioritise in foresight – even if it is beyond the context. Furthermore, according to the Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, policy studies and foresight share the characteristic of being explicitly normative and fundamentally action-oriented [12]. They are also normative because they rely on values that determine their objectives. In what Yehezkel Dror calls Grand Policies, the common good, the public interest and the good of humanity as a whole, or raison d’humanité, are pursued to highlight strategies. As the former professor of political science and politics at Harvard and the University of Jerusalem points out, Grand Policies try to reduce the probability of bad futures, to increase the probability of good futures, as their images and evaluations change with time, and to gear up to coping with the unforeseen and the unforeseeable[13]. Unsurprisingly, to achieve this, Dror particularly recommends engaging in thinking-in-History and practising foresight [14].

2. In governance: identifying and organising the actors

Democratic governance, in other words governance by the actors, – including the Administration [15] –, particularly as highlighted since the early 1990s by the Club of Rome and the United Nations Development Programme[16], also shows, as sociologist Patrice Duran has pointed out, that government institutions have lost their monopoly on governance [17]. This observation was also made by David Richards and Martin J. Smith in their analysis of the links between governance and public policy in the United Kingdom. For these two British political scientists, governance demands that we consider all the actors and locations beyond the « core executive » involved in the policy making process [18]. If we take proper account of this trend, we can make a distinction, as Duran does, between the two complementary rationales on which public action as a process is founded:

– an identification rationale, which makes it possible to determine the relevant actors, define the scope of their involvement and specify their degree of legitimacy; the challenge relates to the status of the actors in the sense that this determines their authority and thereby their legitimacy to act.

– a rationale for organising these actors for the purpose of producing effective action. The actors are also evaluated on what they do, in other words on their contribution to dealing with the problems identified as public problems which are therefore the responsibility of the public authorities. It is their power to act, in the sense of their capacity to act, that is at stake here rather than their authority [19]. This way of understanding governance and of giving the government an instrumental role in collective action has been at the heart of our approach for twenty years [20]. It clearly implies societal objectives that support a vision, shared by the actors, of a desirable future for all. We have often summarised these objectives as being the shared requirement for greater democracy and better development [21]. But, as Philippe Moreau Defarges rightly pointed out, the public interest no longer comes from the top down, but develops, flows and belongs to whoever exploits it [22]. Moreover, it is from this perspective that the rationale of empowerment is not only reserved for elected officials with responsibility for the issues under their mandate but extends to other stakeholders in distributed, shared, democratic governance [23], especially the Administration, businesses and civil society [24].

3. Supporting a Policy Lab for the Independent Regional Foresight Unit

Following the meeting with Minister-President Willy Borsus on 15 September 2017 and with the board of directors of the The Destree Institute on 5 December 2017, the Destree Institute revived its Foresight Unit under the name CiPré (Cellule indépendante de Prospective régionale – Independent Regional Foresight Unit) and backed the creation of a laboratory for collective, public and entrepreneurial policies for Wallonia in Europe: the Wallonia Policy Lab. This has been modelled on the EU Policy Lab, set up by the European Joint Research Centre and presented by Fabiana Scapolo, deputy head of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, during the conference entitled Learning in the 21st century: citizenship, foresight and complexity, organised in the Economic and Social Council of Wallonia by The Destree Institute on 22 September 2017 as part of the Wallonia Young Foresight Research programme.

According to its own introduction, the European Policy Lab represents a collaborative and experimental space for developing innovative public or collective policies. Both a physical space and a way of working which combines foresight, behavioural insights [25], and the process of co-creation and innovation, in other words design thinking [26], the European Lab has set itself three tasks: firstly, to explore complexity and the long term in order to measure uncertainty; secondly, to bring together political objectives and collective actions and to improve decision-making and the reality of implementing decisions; and finally, to find solutions for developing better public or collective policies and to ensure that the strategies will apply in the real world [27]. We have embraced these tasks in Wallonia, in addition to our collaborations with the European Joint Research Centre, particularly on the project entitled The Future of Government 2030+, A Citizen Centric Perspective on New Government Models.

The proposal to create a Policy Lab seemed so important to the board of directors of The Destree Institute that it decided to accentuate its own name with this designation: The Destree Institute, Wallonia Policy Lab. This decision conveys three messages: the first is the operationalisation of foresight, which characterises the type of foresight that brings about change, as advocated by The Destree Institute. The University Certificate which it has jointly run with UMONS and the Open University in Charleroi since February 2017 is also called Operational Foresight [28]. The second message is the need for accelerated experimentation on a new, more involving democracy, based on governance by actors and innovative tools such as those developed globally in recent years around the concept of open government [29]. The third message concerns the uninhibited use of English and therefore the desire for internationalisation, even if the language chosen could have been that of one of our dynamic neighbours, Germany or the Netherlands, or of another country. Unrestrained access and openness to the world are absolute necessities for a region undergoing restructuring which, today, must more than ever position itself away from the faint-heartedness of yesterday.

In parallel, having run its course at the end of December 2017, the Wallonia Evaluation and Foresight Society, founded in 1999 on the initiative of The Destree Institute and several actors who were convinced of the need for these governance tools and advocated their use, decided to encourage this new initiative by sponsoring the Wallonia Policy Lab in terms of its intellectual and material heritage. This also means that, as it did at the end of the 1990s, The Destree Institute will once again, through this laboratory, pay close attention to the assessment and performance of public and collective policies which, naturally, represent one of the key axes of the policy process.

Conclusion: bringing order to future disorder

When we talk of Policy, we are referring to a course of action or a structured programme of actions guided by a vision of the future (principles, broad objectives, goals), which address some clearly identified challenges [30]. The process of governance, which has been in place since the early 2000s, has increased the need for a better grasp of policies by involving the stakeholders. Interdependence between the actors is an integral part of modern political action, changing it from public action into collective action.

It has been argued and repeatedly stated that, in the territories, and particularly in the regions, the doors to the future open downwards. Patrice Duran, referring to Michael Lipsky, the political scientist at Princeton [31], observed that changes usually resulted from the daily actions taken on the ground by public officials or peripheral actors rather than from the broad objectives set by the major decision centres. We, too, agree with the French professor that there is no point in developing ambitious objectives if they cannot usefully be translated into action content. In other words, it is not so much developing major programmes that counts but rather determining the process by which a decision may or may not emerge and take shape [32]. It’s certainly not going to happen overnight. Particular attention must be paid to the serious implementation of the objectives we set ourselves. Developing policies means – and this something we have forgotten rather too often in Wallonia in recent decades – carefully linking the key strategic directions to the concrete reality of the fieldwork and mobilising the diversity of actors operating on the ground [33]. That is how, using all our pragmatism, we can bring order to disorder, to use Philippe Zittoun’s well-turned phrase [34].

Moreover, two early initiatives have been taken in this regard. The first, as part of a joint initiative taken in November 2017, was to transform a hands-on training activity, Local powers and Social action, organised with the Wallonia Public Service DG05, into a genuine laboratory for those public officials to create their business practices of the future. The second initiative, at the beginning of February 2018, was to put together the « Investing in young people” citizens’ panel, which is being organised on the initiative of the Parliament of Wallonia by a Policy Lab that brings young people together to identify long-term challenges. In both cases, the participants needed to be quick, intellectually mobile, efficient, proactive, bright and operational. And that was the case. More on this in due course…

The Wallonia Policy Lab is very much in line with this moment in our history: a time when we are moving from grand ideological principles to experimentation – on the ground – with new, collective, concrete actions with a view to implementing them. This way of working will finally allow us to overcome our endemic shortcomings, our structural blockages and our mental and cultural inertia so that we can truly address the challenges we face. A time when, ultimately, we must stand together.


Philippe Destatte


[1] See, for example, the definition of Policy/Politique in the MEANS programme: ensemble d’activités différentes (programmes, procédures, lois, règlements) qui sont dirigées vers un même but, un même objectif général. Evaluer les programmes socio-économiques, Glossaire de 300 concepts et termes techniques, coll. MEANS, vol. 6., p. 33, European Commission, Community Structural Funds, 1999. – My thanks to my colleagues Pascale Van Doren and Michaël Van Cutsem for helping me develop and refine this document.

[2] Philippe ZITTOUN, La fabrique politique des politiques publiques, Une approche pragmatique de l’action publique, p. 10sv, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2013. – Thierry BALZACQ e.a., Fondements de Science politique, p. 33, Louvain-la-Neuve, De Boeck, 2015. – See the broad discussion of the concept of policy in Michaël HILL & Frederic VARONE, The Public Policy Process, p. 16-23, New York & London, Routledge, 7th ed., 2017.

[3] A course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual. Oxford English Dictionary on line. (2 April 2018).

[4] Edward C. PAGE, The Origins of Policy, in Michael MORAN, Martin REIN & Robert E. GOODIN, Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, p. 210sv, Oxford University Press, 2006. – Brian W. HOGWOOD & Lewis A. GUNN, Policy Analysis for the Real World, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984.

[5] See the blog of the London School of Economics and Political Science:

[6] Harold Dwight LASSWELL, A Pre-View of Policy Sciences, New York, American Elsevier, 1971.

[7] Aaron WILDAVSKY, Speaking Truth to Power, The Art and Craft of Policy Analysis, Boston, Little Brown, 1979.

[8] Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC), now teaching at King’s College in London.

[9] William H. PARK, Policy, 4, in Jay M. SHAFRITZ Jr. ed., Defining Public Administration, Selections from the International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration, New York, Routledge, 2018.

[10] M. HILL & F. VARONE, The Public Policy Process…, p. 20. – Patrice DURAN, Penser l’action publique, p. 35, Paris, Lextenso, 2010.

[11] H. D. LASSWELL, A Pre-View of Policy Sciences…, p. 8.

[12] Oxford Handbook of Public Policy…, p. 6.

[13] Yehezkel DROR, Training for Policy Makers, in Handbook…, p. 82-86.

[14] Ibidem, p. 86sv.

[15] Edward C. PAGE, Policy without Politicians, Bureaucratic Influence in Comparative Perspective, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012.

[16] Philippe DESTATTE, L’élaboration d’un nouveau contrat social, in Philippe DESTATTE dir., Mission prospective Wallonie 21, La Wallonie à l’écoute de la prospective, Premier Rapport au Ministre-Président du Gouvernement wallon, Charleroi, Institut Destrée, 2003. 21 – Steven A. ROSELL e.a., Governing in an Information Society, p. 21, Montréal, Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1992.

[17] Patrice DURAN, Penser l’action publique, p. 77, Paris, Lextenso, 2010.

[18] Thus, it demands that we consider all the actors and locations beyond the « core executive » involved in the policy making process. David RICHARDS & Martin J. SMITH, Governance and Public Policy in the UK, p. 2, Oxford University Press, 2002.

[19] P. DURAN, Penser l’action publique…, p. 76-77. Our translation.

[20] Ph. DESTATTE, Bonne gouvernance: contractualisation, évaluation et prospective, Trois atouts pour une excellence régionale, in Ph. DESTATTE dir., Evaluation, prospective et développement régional, p. 7sv, Charleroi, Institut-Destrée, 2001.

[21] Ph. DESTATTE, Plus de démocratie et un meilleur développement, Rapport général du quatrième Congrès La Wallonie au futur, dans La Wallonie au futur, Sortir du XXème siècle: évaluation, innovation, prospective, p. 436, Charleroi, Institut Destrée, 1999.

[22] Philippe MOREAU DEFARGES, La gouvernance, p. 33, Paris, PuF, 2003.

[23] Gilles PAQUET, Gouvernance: mode d’emploi, Montréal, Liber, 2008.

[24] Policy analysts use the imperfect tools of their trade not only to assist legitimately elected officials in implementing their democratic mandates, but also to empower some groups rather than others. Oxford Handbook of Public Policy…, p. 28.

[25] Behavioural Insights is an inductive approach to policy making that combines insights from psychology, cognitive science, and social science with empirically-tested results to discover how humans actually make choices. Since 2013, OECD has been at the forefront of supporting public institutions who are applying behavioural insights to improving public policy.

[26] See, for example, Paola COLETTI, Evidence for Public Policy Design, How to Learn from Best Practice, Palgrave Macmillan, New York – Houndmills Basingstoke UK, 2013.

[27] EU Policy Lab, a collaborative and experimental space for innovative policy-making, Brussels; European Commission, Joint Research Centre, 2017.


[29] Ph. DESTATTE, What is Open Government? Blog PhD2050, Reims, 7 November 2017,

[30] Concerning identification of the challenges: Charles E. LINDBLOM, Policy-making Process, p. 12-14, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, 1968.

[31] Michael LIPSKY, Street Level Bureaucracy, New York, Russel Sage, 1980.

[32] Patrice DURAN, Penser l’action publique, p. 48, Paris, Lextenso, 2010. Our translation.

[33] Jeffrey L. PRESSMAN & Aaron WILDAWSKY, Implementation, Berkeley CA, University of California Press, 1973. – Susan BARRETT & Colin FUDGE eds, Policy and Action, Essays on the Implementation of Public Policy, London, Methuen, 1981.

[34] Ph. ZITTOUN, op.cit., p. 326. Our translation.

Marche-en-Famenne, 6 December 2017 [1]

Contrary to the ideas of those who see cities as the centre of the world, I believe we must gradually abolish the distinction between urban and rural areas through the concept of metropolisation. I see this metropolisation as the ability to connect societies and people with the global economy through the willingness and capacity of players and, of course, the support of digital technologies that allow networking and therefore synergies, complementarities and co-constructions. In fact, with adequate connectivity, understood as accessibility within a network, either physical or virtual, we can trade and work from any location. We can even say that connectivity nullifies the two categories – urban and rural, city and non-city – which together have accounted for all space in the past; these two poles of a relationship that economist Camagni considered as the defining features of human society [2]. This shift obviously takes place in a new economy. The Cork 2.0 Declaration, entitled Activating Knowledge and Innovation pointed out that rural territories should participate in the knowledge-based economy with the aim of making full use of the advances made by research and development [3].

As early as 1994, Bernadette Mérenne already highlighted, with François Ascher, the very close links between metropolisation and the new economic and social context, in an international framework. The professor from the University of Liège already showed how this process brought development, but also social and territorial disparities in that it concentrated the means of development in cities, and even in certain neighbourhoods, to the detriment of other cities or neighbourhoods: this type of metropolisation inevitably creates winners and losers. The geographer thus wrote, metropolisation generates a ternary structure in social groups, lifestyles and value systems: affluent sections in direct contact with the international economy, populations in difficulty often corresponding to those excluded from the new system and concentrated mainly in the metropolitan areas and an intermediate group, not included in the international metropolitan dynamics, but which has managed to find niches allowing them to integrate themselves (local production, leisure economy, etc.) [4]. In addition to these societal disparities, there are also environmental fractures. While historians have long cultivated, with sociologist Max Weber, [5] but also Roberto Camagni [6], the medieval principle of law and old German adage saying that city air makes you free (Stadtluft macht frei), we also know today, even more than in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that this same air kills. And this factor could become decisive in any propensity to locate activities and therefore as a factor of attractiveness. I have often used as a prime example here, ESPON’s map of emissions due to interurban road traffic for its scenarios up to 2030. This work shows that, by this time, Wallonia – and in particular the Famenne and the Ardenne Massif regions – could have major advantages they could exploit [7].

The Small Networked Town

If I take the example of Marche-en-Famenne, whose dynamism has been well described by the president and former minister Charles-Ferdinand Nothomb, the general manager of IDELUX Fabian Collard, as well as the mayor André Bouchat, we can see this small town in different configurations. Thus, we can look at Marche-en-Famenne as an urban centre with a small rural hinterland that provides it with resources and that is structured according to its needs: both its supply and service areas, and the area of influence of its public and private infrastructure, catchment areas, and areas of care, education, training, employment, etc. [8] We can also see Marche as a territory associated with others in an area with a population of nearly 60,000, created in 2007 and called « Pays de Famenne », a network of mayors of surrounding communities that transcend the provincial administrative boundaries of Namur and Luxembourg: Durbuy, Hotton, Marche-en-Famenne, Nassogne, Rochefort, Somme-Leuze. The Destree Institute and, in particular, my futurist colleague Michaël Van Cutsem took on the long-term task of working alongside the dynamic team led by Yves-Marie Peter. We can finally design Marche-en-Famenne as part and one of the nodes of a network of larger cities contributing to a vast network between, on the one hand, Luxembourg – linked to Metz, Nancy, Trier, Saarbrücken, Kaiserslautern, Arlon – and, on the other hand, Liège – linked to Hasselt, Maastricht, Aachen and Cologne. To the north, Namur, capital of Wallonia, opens the way to Louvain-la-Neuve-Ottignies-Wavre, and then Brussels. At these urban nodes, it would be necessary to add infrastructures to connect the space and thus make them factors of metropolisation: examples are the Euro Space Centre in Redu-Transinne with the new business park Galaxia, the Libramont Exhibition & Congress (LEC) at Libramont and its internationally renowned agricultural Fair, or the Bastogne War Museum, which has partnerships with Texas. The purpose of this group is, of course, to participate in the dynamics of the Greater Region of Saarland, Lorraine, Luxembourg, Wallonia and Rhineland-Palatinate. We should remember, of course, that Lorraine has just joined the Grand Est Region on 1 January 2016 by merging with the Alsace and Champagne-Ardenne regions. The metropolitan influence of this Greater Region is considerable: it is on the edge of four European capitals – Brussels, Frankfurt, Luxembourg and Strasbourg – and includes, as the forward-looking exercise Zukunftsbild Vision 2020 has shown, more than 40 universities and colleges, with potential for major education and R & D.

Here we can highlight the idea of innovation gardens, which I have presented elsewhere [9]. This operational model, of Finnish origin, makes it possible to design large integrated spaces that encourage a culture of collaboration rather than competition, by promoting innovation (technological, social – such as circuit courts (short circuits) in agriculture or teleworking and third places for services – and close ties between players and institutions. The examples of Espoo (Espoo Innovation Garden) or Wallonia Brabant are typical. This province constitutes with Braunschweig, in Lower Saxony, and Stuttgart, in Baden-Württemberg, the first European territory (EU28) in terms of Research & Development, mobilising 6% of its GDP. With Inner London and Helsinki, this territory is also the one where the number of higher education graduates is the highest in Europe, more than 41% among 25-64 year olds [10].

Crucial social innovation

In my opinion, building large, networked spaces like metropolitan development areas is crucial social innovation. This idea has not been able to establish itself in Wallonia, like in other regions or States where cities look too much in distorting mirrors and see themselves as smaller versions of Los Angeles or Shenzhen, confusing territorial marketing and a solid project, co-constructed and implemented on the ground. The logic chosen is very often the old one of hierarchical systems, urban frameworks where population and spatial sizes still seem to be the key indicators.

However, the real power of development would be to no longer consider Wallonia as we did in the past, as a large hinterland of external metropolitan areas: Lille, Brussels, the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion and Luxembourg, but as a vast metropolitan area in itself where nothing is really rural or (peri)urban any more, but where everything is largely interconnected both internally and externally. A space which, as Michèle Cascalès wrote, is of territorial excellence because it is supported by the realisation of a common project shared by the majority of actors in a territory so that the global and integrated approach will have to mobilise on a large scale and will require the emergence of a new equilibrium and the establishment of appropriate operating rules [11]. Wallonia has remarkable assets in terms of landscape and quality of life to claim the garden idea. It also has significant disadvantages in terms of innovation, research and development, the quality of education and training, employment and above all mobility and connectivity. But we are working hard on this … I trust.

Thus, the future of these metropolitan areas will lie in our ability to integrate these factors as well as all the players, including dynamic small towns like Marche-en-Famenne, into a common project. This can be done by creating metropolising [12], urban-rural partnerships [13] with the strong ambition of a dynamic policy of development, appeal and economic, social and territorial cohesion.


Philippe Destatte



About the same topic:

Ph. DESTATTE, Quel(s) rôle(s) pour les territoires ruraux en Europe ?, Blog PhD2050, Couvin, le 31 mai 2017.

Ph. DESTATTE, Métropole et métropolisation : entre honneur archiépiscopal et rêve maïoral, Blog PhD2050, Liège, le 24 novembre 2016.



[1] This text is a copy of my speech given in English during a GFAR/South-North Mediterranean Dialogue Foundation workshop, which took place at InvestSud’s office in Marche-en-Famenne on 6 December 2017, under the chairmanship of Charles-Ferdinand Nothomb on the theme of Small towns in rural territories of the Mediterranean as catalysts of inclusive rural development and migration curbing

[2] Roberto CAMAGNI, Principes et modèles de l’économie urbaine, p. 8, Paris, Economica, 1992.

[3] Cork 2.0, A Better Life in Rural Areas, European Conference on Rural Development, Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union, Sept. 2016.

[4] Bernadette MERENNE-SCHOUMAKER, La métropolisation, une nouvelle donne ? in Acta Geographica Lovaniensia, vol. 34, 1994, p. 165-174.

[5] Max WEBER, The City, Paris, La Découverte, 2014.

[6] Roberto CAMAGNI, Principes et modèles de l’économie urbaine…, p. 3.

[7] ESPON Project 3.2., Spatial scenarios and orientations in relation with the ESPD and Cohesion Policy, Final Report, October 2006.

[8] Jacques LEVY and Michel LUSSAULT dir., Dictionnaire de la géographie et de l’espace des sociétés, p. 455, Paris, Berlin, 2003.

[9] Ph. DESTATTE, Des jardins d’innovation : un nouveau tissu industriel pour la Wallonie, Blog PhD2050, Namur, 11 November 2016,

[10] My Region, my Europe, our future, Seventh report on Territorial, social and economic cohesion, p. 31 and 37, Brussels, European Commission, Regional and urban policy, September 2017.

[11] Michèle CASCALES, Excellence territoriale et dynamique des pays, dans Guy LOINGER et Jean-Claude NEMERY dir., Construire la dynamique des territoires…, Acteurs, institutions, citoyenneté active, p. 66, Paris-Montreal, L’Harmattan, 1997.

[12] Ph. DESTATTE, Quel(s) rôle(s) pour les territoires ruraux en Europe ?, Blog PhD2050, Couvin, 31 May 2017.

Reims, 7 November 2017


An innovative, global movement

In 2008, in his Change we can believe in project, Barack Obama highlighted the need to establish greater transparency in political institutions so that all citizens have access to information they need to evaluate the performance of the leaders. The candidate wrote that finally the governance of the country must be a source of inspiration for all Americans and must encourage them to act as citizens [1]. In addition to his desire to reduce unnecessary public expenditure, cut bureaucracy and cancel ineffective programmes, the future President of the United States announced that he wanted to open up democracy. The new Obama administration, he announced, will publish on line all information on the management of the State and will employ all available technologies to raise public awareness of State expenditure. It will invite members of the public to serve and take part, and it will reduce bureaucracy to ensure that all government agencies operate with maximum efficiency [2]. In addition to these priorities he announced compliance with the obligations on natural resources and on social inclusion and cohesion. The stated objective was to restore confidence in the institutions and to clean up Washington: imposing a strict ethical code on the elected representatives and limiting the influence of the lobbies and interest groups [3].

When President Obama entered the White House, one of his first initiatives, on 21 January 2009, was to send a memorandum on transparency and Open Government to the officials at the government ministries and agencies. In this document, the new president reaffirmed his pledge to create a government of this type and asked his departments to help create a political system founded on transparency, public participation and collaboration. This openness, he wrote, would strengthen democracy and promote the effectiveness and efficiency of the government. Firstly, the president wanted the government to be transparent and to promote accountability [4] and tell the public what it was doing. Next, the government should be participatory: when knowledge is shared between the public and private spheres, it is in the common interest for the public to participate in developing policies and allow their government to benefit from their collective intelligence. Finally, the government should be collaborative, which means that it should actively engage Americans in the work of their government, harnessing innovative tools and methods to ensure that all levels of the government and the administration cooperate with each other and with the non-profit organisations, businesses and individuals in the private sector [5]. After being gradually implemented in the United States, this movement, which follows an already long-standing Anglo-Saxon tradition [6], has inspired other countries and prompted an important multilateral initiative which, incidentally, The Destree Institute joined as a civil society partner in 2017.

Thus, in 2011, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched by the governments of the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom, who adopted a joint declaration [7]. The objective of the OGP is to set up a platform for good practices between innovators in order to secure concrete commitments from governments on transparency, public action, empowerment of citizens, public participation, democratic innovation and harnessing new technologies to promote better governance.

As the years have passed, more than 70 countries have joined the initiative. As of 2017, the Belgian Federal State has not yet done so [8]. France, which was a pioneer in deliberative processes and Open Data, only joined the OGP in 2014 but has held the joint presidency since 2015, becoming co-organiser of the 4th Global Summit for the Open Government Partnership, which was held in the French capital at the end of 2016. The Paris Declaration, which was adopted on 7 December 2016, reaffirms all the founding principles and values of the OGP and undertakes to push forward the frontiers of the reforms beyond transparency, to advance meaningful participation, accountability and responsiveness. The signatories to the Paris Declaration also pledge to create innovative alliances between civil society and government leading to more collaborative public services and decision-making processes. The document also calls for the development of Open Government at the local level and the launch of local participatory initiatives to bring public policies closer to citizens [9].

A citizen-centred culture of governance

To answer the question of what open government really is, we could examine the closed model of decision-making with Beth Simone Noveck, who ran the Open Government Initiative at the White House in 2009 and 2010. This legal expert and law professor, who is a Yale and Harvard graduate, considers that the closed model is the one that was created by Max Weber, Walter Lippmann and James Madison. This model would have us believe that only government professionals and their experts, who themselves claim to be strictly objective [10], possess the necessary impartiality, expertise, resources, discipline and time to make the right public decisions. This vision, which ought to be a thing of the past, restricts public participation to representative democracy, voting, joining interest groups and involvement in local civic or political activities. Yet, today, we know that, for many reasons, professional politicians do not have a monopoly on information or expertise [11].

Technological innovation and what is today called Digital Social Innovation (DSI) [12] are contributing to this change. However, we do not think they are the driving force behind the Open Government concepts as they are somewhat peripheral. Although technology does have some significance in this process, it is perhaps in relation to its toolkit rather than its challenges or purposes. Open Government forms part of a two-fold tradition. Firstly, that of transparency and free access to public information on civil society. This is not new. The British parliament endorsed it in the 1990s [13]. Secondly, Open Government finds its inspiration in the values of sharing and collaboration used within the communities linked to the free software and open science movements [14]. In this sense, public expectations could be raised, as is the case with some researchers who see in Open Government the extent to which citizens can monitor and influence government processes through access to government information and access to decision-making arenas [15].

Even if we consider that the idea of Open Government is still under construction [16], we can still try to establish a definition. Taking our inspiration from the OECD definition in English, Open Government can be conceived as a citizen-centred culture of governance that utilizes innovative and sustainable tools, policies and practices to promote government transparency, responsiveness and accountability to foster stakeholders’ participation in support of democracy and inclusive growth  [17]. The aim of this process is that it should lead to the co-construction of collective policies that involve all the parties involved in governance (public sphere, businesses, civil society, etc.) and pursue the general interest and the common good.

The international OGP organisation states that an Open Government strategy can only really develop where it is supported by an appropriate environment that allows it to be rolled out. The issue of the leadership of the political players is clearly very important, as is the capacity (empowerment) of the citizens to participate effectively in public action: this is central to the reforms it brings about, as the international organisation noted. Today, governments acknowledge the need to move from the role of simple providers of services towards the development of closer partnerships with all relevant stakeholders.[18].

Thus Open Government reconnects with one of the initial definitions of governance, as expressed by Steven Rosell in 1992: a process whereby an organisation or a society steers itself, using its players [19]. It has become commonplace to reiterate that the challenges we face today can no longer be resolved, given their magnitude, by a traditional government and several cohorts or even legions of civil servants.

Nevertheless, faced with these often enormous challenges, Professor of Business Administration Douglas Schuler rightly reflects on the capacity for action of the entire society that would have to be mobilised and poses the question: will we be smart enough soon enough? To answer this question, Schuler, who is also president of the Public Sphere Project, calls for what he refers to as civic intelligence, a form of collective intelligence centred on shared challenges, which focuses on improving society as a whole rather than just the individual. The type of democracy that is based on civic intelligence, writes Douglas Schuler, is one which, as the American psychologist and philosopher John Dewey wrote, can be seen as a way of life rather than as a duty, one in which participation in a participatory process strengthens the citizenship of individuals and allows them to think more in terms of community. To that end, deliberation is absolutely essential. It can be defined as a process of directed communication whereby people discuss their concerns in a reasonable, conscientious, and open manner, with the intent of arriving at a decision [20]. Deliberation occurs when people with dissimilar points of view exchange ideas with the intent of coming to an agreement. As futurists are well aware, the intended product of deliberation is a more coherent vision of the future [21].

Contrary to what is generally believed, true deliberation processes are rare, both in the civic sphere and in specifically political and institutional contexts. Moreover, Beth Simone Noveck describes deliberative democracy as timid, preferring the term collaborative democracy, which focuses more on results and decisions and is best promoted through technologies [22]. These processes do, however, constitute the basic methodology for more participative dynamics, such as the co-construction of public policies or collective policies, leading to contractualisation of players, additionality of financing and partnership implementation and evaluation. The distance between these simple, more or less formal consultation processes or these socio-economic discussion processes can be measured using Rhineland or Meuse models, which date back to the period just after the Second World War period and which, admittedly, are no longer adequate to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The United Nations was right when it added a Goal 17, “Partnerships for the Goals”, to the already explicit Goal 16, which is one of the sustainable development goals focussing specifically on the emergence of peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels. This Goal 17 calls for effective partnerships to be set up between governments, the private sector and civil society: these inclusive partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre, are needed at the global, regional, national and local level [23].

Open regions and territories

In his speech at the Open Government Partnership Forum, which was held in parallel with the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on 19 September 2017, President Emmanuel Macron stated that local authorities have an increasing role to play and are an absolutely essential part of Open Government [24]. In his election campaign, the future French president also highlighted the fact that public policies are more effective when they are constructed with the constituents for whom they are intended. And in what he called the République contractuelle [Contractual Republic], a Republic which places trust in local districts, key players and society, the former minister saw a new idea for democracy: « these are not passive citizens who delegate the governance of the nation to their political leaders. A healthy, modern democracy is a system composed of active citizens who play their part in transforming the country » [25].

In keeping with the work already carried out since the start of the parliamentary term in the Parliament of Wallonia, the Wallonia Regional Policy Declaration of 28 July 2017 embodies this change by calling for a democratic revival and an improvement in public governance founded on the four pillars of transparency, participation, responsibility and performance. Transparency concerns the comprehensibility of the rules and regulations, the operating methods, and the mechanisms, content and financing of the decisions. The aim of participation is the involvement of citizens and private actors, businesses and the non-profit sector by giving them the initiative as a matter of priority, with the State providing support and strategic direction. The text invokes a new citizenship of cooperation, public debate, active information and involvement. The responsibility thus promoted is mainly that of the representative – elected or appointed – and sees an increase in accountability. The relations between public authorities and associations need to be clarified. The text states that performance is defined by evaluating the impact of public action in economic, budgetary, employment, environmental and social matters. It establishes a desire for a drastic simplification of public institutions rightly regarded as too numerous and too costly [26].

As we can see, these options are interesting and they undoubtedly represent a step forward inspired by the idea of Open Government we have been calling for lately [27], even if they have not yet moved on to genuine collaborative governance, deliberation with all actors and citizens or co-construction of public policies beyond experiments with public panels.

Conclusion: a government of the citizens, by the citizens, for the citizens

Open Government is a matter of democracy, not technology. This model reconnects with Abraham Lincoln’s idea of government of the people, by the people, for the people, which ended his Gettysburg address of 19 November 1863 [28]. This powerful idea can be advantageous for all of the regions in Europe, for its States and for the European process as a whole. Here, as in the United States, the principle of Open Government must be adopted by all representatives and applied at all levels of governance[29]. Parliaments and regional councils, who have often already embarked on pioneering initiatives, must grasp it [30].

As Douglas Schuler stated, Open Government would make no sense if it was not accompanied by informed, conscious and engaged citizenship, if it did not mean governance fully distributed within the population, the end of government as the sole place of governance. So this observation refers back to the initial question: what skills and information do citizens need in order to understand the issues they must face? [31] We know the response of Thomas Jefferson, writing from Paris to the philosopher Richard Price in 1789: a sense of necessity, and a submission to it, is to me a new and consolatory proof that, whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights [32]. This question certainly requires a response linked to lifelong critical education, the importance of philosophy and history, and the teaching of citizenship, foresight and complexity we have discussed recently [33]. As Pierre Rosanvallon notes, it is a question of making society comprehensible for the public, of ensuring that they can have effective knowledge of the social world and the mechanisms that govern it, to enable individuals to have access to what the Collège de France Professor calls real citizenship: an understanding of the effective social relationships, redistribution mechanisms and problems encountered when creating a society of equals [34].

As we have repeatedly stated, Open Government and governance by the players require an open society [35], in other words, a common space, a community of citizens where everyone works together to consider and address shared issues for the common good. Moving from Open Government to an open State happens by extension and through the application of the principles mentioned, from the executive to the legislature and the judiciary, and to all the players upstream and downstream.

Where national governments have not yet launched their open governance strategy, they should start with the districts, cities and regions, which often have the benefit of flexibility and proximity with the players and citizens. Naturally, this requirement also implies that private organisations, too, should be more transparent and more open and become more involved.

Aligning these global ambitions, which have been adopted by the United Nations and passed on by the OECD, Europe and more than 70 nations around the world, with the expectations of our regional players appears to be within reach. It is up to us to complete this task with enthusiasm and determination, wherever we are in this society that dreams of a better world.


Philippe Destatte


[1] Barack OBAMA, Change we can believe in, Three Rivers Press, 2008. Translated into French under the title Le changement, Nous pouvons y croire, p. 180, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2009.

[2] Ibidem.

[3] Ibidem, p. 181sv.

[4] Concerning accountability, which he prefers to translate by rendering of accounts, see Pierre ROSANVALLON, Le bon gouvernement, p. 269sv, Paris, Seuil, 2015.

[5] Memo from President Obama on Transparency and Open Government, January 21, 2009. Reproduced in Daniel LATHROP & Laurel RUMA ed., Open Government, Transparency, and Participation in Practice, p. 389-390, Sebastopol, CA, O’Reilly, 2010.

[6] For the background in the United States, see: Patrice McDERMOTT, Building Open Government, in Government Information Quarterly, no. 27, 2010, p. 401-413.

[7] Joint declaration on open government,

[8] La Belgique n’est toujours pas membre du Partenariat pour un Gouvernement ouvert, in Le Vif-L’Express, 11 August 2017.

[9] Déclaration de Paris, 4e Sommet mondial du Partenariat pour un Gouvernement ouvert, Open Government Partnership, 7 December 2016.

[10] See Philip E. TETLOCK, Expert Political Judgment, How good is it? How can we know? Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 2005.

[11] Beth Simone NOVECK, Wiki Government: How technology can make government better, democracy stranger, and citizens more powerful, Brookings Institution Press, 2009. – The Single point of Failure, in Daniel LATHROP & Laurel RUMA ed., Open Government, Transparency, and Participation in Practice, p. 50, Sebastopol, CA, O’Reilly, 2010. For an empirical approach to Open Governance, see Albert J. MEIJER et al., La gouvernance ouverte: relier visibilité et moyens d’expression, in Revue internationale des Sciences administratives 2012/1 (Vol. 78), p. 13-32.

[12] Matt STOKES, Peter BAECK, Toby BAKER, What next for Digital Social Innovation?, Realizing the potential of people and technology to tackle social challenges, European Commission, DSI4EU, Nesta Report, May 2017.

[13] Freedom of access to information on the environment (1st report, Session 1996-97)

[14] Romain BADOUARD (lecturer at the Université Cergy-Pontoise), Open governement, open data: l’empowerment citoyen en question, in Clément MABI, Jean-Christophe PLANTIN and Laurence MONNOYER-SMITH dir., Ouvrir, partager, réutiliser, Regards critiques sur les données numériques, Paris, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 2017

[15] Albert J. MEIJER, Deirdre CURTIN & Maarten HILLEBRANDT, Open Government: Connecting vision and voice, in International Review of Administrative Sciences, 78, 10-29, p. 13.

[16] Douglas SCHULER, Online Deliberation and Civic Intelligence in D. LATHROP & L. RUMA ed., Open Government…, p. 92sv. – see also the interesting analysis by Emad A. ABU-SHANAB, Reingineering the open government concept: An empirical support for a proposed model, in Government Information Quarterly, no. 32, 2015, p. 453-463.

[17] A citizen-centred culture of governance that utilizes innovative and sustainable tools, policies and practices to promote government transparency, responsiveness and accountability to foster stakeholdersparticipation in support of democracy and inclusive growth. OECD, Open Government, The Global context and the way forward, p. 19, Paris, OECD Publishing, 2016.

[18] OECD, Panorama des administrations publiques, p. 198, Paris, OECD, 2017. – See also, p. 29 and 30 of the same work, some specific definitions developed in various countries.

[19] Steven A. ROSELL ea, Governing in an Information Society, p. 21, Montréal, 1992.

[20] Douglas SCHULER, Online Deliberation and Civic Intelligence... p. 93.

[21] Ibidem.

[22] B. S. NOVECK, op.cit., p. 62-63.

[23] Sustainable Development Goals, 17 Goals to transform our world.

[24] Speech by the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron at the Open Government Partnership event held in parallel with the 72nd United Nations General Assembly (19 September 2017) –

[25] Emmanuel MACRON, Révolution, p. 255-256 and 259, Paris, XO, 2016.

[26] Parliament of Wallonia, Session 2016-2017, Déclaration de politique régionale, « La Wallonie plus forte », 28 July 2017, DOC 880(2016-2017) – No. 1, p. 3-5.

[27] Olivier MOUTON, Une thérapie de choc pour la Wallonie, in Le Vif-L’Express, no. 44, 3 November 2017, p. 35.

[28] Carl MALAMUD, By the People, in D. LATHROP & L. RUMA ed., Open Government…, p. 41.

[29] Ibidem, p. 46.

[30] David BEETHAM, Parlement et démocratie au vingt-et-unième siècle, Guide des bonnes pratiques, Geneva, Parliamentary Union, 2006.

[31] Douglas SCHULER, Online Deliberation and Civic Intelligence... p. 93.

[32] Letter To Richard Price, Paris, January 8, 1789, in Thomas JEFFERSON, Writings, p. 935, New-York, The Library of America, 1984.

[33] Ph. DESTATTE, Apprendre au XXIème siècle, Citoyenneté, complexité et prospective, Liège, 22 September 2017.

[34] P. ROSANVALLON, Le bon gouvernement…, p. 246.

[35] Archon FUNG & David WEIL, Open Government and open society, in D. LATHROP & L. RUMA ed., Open Government…, p. 41.