Viewed 1815 times | Published on 2021-07-10 23:00:00
This article is again about the Leitmotiv of these times, #NextGenerationEU, but as a continuation of the "Intermezzo" on systemic thinking and systemic perception that released on 2021-07-01.
Specifically, what is "systemic", in Italy, within the context of EU?
A geopolitical perspective that remembers to think in circles of proximity, as in that old saying: I and my friend against our neighbour, I and my neighbour against our enemy.
The key element, in reality, is continuity of scope alignment in communication (do not worry, a whole section will be just focused on explaining these last six words).
I will start with a practical case, then will switch, in the following section, to the theory.
In this article, four short sections:
_rethinking systemic boundaries: the gigafactories case
_continuity of scope alignment in communication
_strategic view on systemic boundaries
_fly past that belltower mindset
_building a case, one step at a time
Rethinking systemic boundaries: the gigafactories case
I will skip translating my commentary on complaints in Turin when something that locals assumed to be "a no brainer", a preset favorable choice, a.k.a. the old "manifest destiny".
Pity that it was not perceived as such by those making a choice. And this is not the first time over the last 12 months.
You can read a facebook post that I published two days ago in Italian: translating it would require plenty of contextual information, and would add 2,000 words to this post.
The key issue can be represented by this set of concentric circles, a "systemic" perspective that routinely witnessed since both #NextGenerationEU and its Italian side-effect, Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza (#PNRR henceforth) started being discussed, but actually saw in local politics since I re-registered in Italy in 2012, and started to live and work locally.
I should amend that "routinely witnessed": if you follow a href="https://facebook.com/robertolofaro">my facebook profile, you saw that once in a while I refer to "cognitive dissonance".
In this case: as discussed in the previous article, it might well be true that "your systemic is not my systemic".
If you are at the local level (say- Turin or Piedmont), "systemic" implies what is within your own "boundaries of election", and probable prioritization is done accordingly.
What is unusual, is when you try to project on others that belong to another "circle" your own prioritization, as if it were necessarily to be their prioritization.
Not the best way to obtain a convergence of interests- notably when trying to attract investments.
Considering Italy as the "national" level, there could have been a "push" (e.g. moral suasion via funding) or at least a "nudge" (e.g. adding something around the territory to generate an incentive to choose it) for something else, but the interested parties actually had to play at regional level (say, "Mediterranean"), as it would make both political and business sense.
Which, at the "national" level, implies that more than one "local" level entities have to join forces to complement each other: as discussed later in this article, something that would still be unusual in Italy.
Also the EU as a whole might suffer the same distortion of perspective, whenever considers "EU = Europe" or, even worse, echoing somebody else decades ago at an official hearing in the USA, "what is good for the EU is good for the World".
Now, imagine if you were having a dialogue with somebody living on one of the circles, while living on another circle.
Would be akin to the old XIX century book Flatland, talking about a third dimension to somebody who is used to live in just two dimensions (no, I am not making a reference to "one-dimensional man").
The latest source of local complaint is that, in their "positioning spree" (akin to a shopping spree, but focused on being a "focal point" in whatever is trendy), locals assumed that it would be a no brainer to attract locally a new gigafactory for batteries from the automotive industry.
Well, after the usual complaining ritual, it seems that local authorities tried to regain some composure, but then... relaunched the next "we are the best location for X".
If you have a look at statements and maps, the previous two "gigafactories" have been set in France (as the HQ are in France) and Germany (it makes sense, considering the investiments between DACH and Scandinavia on e-mobility).
This third factory eventually was discussed either for Italy or Spain- and in Turin everybody and their dog (the cat has some other ideas, being independent as usual) assumed it would naturally land in Turin.
It was instead chosen Termoli- where there is a large plant since decades, and is in Southern Italy (where a large chunk of the PNRR will have to be invested).
Moreover, it is on the Adriatic Sea, roughly midway between Venice and Apulia, i.e. just on the other side of Serbia (other plant), and closer to Turkey (where part of the supply chain for Italian automotive and related resides).
Yes, we, as a country, promised to extend the quota assigned to Southern Italy, but the issue is having real investments that could act as "facilitators" for further investments, and avoid what happened since WWII: creating new white elephants.
All this while, at the same time, trying to spend fast and traceable: in Italy, spending on project 200bln EUR in basically five years is going to be no small feat.
In this case, could be a productive investment that generates a whole supply chain and infrastructural development- as, currently, the plant is producing something else that will have to phase out over a never-large-enough number of years.
Continuity of scope alignment in communication
My move two notches up within those concentric circles?
Setting a "gigafactory" for batteries on the Adriatic Sea is useful not just for Southern Italy (to further develop infrastructure and the district), but also on a larger view, as covers in reality the Mediterranean area.
As Stellantis, within that announce, said that there will be 5 gigafactories, would not be surprised if, as the Southern Mediterranean shore stabilizes, a fourth were to be in Spain, and a fifth in Poland (where there are already other factories), to cover Eastern Europe.
Automotive has a clear and present/foreseeable need for batteries, and eventually fuel cells and whatever other energy medium will be devised.
Anyway, other mobility-related industries (and also infrastructure) will eventually need to be integrated, e.g. think at battery exchanges for delivery drones akin to the Ancient Rome "post horses", to ensure a quick turnaround.
Think the volumes that automotive is able to generate as an "enabling factor", in eventually not only lowering unit costs, but also sustaining a supply chain that, if it were only for few drones (or even few small planes) would be active too infrequently to justify its own running costs.
In the future, we could e.g. have, once Amazon will start deploy its "pre-emptive sales" model, automated trucks picking up from centralized warehouses and deploy peripherally into those automated "lockers" that also in Italy are becoming common, having then either people or drones able to replicate, on a faster and smaller scale, what ro-ro did for shipping: you order and, for really FMCGs, you could receive what you ordered in the time needed to drink a coffee.
It is something I wrote about years ago while talking about the potential of "3D printing at the Edge" and "robotic telepresence", e.g. to monitor and pre-emptively maintain huge chemical plans, or even the thousands of kms of pipelines.
And also for security: think about all the critical national infrastructure.
As, frankly, I think that, once the transition will be on firm footing, instead of "how long it takes to charge batteries", we will also, at least for professional (or rental) uses consider "how long it takes to swap batteries"- charging would then be only to have the same batteries available for the next "swap".
With the associated standardization, quality checking, status identification, etc: a whole new industry able to generate not just one, but a set of revenue streams, across the whole product lifecycle (from e.g. mining raw materials, to disposal and disassembly of the final product after the end of its operational life).
And this, in turn, could evolve the current Amazon lockers scattered around into "mini-drone airports and charging points", further extending the Amazon AWS model.
Meaning: done for internal uses, evolved into a quite large revenue stream, as having Amazon as "customer" enabled the same scalability and continuity that a new service would not have enabled.
So, by developing factories for batteries, and creating charge points, automotive is not just thinking about a continuation, but also toward a restructuring of revenue streams when the current "ownership-based" revenue model will have to be restricted to few segments.
Anyway, a battery and its content (and its loading and its use) in this case could be used also as a way to represent economic resources (and not just for Bitcoin miners and others, those that few years used the "free recharge" of electric cars as a way to "mine" coins by using a car always parked and always charging, but used to provide juice for computers).
A further rethinking could be useful.
The key concept to underline? At least in Europe (but also in any industrialized country), we are investing or about to invest to convert a potential crisis and stop-and-go from a "recovery" to a "jump ahead".
Ahead of USA and China, of course.
Because our more advanced welfare state is both an asset (a social safety net for consensus also in critical choices), but also a liability.
Why? Because he incumbents can put pressure to recover the "status quo ante COVID19", not transition, as there will be a "safety net" for those expelled from the labour market, and therefore less incentive to reposition- making easier to build up a coalition against any form of transition, using as "human shield" those covered by the safety net, to justify in reality sustaining activities that, with the transition, would lose economic viability.
Think, for example, at the evolution of smart cities while increasing remote working I wrote about at the peak of the crisis, one year ago, and the impacts on shops, public transport, and even ordinary activities such as cafeterias and canteens providing lunch for employees that will cease to shuttle daily to and from an office.
Everybody knows about the issues associated e.g. to the USA lack of universal health coverage, but few consider how also China is trying to develop a replacement to its traditional multi-generation, family-based and family-funded "welfare".
And, in both cases, considering the future of work (less working hours for most people), most countries, to keep social stability, will needed to develop new, more advanced, and flexible forms of welfare and taxation.
But this, also if I were to use just some fictional case study, would end up as it happened with my previous book #QuPlan, on planning, where the "supporting fictional case study" eventually was over 200 pages long (you can read it for free at the previous link- was about a fictional 6-months compliance programme).
By now, I think that you should have a good idea of what does the title of this section means, but let's summarize it:
_continuity: not stability (a "static" quality), but a dynamic concept
_scope: is about the "boundaries", as in the circles in the picture above
_alignment: the aim is neither standardization nor harmonization, but shared intent
_in communication: remember that old saying about neighbors.
The idea is really simple: do not make the mistake of defining a horse by committee, as everybody else will still call it a camel.
Instead, by nature you need to consider that the starting point and motivation of each contributing party might be different- as both a starting point and a target destination.
What matters, as e.g. I discussed in the previous article about different perspectives on the #RRF Recovery and Resilience Facility, is to continuously keep the alignment, both internally (the committee designing a camel and calling it a horse), and externally (those interacting with the committee).
If you fail on either side (e.g. if the internal alignment is just a truce, or what is presented outside is just pretense)...
...it will not be sustainable.
Strategic view on systemic boundaries
This article is within the series on Society: EU-Italy-Turin.
Yes, I had my first customer on cultural and organizational change in 1990.
As other cases thereafter, it was actually about "profiling" founders in a small company and identifying potential "convergence" initiatives.
From training to cover gaps but giving both "soft" and "hard" skills (to be able to interact at the Cxx level), to looking for individual paths and potential issues.
As I wrote in the past, I had chances to profile routinely people first by being in environments where I had to interact with unknown people as well as people that, while representing other interests, I needed to interact and collaborate with routinely, as part of my political role.
Then, in the Army, was my first experience of interviewing people from completely different social backgrounds (and regional source) each month.
When I wrote above about the usual ritual of complaining, trust me: as "furiere" (both scheduling services and presenting requests for leave of absence etc, as well as other activities), I did not have just monthly checks with a new batch of people.
I had almost each day somebody complaining in order to extract something, and quite often the logic was the same I routinely heard here since 2012.
Serial complainer sometimes were quite creative, and the best were able to set up a different melodrama that was almost convincing, and not just for those who did not know them.
It was tactics (obtaining something now) presented as having strategical value (ranging from trying to play the high moral ground, to trying to sell some positive consequences for everybody).
I know- skipping a boring assignment does not seem to be a good playing ground to sell the future: but trust me, some people would try to sell ice to eskimos, and claiming that they are creating a new world.
The interesting part was that those serial complainers, in their manipulative obsession, had a "corollary gift": zilch memory, so they could tweak reality this way or that each day, and generate in listeners the doubt that the listeners were those having "false memories"
Unfortunately, I had been a seller to consumers, and buying also from other sellers, plus had observed politics for various reasons from the inside since I was a kid.
Therefore could spot tactical, self-serving short-termism, no matter how well dressed up it was- I could enjoy the "show" without having to pay its price, and managing also to... keep a straight face when somebody went a little bit into overacting.
While in the first section talked about an example that could represent more than it seems, and in the second talked about communication continuity, having a strategic view on systemic boundaries implies also considering what differentiates each "circle" in that picture above.
Many "designers of societies" forget that e.g. at each level the timeframe of decision making, its impacts, degrees of freedom, and weak points are different.
You can "harmonize" different groups toward that "continuity of communication" and "alignment", but you have also to consider the level at which they operate (and think).
Another example from Italy: we had a former Mayor turn into the President of the Council of Minister (in newspapers shortened as "Prime Minister", also if his powers are not the same of prime ministers in other countries), who presented himself and suggest a reform to have a "Mayor of Italy".
Few governments down the road, we had as a successor a lawyer used to deal with companies who presented himself as "lawyer of the Italians".
Incidentally: both from Florence, and both with a career that looks as a vertical ascension lasting two decades.
And, in the end, both in reality delivered what they had promised: what they were used to.
By definition, #NextGenerationEU and associated measures, including the national plans such as the Italian #PNRR, require identifying how distant each party is from that common ground, not just in material but also in cultural and conceptual terms.
There is still another issue, that will discuss referring again to Italy, but actually applicable also at the EU level.
Fly past that belltower mindset
If you search on YouTube, you can find videos presenting the boundaries of EU countries across history since at least the Roman Empire.
Ditto for Italy, a country that not only was unified in the XIX century, but did so after more than 1,000 years of various come-and-go, a kind of "invasion alley".
And, as the country was partitioned in statelets, routinely they allied with this or that foreign power- and we had also our past forms of "arms race": in the shape of... belltowers
Nowadays, we still have those who build a "Mausoleum" (or, better, aim for others to fund and build it) to remember their own role- but it is more personal than collective.
In the past, it was common enough: in Italy we still retain some definitions of our tribal-at-the-town-or-village-level, e.g. the concept of "campanilismo" (roughly: thinking first and foremost about your own home place, represented by a belltower).
If you can spot that "campanilismo" attitude (or any other form of "tribal" attitude), then you should be moving beyond that, if you want to benefit from what our data-centric times offer.
Not to become "data automatons", but to obtain more flexibility courtesy of data technology.
Strategic thinking about the boundaries, to find a new common ground, requires to begin with the basics in any change initiative: understanding where you really are.
It would have unfortunate consequences to assume that, just because in Brussels there was a consensus at the peak of the crisis, such a consensus is cast in stone and, even more, is "operational".
How many statements have been released that focused on promoting shared ideas, shared principles, shared purposes, and even shared means, since the 1950s?
Look just at the state of completion of the "four freedoms": routinely, Member States focus on finance and goods, while still adding what in other domains are called "non-tariff barriers", i.e bureaucratic hurdles.
Personally, I witnessed this not just in other EU Member States, but also upon re-registration in Italy in 2012, and when switching location.
Still "EU citizenship" is easier said than done.
The EU 27 is composed by countries with different histories, and some have a democracy that goes back in time, while others are still unsteady in their acceptance of democracy.
Including the basic conceept that you can win elections, but if you redesign laws and the State only thinking at your own interest, then you can expect the next winner at the elections to do the same.
The ongoing EU and funding initiatives are not just focused on delivering funding, but on sharing principles and a common... strategic view of the boundaries.
I think that we are past looking at the documents presented by each country as their own proposal for the national plan for recovery and resilience.
I prefer to look at the collective, political, EU-wide choices represented within the assessments, and, as I wrote elsewhere, will do a comparison at a later stage.
As I wrote elsewhere, a proper comparison of the various assessments will be at a later stage.
But, right now, we need something else.
Building a case, one step at a time
The first step should be what was announced but is still to be delivered: transparency.
Transparency implies sharing what was provided with the national plans- everything, not just publishing a bit here and a bit there.
And transparency implies, while making that information available, ensuring also that it is accessible, comparable, explainable.
And transparency is not just an "ex-post", but also "ex-ante", as I remember being explained in the early 1990s by my then girlfriend in Germany (Stadplannerin) while comparing e.g. with The Netherlands.
Actually, also in other fields (my business number crunching activities), except when the purpose was to "identify" creative accounting and similar distortions (what somebody called "financial shenanigans"), turning the criteria identification into an "open discussion" exercise, at least as a consultative effort, produced better results than what is customary in Europe.
Or: a bunch of wisemen (with few women here and there) thinking about reality for everybody else, and deciding what should be monitored.
It is true that "comparable" risks being turned into an exercise in building detailed criteria that are applicable everywhere- building centrally- and obtaining criteria that satisfy everybody and highlight nothing (the "camel" by committee).
There is still time before the first "checkpoint on expenditure", to monitor progress report for further release beyond the general 13% advance (except for Germany, that will receive a smaller share of its quota).
Transparency, in this case, would imply an open discussion, based on the assessments (that are the first real point of "harmonization"), to identify also if there is a further layer of indicators, maybe specific for each country, that would contribute to shared, higher order (i.e. aggregated) indicators.
Otherwise, we will have national indicators contributing to those "harmonized" EU-wide indicators (e.g. the 6 pillars), but only those national indicators communicated by each national State bureaucracy (that you can find also within each one of the assessments, look at the links here).
Somebody could say that "open data" and "transparency" imply sharing the data, but I think that "transparency" implies also deciding jointly which data, how to collect and share the data, and which further information (the indicators) should be shared, when, how.
Let's be frank: we are living an experiment, and I am not referring just to raising debt collectively.
I think that would be irritual, but useful, to involve some ad hoc committees from both the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions, in this phase at least in a consultative role.
Being an EU 27 experiment, it could also highlight other elements of that "continuity of scope alignment in communication", elements that require differential initiatives in some Member States if we want to add transparency (and participative trust, not just blindly following trends) as a fifth freedom.
For example, in Italy I think that, since the first announces of NextGenerationEU and PNRR, also recently, we have still few lessons to learn and implement about real transparency.
It will be a while before we can afford another initiative with the same size, pervasiveness, and impacts (both direct and indirect), including on redesigning the rules.
EU 27 is getting older- but, actually, is still probably the most affluent aggregation of countries.
Beside economic affluence, EU 27 is also endowed with a relatively high human capital availability.
If the future will see more automation and less working hours, "extracting value" will be a function of how well all those resources will converge- which means... motivation.
And motivation implies that those providing generating the data will have to see a reason that they, for various reasons, converge on.
NextGenerationEU therefore could be also an opportunity to alter the form of participation of citizens not just to policy definition, but also to policy implementation.
Implementing that data-centric side (the famous open data, but made meaningful) through a fifth freedom: transparency delivered not as a principle, but as a participative tool.