State 4.0 : which “savoirs” we need to design and govern the future?

This article has been written by Daniela Piana, Professor at the Università of Bologna, International Fellow at the IEA of Paris and at the ENS — Paris Saclay (Parigi, 30 Novembre 2017)

Very often, under the pressure of an intimate anxiety we raise the question: “which institutions we may need for the future?”. And yet, in times of paradigmatic shift, we may want to prefer asking a different — even if not unrelated — question: which skills and competences do we need to design the institutions of the future? Which are the types (the plural is compulsory in this context) of knowledge, methods, and languages that we need to figure out the scenarios where the future institutions will be embedded?

This question is of particularly high significance when we observe the fate of the State.

As a matter of fact if any invention represents a durable and permanent feature of modernity, this is the State. Despite its differential implementation, which mirrors the different cultural and historical settings where the State, as a type of power organization, has been embedded, the State proved to be resistant to exogenous as well as to endogenous pressures of change. Adaptability and resilience are in a way marks that qualify the State not only as we all conceive it in our lives, but also as we promote it in the regions of the world that have not experienced the western process of institutional transformation. This is not to say that the State is per se a valuable innovation. It is just to tell that it is an innovation that under the test of history proved to be durable.

Among the many mechanisms that have been put in place to ensure this durability, the set of rules — both formal and informal — that define the methods of knowledge transfer knowledge building and knowledge sharing as well as the model of professionalism that are featured by public administrations unquestionably played a crucial (if not foundational) role. This knowledge is qualified as universal and general. Each case is treated as an item classified under shared schemata which combine abstract features to general conditions and provides general principles to act and decide upon specific cases. Legal competences have been the standard against which the quality of the individual professionalism was assessed and the guarantee of the homogeneity of languages and methods across generations, territories, and sectors, altogether comprised within the scope of the State.

Today this portrait of the State does not fit any more into the experience that each citizen or each company makes in the daily life. And yet the programs, the trajectories, and the validation principles that govern the world of “public leaders’ training” have not been completely transformed accordingly. Hence, a mismatch jeopardizes the attempts public institutions are putting in place to make the best out of the current challenges and the future opportunities that the State is facing. New skills and new mindsets are urgently needed. New programs and teaching methods, new visions of knowledge building and sharing are urgently asked for. Which are those?

At least two types of competences are gaining increasingly the attention of global opinion makers and disruptive innovators: the capacity to handle a range of languages and methods stemming from the combination of disciplines; the capacity to mobilize into a collective process of value sharing and vision design multiple professional experiences and individual motivations. This is more than adjusting different scholars coming from different training trajectories into the same hall or around the same table to run a “so called” or a pretended to be “interdisciplinary discussion”. This goes as far as creating interdisciplinary objects, which makes justice to the complexity of reality, upon which different eyes cast their lights and investigate together the nature of the matter they are debating. The same holds about leadership. This is not to say that we need a charismatic personality distributing incentives upon expected merits. This is to recognize that within each public institution, each service, individual experiences are imbued of the “old heart of history”, which demands to be called to beat again into a collective project, where the human dimension is conjugated with the semantic categories of responsibility, dialogue, and lifelong learning.

No doubt: it is a great challenge. But in the State 4.0 the call is for people that want to conjugate individual accountability to collective engagement in the long term. Delegating all this to the “e- prefix” that we juxtapose to the old concept of government, administration, etc, in order to open the box of the State, ensure direct and universal access to the knowledge that is embedded into the public organizations and ipso facto realize conditions of common knowledge and collective action, is a great illusion whose luxury we can’t afford any longer.