FWDThinking Episode 14: In conversation with Laure Lucchesi

Laure Lucchesi on government innovation and open data.

All opinions expressed in these episodes are personal and do not reflect the opinions of the organizations for which our guests work.


Hello !

And welcome to another episode of FWDThinking, this time in French.

Today, I’m delighted to have the chance to talk with Laure Lucchesi the director of Etalab the French Prime Minister’s mission for innovation and transformation of the administration.

She runs Etalab like a start-up it’s classified within France’s Digital Directorate where she leads radically innovative projects 


to put digital practices and tools at the heart of public administration and bring public services into the era of open and data-driven strategies.

So, give a warm Canadian welcome to Laure Lucchesi from France Bonjour Laure!

– Hello Alistair and hello to everyone watching.

– Did I make mistakes in the introduction or is it… ?

– No, it’s perfect – is that about right?

– We could clarify a little bit 


some of the missions but overall, that’s it At Etalab, we’re celebrating our tenth anniversary this year, so it was created in 2011 and the very beginning of the mission was “open data”, so opening and sharing public data that are produced by the State’s information systems and that can be disseminated to everyone, and little by little, we’ve expanded our missions to go towards “data-driven government”


so a data-driven government for transparency of efficiency

also to stimulate the creation of economic value and innovation it is also the sharing of data between administrations, to ensure that public services are more efficient and that user procedures are facilitated because administrations pass on data to each other instead of asking the user for it again, it is the “once only principal”

tell us once and it’s done 


there’s even, tell us zero times thanks to data analytics we can even anticipate the rights of the users and make it so that they are assigned more or less automatically, rights.

This is really another area for improving public service.

And then of course, the whole artificial intelligence, “data science” part

to better manage and make better decisions, this is really “data-driven transformation

of public service.


There is also the digital public service aspect: innovation, agile method, designing new services that are natively digital and all the questions that this poses, of course – It’s a whole range of responsibilities and it seems that it started

It’s a whole range of responsibilities and it seems to have started with data and what we’re seeing in many jurisdictions around the world is that it’s starting with a demand for transparency 


which gives us a collection of data from different departments, which forms the foundation, do you think it’s common that innovation starts with data collection?

– It’s quite common, I think innovation in the public sector is not only digital, there are lots of innovations that are more in the method, the business itself but in the digital field, there is very quickly, a data issue 


What’s interesting is that, as I was saying earlier, it’s really that.

We started out, the starting point was “transparency”, it was really saying “we take the data from the information system”

and we make them accessible to everyone in order to be able to pilot better, to shed light on the action of the State and to reinforce “accountability

it was mostly that and I like to say in France, to give you a bit of “localism”.


we have the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, which says:

“citizens have the right to demand an account from any public agent of his administration”, this is article 15 of the Declaration of Human Rights and therefore, a citizen can ask the administration to be “accountable”, to give an account of its action and thanks to the data today we really have the possibility to make a “shift”

thanks to the digital revolution and to say, the administration can proactively 


The starting point of the data is very important and it allows us to 1): have services done outside the administration 


that will extend what the State will do, these are start-ups that make other services or associations of companies, it’s really a way of amplifying I can give examples in the State’s databases we have data on the accessibility points

I can give examples in the State databases, we have data on the accessibility points, the places where you can go on the sidewalks, for people with disabilities, it’s really data that exists but today, we have, and this is done outside, 


people who are able to make itineraries for people with disabilities and it is not the State that made this itinerary calculator, but if there were not the initial data from the public information system, we would not have been able to make these innovations

Today, with the Covid data, we can see that there is a lot of data shared by the State and on which we provide services to make appointments 


for vaccination, to have alerts, etc.

this data availability is super important.

– It seems to me that we always talk about the boundary between public and private services and whether the government should free up bandwidth, for example, or build streets and by sharing the data, making it available in the way that you described it gives a gray boundary 


it gives more opportunities for CV theca organizations or citizens who have agendas that can deliver services alongside the government but as long as the service becomes something that people need at scale, do you see the government as having the role of innovator?

Are you saying this is an initiative that we’re going to accelerate or are you happy for civic groups to do it 


And you’re helping them?

What services are so critical that we need to bring them into government?

That’s a great question and we’re still looking at where to put the right cursor.

In France, there is already a legal framework which means that the state must not substitute itself, it must not intervene where there could be a market

There are things that it is not allowed to do 


but if it’s in certain areas or it’s covered by typical public service obligations of coverage of ability to go to all areas of universality and so on.

There, yes, it can become a public service, what we do, what we try to do as much as possible, is to create ways to stimulate the reuse of data 


by third parties, so the state does certain things makes the data available to us and if we see that it has a potential for development we try to facilitate the development of these private initiatives, putting them in contact with good administrations, giving them the means to thrive and develop and there’s a lot of Steve Tech and golf tech sectors in some cases, we can question and wonder if it should go back 


a really scoped and fully integrated initiative with utilities today.

I’m not aware of any initiatives that have gone completely public like that but it’s 

There are examples that are a little in the grey area, but in any case we are acting. We have always chosen to make data available and to stimulate, not to substitute 


to what the private sector can do So you said that you have already

for several years, the laws that say citizens can ask the government for data about themselves and this is a theme that we come back to often in conversations at FWD50 that no one should know more about you than you know 


i.e. if you already have laws in place for this, it should be easier to convince people that government needs to innovate because innovation, really, is about doing something different but governments tend to want to keep the processes and systems in place.

So how do you disrupt systems and culture that are a little bit resistant to change to innovate when that’s your role?


It’s a really big challenge There, we’re touching on a lot of themes.

Innovation in the public sector on the one hand, you really have to be the spur and create zones that we sometimes call demilitarized zone, it’s one of the autonomous zones where you have this space as a public agent to innovate, to take initiatives 


and also to disobey a little bit because in the administration and it’s also important, and it’s there for good reasons, there are a lot of norms, code of procedures, control and again it’s for good reasons it’s also a guarantee of stability

It’s also a guarantee of stability, of continuity, of absence of chaos, but you have to find the right zone, so what we have created as a method is to create in each department 


We created different programs, one called entrepreneurs d’intérêt général and another called bêta.gouv.fr, I could send you the links, which are dedicated to stimulating public innovation. So at the beginning, we did this transversally and then little by little, it started to become more bureaucratic and since we were getting bigger and bigger, we decided to create digital service incubators in each ministry 


areas where we can stimulate innovation and allow public servants to propose new things and not just wait for a boss to ask for something And how many departments do you have?

Today we have about twenty, between 15 and 20 ministries in France. So each one has its own innovation group?

Yes, there are five million public servants, which is a lot 


and so in each ministry there are now in almost all the ministries, there are still two or three missing, but we have incubators that are these zones, where there is a community of makers and people who will be able to benefit from the support of a network and a community

to share good practices and when they arrive, they already have tools and a whole onboarding system and they can really share experience 


When they arrive, they already have tools for onboarding and they can really share their experience and know what they can and cannot do. So it’s a lot of people who are not civil servants and who come from outside to work with the administrations, but it’s really a system that works well. And afterwards, once we have the beginnings of services, especially digital services, we have other types of programs that allow us to develop and scale up services that will have an impact 


that’s kind of the goal of fail fast

if there are things that don’t work because the service hasn’t found its public and doesn’t have the attraction, doesn’t create an impact or doesn’t have the right conditions to develop, we decide to stop and so we are quite radical in our methods But when you say “fail fast”, it’s something that public servants don’t like to hear That’s true So how do you…

I’m really a fan of the “Lean Startup” model [00:14:22,000]

And we have a lot of things in the religion of “Lean Startup”

like the “minimum viable product

or the different growth systems, virality, stickiness, etc.

But a lot of these models are not the same when you bring them into the public service world, i.e., if I’m the industry, I’m going to pursue an attractive market where we have a lot of needs in common, but it’s the mass market, 


but in utilities it’s the margins that need the attention of innovators so when do you apply or transform startup models in a utility?

And it’s true that we’ve given a lot of thought to these questions

because there are things that come from startups and agile that are really interesting and that are totally replicable in the public service, but there are others that are not at all, and the comparison stops there

and you can’t choose your customers in the public sector 


and we’re just going to address that market

because it’s more profitable and the others aren’t, we have public service obligations and equal treatment, but we still manage to apply a lot of the principles The “minimum viable product

be guided by impact indicators and not just a means indicator and if, in any case, for our support program if we define from the beginning 


with what we call investors, that is, administrations that will finance a service, and if we define performance indicators and regularly evaluate in committees the achievement of these objectives

and if it doesn’t work, we stop providing support, so there are projects that are abandoned afterwards, if other ministries want to do it anyway because it’s a political order or for other reasons, they can continue, but for us, the action of our teams stops 


we have adopted many of the principles of agility

So when you become an innovator, history realizes what is possible and there is always a balance to be found between the demand for innovation and the openness of the data and it is very difficult to deliver experiences that are simple and that all people can use 


Without crossing the issues of data, collection, privacy


How do you see the line between what citizens believe are private things that are theirs, that no one should share and the demand that applications become more anticipatory They can anticipate 


what you’re going to need because if I get to a website it says “Hello, Alistair, I see you’ve had a heart attack and you’re short of money in your bank account I’m a bit scared

of my government but it’s a system that predicts my needs, how do you find the balance between prediction which requires a lot of context on the citizens and governance and confidentiality?

So in France, we are quite advanced 


and we have addressed a lot of these issues:

from a legal point of view, we have a framework that is quite advanced

for example, we have the RGPD, which is already a very important step that sets a certain number of principles if we take, for example, the question of algorithms and prediction, the more it goes, the more we have decisions 


that uses data in the public sphere and in France, we have done some really interesting things:

In 2016, we made the law for a digital republic “digital republic bill. we already prepared the law with a large public consultation during several months we did a citizen consultation first with physical groups and then online, during several months we questioned the users, the citizens 


on the content of the law and the principles that should be included and they put elements and for example, there are things that appeared on the fact that if, we use an algorithm, in a public service it is necessary to be able to say what are the rules that apply in a general way and in addition for an individual case it is necessary to be able, on request to say exactly how the algorithm worked


And today, even in the evolutions that we are considering, for example, when I was talking about proactive administration that will assign rights and even in the principles of providing identity

in digital services, we already have to inform the user of all the data that are exchanged between administrations, so the administration must have the right to access this data 


but in addition it says, here to make this step we will go and look for such and such data elsewhere So we always have a transparency.

And it’s in front of the citizen when he makes the request?

Yes, when they fill out the request. And we’re even thinking about how to improve the user experience with very concrete design issues around these questions

Do you have rules in place for the designers or frameworks that they have to follow because if each department 


creates this from scratch the ones from scratch, it’s difficult but if they use, let’s say a [inaudible]

or a framework that already brings

the notification systems where the data comes from it’s easier Did you need to change the frameworks?

So we provide things in the services so we, that’s why we have a role where we work with all the departments and we do workshops to try that “by design”, 


the new services integrate these principles of open by default for the data for the source code, that it is explicable “by design”.

so we try as much as possible from the very conception of the algorithms to make sure that this is worked on

When we have good principles of ergonomics or use, we share them, we circulate them between departments and then there are services that are gateways 


for example, when you connect to a public service and you use the identity of another identity provider

It’s done automatically, so it’s once and for all we say “here you are going to do this and here is the data we are going to get to authenticate you with their providers”.

Then what I can say is that we often say, well, we take up Lawrence Lessig’s principle “The code is Law”

but we interpret it a little bit, it can go very far in the interpretation 


We often say that in fact, in the digital world, we should not wait for things to be in the law and then we code them, it’s the opposite that is happening more and more, that is to say, and this is what is very hard for political decision makers and even civil servants to understand, is that now a developer, when he codes a program, he makes law, that is to say, he really creates legal law because often in the law 


such as we have in France, not the “Common Law”, but the civic law, there is 


There are zones, it’s interpretation, there are the big rules and then we have interpretation 


so there is often a little 


jurisprudence to interpret but if you ask someone to do a program 


It’s 0 or 1 and he can’t…

He has to code something in the hard to make the program work we had the case, we did a report that I can share with you on the access to education program Parcours Sup and APB, it was the previous system It was the system to propose orientations in higher education to students and in fact we realized that 


when you code…

The people who had coded the program had created a right because they had to put a rule and that’s really important and I don’t think it’s sufficiently understood that with digital technology there are things that you have to

There are things that you have to do, there is no room for interpretation, you have to code the rules already That was my next question, if the policy makers are technological enough or comfortable with the digital model 


because it’s true when I say to my little girl when she was young, if I said “Go bathe and go to bed.”

She would go to bed, but wet because I didn’t tell her to dry herself after the bath and in fact, when we make laws if we didn’t describe with great precision the details of the law we forget things that force the developers to create the law at the time 


when they’re coding the software and in fact, that’s one way to find the exceptions but you need policy makers to code or understand the ideas of digital architecture.

Can they be taught?

How did you get them into the digital world We’re doing just that teaching job 


We try to do this pedagogical work as much as possible, but it’s true that we understand that for a director of higher education or of health or of finance who is in numbers, is really very far from these questions. We try to do seminars where we bring digital experts on these questions.

Typically, what I was saying, this principle, 


We wrote this on “Code is law.”

And the impact of coding program in higher education access systems is a minister who asked me

a special mission on open source and the implications of all that we still have some ministers and some political sponsors who are receptive to these issues and are helping us to share them.

But it’s still a lot of work.

In France, 


what’s interesting is that since one month we have a “Chief data officer”

a ministerial administrator of data, algorithms and source codes who has been appointed in each ministry.

and this is his roadmap, but he himself will have to make the directors in his ministry aware of these issues

and he will also be evaluated on the portage 


It will be in his job description and there are indicators on the pedagogy that will be done on these issues.

I have a question that is a bit strange and I want to say it in English because it is a story that I don’t think I can explain well in French:

It was at a conference with the European Union Minister for Data Protection and he said to me:


“Alistair, do you know why the French don’t send a picture anymore when you’ve done a traffic violation?”

And I said “what do you mean?”

He explained

“Before when you were caught speeding, you would take a picture with a camera and send it to the person’s house, today we don’t do that anymore”

I asked why “Because in a couple, you can let a lipstick stain or a perfume smell through, 


but you can’t overlook a picture of your spouse with the person he/she is having an affair with I said “Really?”, and he said “Yes, French law and French society live in gray areas and ambiguity of the law”

So I explained, I think you understand the question sorry my French is not perfect to express the precise feelings Is the data and software 


remove the gray margin?

How do you think it’s going to change business as long as the laws are accurate because the software forces the accuracy. We have more and more information on individuals with this data crossing.

Indeed, in France we like to remain ambiguous

we say “We only get out of ambiguity

only to its detriment”.


This means that if we are explicit and if we get out of the grey zone we end up losing, so it’s true that we like this zone and indeed the more we enter a zone where we become a date ourselves, it’s bound to go in that direction

but fortunately there is still, I think 


This is what I wanted to say earlier about the law for a digital republic, the collective consultation and “open government”

the participation, the inclusion of citizens in public decision making and in the way we have to build the future of public action, the more it is debated collectively, the more we will manage to define together the “safe cards”, the borders to be put in place so that we have something acceptable 


so the more we move towards a “data driven government”

the more important it is that we have a government that is innovative but also inclusive and concerted

a public action in which citizens feel represented and participate in this decision.

– That they really feel that it is a renegotiation of the contract between citizens and government in a digital world.

– Exactly 


– Okay a few questions and we only have a few minutes;

I love that line “You only get out of ambiguity to your detriment”.

I wrote it.

So I have three quick questions about open data:

One, open data seems to be part of a much larger package that includes, not just open data but the right to fix your computer to open source, open services, open interfaces, data contracts between two organizations, etc.


Do we need governments to embrace the full range of the entire set of improvements, of its digital approaches or can we achieve great things if we just adapt their “open source”

or open data and just a piece of it – I think transformation is important and there are lots of different facets 


but if we try to do everything at the same time we won’t get there for example, on the “open data” part

in the law of the digital republic we put “open by default” as a principle there too France is very advanced but today the administrations tell us “But you tell us to open you up, but if we start, what do we start with, don’t we have to start with one thing”

what I mean is that the best is the enemy of the good and it’s sure that by starting 


I mean, the best is the enemy of the good, and it’s certain that by starting [00:34:16,000] with certain aspects, we can already achieve a lot of things just by “open data”, by publishing data that have a big economic impact, it’s already a big source of improvement. We have examples of important improvements in service that have been brought about just by opening a few databases. 


we have to impose everything in the law and constrain or do we have to rely on where there are areas of voluntarism and those who want to do and we are rather on an approach in any case we have also stimulated the places where there were initiatives and facilities for Open source, we have in the law the principles that free software must be privileged

but it’s not always easy for a ministry and there’s no point in forcing it if there are no resources behind it.

What makes the interest of Open Source 


it’s also the community

the ability to contribute, to work on the commons and if a department doesn’t have that, it’s better that they take a proprietary solution.

So I think that we really need everyone to say OK the target is to do everything but let’s start already

But let’s start with the areas where we know we’re really going to invest and go all the way.

– So, let’s talk a little bit about that

data collection [inaudible] we did a census every few years 


to know all the people and where they are but a survey is easy to do you do a survey of 10,000 people you get an idea of what the market thinks

we get an idea of what the market thinks, the audience, the country, but the problem with polls is that we only get enough data to know what we have in common and a census shows us what we have different, the anomalies and we know that the means are misleading, that even statistics 


it shows us that the means are too simple to understand the margins the exceptions and it’s in the exceptions that are the interesting cases the problems for which laws are created What do you do with the anomalies and the exceptions when you try to make policy from the data?

for at least the differences between the census and the survey is to find what they have in common 


and how we’re different – These are really interesting questions I think that even so today data processing techniques already know how to identify pretty quickly where the bugs are the anomalies in the system so, the more you advance on data techniques 


and the more we know if there is a pattern

in the exceptions, do we manage to derive something that could be used

The more we know if there is a “pattern” in the exceptions, do we manage to derive something that could be used to make a policy that may not apply to the general case, but to a certain group of users and that’s what’s also interesting with the data, is that we can choose to make a generalist service or if we identify that there is a small group of users who need specific treatment, perhaps we can make a public policy for that group, 


the more data processing techniques we have, the more we are able to have a public action that is more targeted.

This is why it is interesting, of course, but once again, as we said earlier, as a public service, we cannot leave out any exceptions, we do not treat these cases

because we have an obligation of universal coverage.

– So the last question and thank you very much for all these answers it’s really interesting to hear.


I learned a lot today.

Last question What are the things that you don’t want to see become digital in the role of government and in the lives of citizens?

– Today, we have a huge challenge to improve the whole user experience of digital services we have made a lot of progress but there are still many places where

we still have progress to make in the user experience of digital services 


we have things that are aberrant or again I would say “once only principal”

a lot of things like that but there’s also a lot of people who are not at all eligible and able to deal with digital services that’s a huge topic actually there’s some very sharp things to be done with digital but you have to remember that there’s a lot of users who are…


This subject of digital inclusion is important and in France, for example, we have created mediators to help this public

We saw during the epidemic that some people were completely lost when they made an appointment to get vaccinated, so there is a lot of work to be done.

– It’s like ambassadors for people who are not used to digital technology?

– Exactly.

There’s mediation and they’re really deployed all over the territory so that’s a topic.


There’s also the topic of disparity

There is also the issue of the digital divide, because there are people who are very connected in the city and others who are more remote, and therefore, once again, the public service must always think of everyone, not only of a small audience of technophiles.

– Well, thank you very much.

It was fascinating, very interesting to understand.

I know you have a pretty full day so, thank you so much for sharing


a few minutes with us and we’ll see you at FWD50 this year.

For the summer in France, is it starting to open?

The summer, the pandemic, is it starting to open again?

– Yes, yes, it’s starting to reopen.

We have 25 million people who have been vaccinated and the terraces are gradually coming out of the lockdown

and above all the sun is shining and until a few days ago 


it was still cold so that is it, we are very happy – Finally! So, have a good summer!

And we’ll see you soon and thank you very much.

– Thank you very much!

How does government innovate? For this episode of FWDThinking, I sat down with Laure Lucchesi, director of France’s Etalab. In her role as Chief Data Officer, she focuses on disruptive projects that harness data, AI, and open source to improve the public service.

Etalab’s model brings technology entrepreneurs into government for 10-month engagements where they work alongside public servants, with a significant impact on how ministers view tech. But France also has some unique differences, from legal system to tech adoption, that make Laure’s experiences unique.

In this interview, we talk about how open data is a “gateway drug” to innovation; the challenges of bureaucracy; whether Lean Startup approaches work in government, how to overcome the natural resistance of government to novel changes, and what things shouldn’t be digital.

Find out more about beta.gouv.fr