Crowdsourcing + Government. A bright future?

Social media tools and open innovation platforms are contributing to the possibility of an open government in the near future, but is the technology enough? As two trends are emerging, it is apparent that the tools are only half of what’s needed for success.

Open data and letting people access it/build applications for it how they see fit

Giving people government data and letting them manipulate it as they see fit. People are interested in what time the bus is going to come. They are interested in figuring out a better way to get the potholes on their street fixed. Having the data on hand, plus the ability to quickly build an app to solve a pain point is a beautiful thing.

The key to these issues are that they are all binary – there is either a pothole, or there is not. There is no subjective scale. Bringing together the public and government works really well here, because it is sifting through massive amounts of data quickly. There are two approaches to this – asking the crowd to manage a high volume of the simplest tasks possible (comparable to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk), or asking experts within the crowd to filter, refine or explain items that are too complex to be easily understood (think of how Innocentive works).

Feedback/voting from the general public

The “tell us what you want” model of feedback and voting brings out the passionate, but doesn’t do much to engage the average citizen. An open platform for this does nothing more than provide another channel for lobbyists to amplify their voices. Everyone’s voice is not equal.

For change to happen, we need to look further than the technology that crowdsourcing engines provide and seek out different ways of engaging the unengaged. The ideal of government as an open platform is possibly too far fetched, the premise too idealistic. How does one force democracy on those who aren’t interested in voicing their opinions? I think a possible strategy is to employ the tools of an open platform alongside the know-how of an advertising agency to tap into the consciousness of the average citizen. Government as brand engagement? Oh yes.