Digital Transformation

Beth Noveck: Demand a more open source Government

In the feature video Beth Noveck describes how she pioneered Open Government practices at the White House, to transform the 19th century centralized bureaucracies of Government to 21st century networked ‘intelligent crowds’.

This defines how the public sector can implement and build communities that harness the power of ‘Collective Intelligence‘.

MIT published a paper ‘Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome of Collective Intelligence‘ (20-page PDF) that distills the key mechanics of this science, and NESTA recently published a paper that applies the science to government – Governing with Collective Intelligence.

Social Digital Government

In 2009 Beth described this effect as ‘Wiki Government‘, referring to how the massive knowledge base of Wikipedia was achieved via this approach and how it might be applied to public sector scenarios.

Since then the Internet exploded even further through the proliferation of social media and smartphones, extending the capability to more people and making the tools even more powerful.

The CitizenLab provides a simple introduction through 5 Ways Crowdsourcing Serves Our Governments, and Harvard introduces the overall effect through defining Digital Government is the new social network, describing how pioneers like New York and Chicago are calling upon the tech sector to “help them build a platform more akin to Facebook than 311 as we know it.”

In an age of mass enablement of citizens through smart phones and social media and the vast data ecosystems they create via sites like Facebook, Twitter et al, there is near unlimited potential to harness them to publish communications, interact with citizens and also tap these massive pools of real-time information for new insights.

In Building the Social Town Hall, they chart an evolving maturity that advances from simple outbound announcements, through an interactive service interface to an ultimate conclusion of ‘Social Democracy’. In #CityHall on Social Media they expand on this critical point that social media is primarily about enabling two-way conversations. Moreover the platform can be directed towards specific government needs, such as policing, through harnessing the public as an active resource.

In Vancouver, following the riot by hockey fans thousands of civilian “journalists” submitted videos, photographs, and tips to the VPD over the next months, providing an unprecedented amount of evidence on the incident. The police in Huntingdon Beach employed ‘social listening’ techniques to analyze social media to identify likely hot spots for crime. NYC utilized it for public health purposes, analyzing Yelp reviews to pin point sources of food poisoning.

Digital Democracy

These scenarios demonstrate the first steps on a path towards wholesale reinvention of government, an entirely Digital Democracy. Citizens will play a much more direct role in the decision making and implementation of public services. Potent use cases include participatory budgeting.

In 2014, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo launched Madame Mayor, I have an idea, a participatory budgeting exercise which will allocate €500 million to projects proposed by citizens between 2014 and 2020, and claims to be the largest exercise of its kind in the world.

New tools have emerged to enable this collective government, in particular open source software such as Loomio, used by the FairShares Association, a grouping of social enterprises, to propose, debate and make decisions about a range of issues, and the German Pirate Party uses LiquidFeedback for internal party decisions and elections.

Digital Transformation

Governments don’t need to reinvent democracy today to harness these powerful dynamics for their more immediate needs, they can be applied for very practical benefit to their core business process needs, especially for complex, high volume scenarios that require expertise not easily available in government.

An insightful example is the Peer to Patent portal, which applies the effect to the USPTO’s patent application process, a workflow that requires important decisions on a huge variety of scientific and technical topics, that must reference a history of equally academic prior decisions. It illustrates how Open Government is not just about more open reporting for people to passively look at, it’s actually about re-engineering the process itself, to deliver considerable efficiency improvements and critically, enable more open public participation.

Pioneered by Beth Noveck the project is documented via a detailed case study in this 40 page Harvard white paper. Beth describes how the agency was building up a huge backlog of patent applications due to a ‘closed’ approach where only staff from the USPTO could review, contribute and decide upon applications.

Not only did this cause a bottleneck due to the number of resources being utilized but also in terms of the volume and quality of subject matter expertise being applied. With no involvement from outside contributors, such as experts from the scientific community, then awards were being granted for applications based on very limited and often inaccurate knowledge.

Peer to Patent transformed this to a ‘crowd’ model, opening up the workflow to a distributed community of experts from across many different organisations, and apply collective efforts to greatly increase both quality and speed.

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