Citizen engagement platforms grew in 2010. There will be more such platforms coming from top, through open government, and from the bottom, as civic developers create, host and use their own communities. The opportunity for citizens to participate in the co-creation of the most high profile open government platforms for citizen consultation, ExpertNet, will close on January 23rd, when the White House’s Request for Information will end.
The White House has been taking public feedback on designing democracy with this citizen consultation platform for weeks. In a number of respects, the discussion on ExpertNet.wikispaces.com has resembled an unconference, where the participants themselves drive the process.
So what’s interesting here? “It is the idea that the public will be (directly) shaping policy that is intriguing, and is a critical component to bridging the gap, both the economic gap as well as the digital gap, as the average citizen is the real stakeholder, and before now has had no forum for influencing change so directly,” said Megan Eskey, OpenGov Lead at the NASA Ames Research Center.
Or put it another way, as Anil Dash did earlier today: how should a White House Quora work?
The White House is looking to build a web community to get its questions answered, sort of their own Quora, and they’re trying to do it the right way. They’re asking those who would participate to help shape how the community itself works. They’re not trying to create a network from scratch, but instead trying to connect to networks that already exist. And they’re not just making a community for the hell of it — they’re trying to build one with purpose.
But they’ve asked for our help, from those of us who build, and know, and love web communities. We’re being asked to share our expertise in what does, and doesn’t work on successful web communities. Our deadline for participating is on Monday. Giving them insights into our hard-earned lessons will only take 15 minutes of your time this weekend, and will keep us from having to wonder, “Why wasn’t I consulted?“
Many lively discussion threads have emerged, including suggestion for moderation, voting, ownership of intellectual property and more, including:
- Background, Principles, References, Requirements
- Use in Congress
- Open Source?
- Identifying Relevant Expertise
- Suggest a Name – can you improve on ExpertNet?
- Social Networking Features
“It’s not so much the idea of a wiki or whatever platform ExpertNet rolls out, but rather the format they are looking at of matching experts with those seeking to solve immense problems,” said Eskey. “Whether it is a wiki or a social site or some other crowdsourcing tool like delib’s dialogue app, that feedback loop is critical, especially if the digital divide is to be bridged via new bills that are introduced into Congress, although at this time the project is envisioned for executive agencies and departments only,” she said. Eskey noted that any ideas for using ExpertNet within the legislative branch should be directed to elected representative(s) in Congress.
For those interested in the future of open government and citizen consultation, there’s no time like the present to weigh in. Tim Bonnemann of Intellitics has also posed six questions for ExpertNet for further consideration.
Based on the original draft the goal of ExpertNet is simply to enable government officials to reach out to citizen experts to get verifiable, fact-based input. It seems a bit of a stretch to assume that participants will be “shaping policy” or “influencing change” in any way. Maybe that will happen, maybe not.
Also, even though the term “stakeholder” has been brought up in the discussions a few times there is nothing in the briefing materials that would indicate that they are looking at this as some kind of stakeholder engagement. Not every citizen expert will be a stakeholder, and not every stakeholder will have the kind of expertise or knowledge ExpertNet is trying to surface.
I think the way to build a Whitehouse Quora is to mine and preserve these things: National Dialogue (gone now), IdeaScale (most seem inactive now), and ExpertNet (before it goes away) like I have done at http://semanticommunity.info/Expertise_Location. With no funding and broad objectives, this seems to be the only realistic solution to enable decision makers to get the information they need to support very specific decisions.
Awesome. I saw this blog on “America Speaks” and didn’t understand it at first: http://americaspeaks.org/blog/more-storytelling-and-other-ideas-for-expertnet-2/
Now I think I do. We need to hear from the average American, and from those on either end of economic gap: the richest and the poorest Americans. How they live, how they cope, what challenges they face.
We’ve spent the first couple of years building community and building infrastructure, but now we need to start to listen to what is really needed from the bottom up so that we can implement intelligently from the top down.
I think the biggest problem facing American government today is that members of the public feel they aren’t being heard — a sense of disenfranchisement, if you will. Many of them turn to groups like the Tea Party (which doesn’t really have much of a coherent agenda, but has the mass to make big protests on a variety of causes) as a form of voting out the problems without doing a thorough investigation of just what they’re voting in.
I wouldn’t have learned about the existence of this group without a blurb in a company newsletter, and even now it’s too late for my voice to be heard. I wonder how many others like me are out there. So how do you reach a lot of voters when you’re after their input?
Here is a great blog on Citizen Lawmaking in general: What’s New and What’s Ahead..a nice mention of ExpertNet too: http://www.slaw.ca/2011/02/04/citizen-lawmaking-and-technology-whats-new-and-whats-ahead/
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