Thursday, July 15, 2010
Does crowdsourcing government reform innovations work? Obama tried it in his first year on office with mixed results. The new Coalition Government in Britain launched a pair of crowdsourcing sites. Are they doing any better?
Shortly after President Obama took office, he reached out to the public for ideas on issues his new administration should address. He sponsored an “Open for Questions” forum and encouraged people to submit questions, and rank and vote on which should be top priorities. More than 100,000 questions were submitted, but participants didn’t always respond to the suggested topic areas, such as home ownership, health care reform, education, veterans, etc. Instead, they added their own and ranked it among the top issues: legalizing marijuana. In other “open government” efforts
With a more sedate audience of federal employees, the White House created another crowdsourcing opportunity called the SAVE Award. Last year, OMB invited federal employees to suggest ways of saving money. They could submit their ideas. More than 38,000 ideas were submitted and ultimately OMB selected one, and the suggestor was honored by being allowed to personally present it to President Obama. The winner, Veterans Affairs staffer Nancy Fitchner, suggested allowing the VA’s hospital patients to take their unused medications with them when they are released from the hospital, rather than having them discarded. A neat idea, but it won’t solve the deficit!
That contest is being repeated this year, and employees will also be permitted to vote on others’ ideas. 
In the meanwhile, British prime minister David Cameron’s Coalition Government committed to cutting spending by 25 percent over the next 5 years. He formed a commission of experts to report on specifics by October, but he also turned to the public for its ideas on where to cut. 
To do this, Cameron launched a pair of crowdsourcing websites. The first, “Your Freedom” asks citizens to identify (and vote on) which laws or regulations should be eliminated.  So far, top topics include “leaving the European Union,” “repealing the ban on smoking in public,” and . . . of course, “decriminalizing cannabis.”
The second site, “Spending Challenge,” asked citizens for ideas on how to “rethink government to deliver more for less.” So far, top topics include cutting benefits to immigrants, re-nationalizing the railroads, and, “leaving the European Union.”
While the British crowdsourcing effort is still ongoing, it looks like it may produce similar results as the U.S. efforts.  So, does crowdsourcing policy-related issues really make sense, or will its open nature result in marginal results, or small ideas?  Is there a better way of engaging citizens that may be more effective?