Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful by Beth Simone Noveck

In the private sector the concept of crowd sourcing has revolutionized the way the industry think and the concept of open innovation has been widely accepted. The book introduces this concept to the area of government and how they can embrace this to improve their decision making. Democracy has to change as technology evolves but government is not seen as embracing the latest technology to improve their performance. The government believes that a selected group of people (mostly political position) have all the knowledge needed to create all the policies. The author has the goal to show how a collaborative democracy can be implemented and disrupt the way the government operates.

Carefully explain the development of the project Peer-to Patent, Noveck shows the benefits of collaboration in patent approval. With this she provides a foundation on how much a government process can improve if it lets a group of motivated citizens participate. The book constantly shows how the Peer-to-Patent project disrupted a government office and how similar collaboration tools can do the same in different aspect of government. The book shows a lot of different examples on how crowdsourcing has been applied to the government (both federal and local) and the positive outcome that it has had.

Throughout the book we can appreciate the inputs that a community has and the importance of it for a collaborative effort in the government. Even though the author understands the importance of the community it doesn’t carefully explain how the community was built. If briefly mention how when the Peer-to-Patent started they had some problem getting new users because of the broad scope of patents to be revised, it still doesn’t give much reference on how they fix it or how others can work around this. The book is not focus on how to build community, but it would have been nice to see this concept better explained.

The book point to a new future of government and shows how good a government can be if it collaborates more within itself as well as with other actors of society.

Next is a brief summary and thought of each chapter of the book

Part 1: Collaborative Democracy and the Changing Nature of Expertise

Ch1: Peer-to-Patent: A Modest Proposal

With dissatisfaction on the current patent system, the author thought on a collaborative way to enhance the system. Currently the system relies on patent officers that have limited amount of time to decide if an application is patentable or not. The resources and the capacity the officer has is limited, by providing an infrastructure where the officer can receive inputs from others that are expert on the field, patents can be more fairly treated and the system as a hole can be more effective.

From this simple idea of introducing citizen’s participation to the patent office, the author created a pilot system that proved to be more effective. This chapter serves as an introduction on how the idea was developed and the simple mechanism to implement. The purpose of this chapter is to serve as an introduction and briefly explain how government can be more effective is citizens are more involved in the decision making. The chapter argues that government is not capable alone to fulfill all needs, but with the help of collaboration this can be solved. The author makes references on how business are using what is known as open innovation or crowdsourcing to enhance their business and get new ideas for it. The author argues that the government should take a similar approach to enhance the governance.

Ch2: The Single Point of Failure

Collaborative democracy is the future and involves the collaboration of both government officials and citizens. The government has lacked the inclusion of new technologies to its operation. This causes decision making to be bad. With new tools people can be connected even if they are not physically near. These new tools allow for more divers people to join and bring solutions to problems. By having diversity a problem can be tackled from many different views.

The current way that government works is by making decision on their own. Normally those who make the decision do not have all the information needed to make the right one. This cause a point of failure that is too big for countries. The new tools that allow collaboration are being used in almost all aspects outside of government. The software industry has utilized this collaboration concept and has been able to produce great products and/or services. If the government is able to utilize these tools the output can be significantly better by making decision making a collaborative aspect of democracy.

 Part 2: Peer-to-Patent and the Patent Challenge

Ch3: Patent and the Information Deficit

The current patent system is full of flaws, this has allows many low quality patent to be accepted. The main problem of the system is the lack of quality research the patent offices can do to find prior art for submitted patents. The officers are pushed to approve or denied a patent in a limited amount of time, they also have to conduct research in a significantly high number of databases. On the other hand they are not allowed to use commercial search engines to find prior art because of fear that information can be leaked this way. Having limited resources and high pressure, patent officers are accepting patents that are not novel and obvious.

To carefully explain the problem of the patent system, the author briefly explains the history of it and how it has changed through it. One of the biggest issues is how those who create the patents make great effort to confuse the patent officer by using complex language, doubling the amount of information and claims. Other problems have been the scope of patent, now more than 400 areas can be patented and each has other sub-areas.

The amount of low quality patents has created a troll patent problem, and it has incentive not the development of innovation through patent but the litigation through patent. This system has failed it initial purpose and the author goes through it history to explain why.

Ch4: Designing for Collaborative Democracy

Collaboration means the creation of a community that will contribute to each other. Communities are created by a relation to each other and culture is form that will sustain the outcome of the community. For Peer-to-Patent to succeed a strong community must be built around it. Without this community no one will provide the patent officer with prior art.

The chapter focuses on the importance of the community and how to build it. It covers basic concepts as motivation and how to rank users. It also briefly discusses how they initially got new users to contribute. One of the problems they had (at the beginning) was the big scope of the patent being covered (from databases to wind farms). An important topic covered in this chapter is how a comity was form to further develop Peer-to-Patent from a pilot to a full project.

Part 3: Thinking in Wiki

Ch5: Social Life of Information

Collaboration and sharing of information can be accomplished in many different aspects of the government. Access to information can help in cases of disaster, provide public awareness, etc. This chapter focuses on the different ways that information can be share within government and with citizens.

The chapter argues on not only opening information but on also making then more useful, accessible and searchable. The sharing of data can enhance the operation of other branches of the government and involve citizens to provide solution to problems that the government might not even see. This chapter is full of examples on how collaboration between different government agencies and citizens has improve not only the performance of the operation at hand but also the service provided to citizens.

Ch6: History of Citizen Participation

Citizens participation can be traced back to the times of the Greeks, but the change of landscape has also change the way of participation. The author explains the brief history on how citizens have been able to participate through in the US as time has passed. She argues that all the mechanisms have fails even if they try to imitate some that have been successful in industry or academia. They basically failed because they where not taken seriously as a mechanism to bring different opinions to decision making. The Internet hasn’t been that helpful to improve citizen participation because it hasn’t been properly used, so that it can unleash all its potential.

The tools that the internet provides are only being used as an electronic substitute of old paper based tools, such as comment. By creating a system where citizens can communicate with each other as well as with the officer in charge, participation can be more meaningful and provide better decision making. The chapter strongly indicates that a problem with citizen participation is the wrong view from policymakers on what and how can citizens contribute.

Ch7: Citizen Participation in a Collaborative Democracy

The chapter explains different possibility of collaboration with the government. It start by pointing that there is no one solution to all problems of collaboration with the government and what can work in one area might not in another. It is important to understand what type of collaboration is needed and how is best achieved. Using different systems for crowdsourcing can be more effective than just having a generic one. Utilizing the modern tools of collaboration can provide benefits depending on the task at hands. The author introduces the utilization of wikis for policy crafting and civil jury for assuring the performance of certain officials when creating policies.

The chapter also covers the engagement of citizens; it explains different communication opportunities that these new technologies provide to establish a two-way communication between elective officer and citizens. It is important to establish this two-way communication so that more transparency and accountability come to the government.

The final part of the chapter covers the leadership inside of the government to bring these changes. Noveck argues that having strong leadership is important to have a collaborative democracy. The private industry has focus on creating senior positions to introduce technology to enhance their business; the same most apply to the government. Without senior support on these technological changes, the government can’t apply these new technologies for achieving collaboration.

Ch8: Lessons Learned

Serving as a conclusion, this final chapter re-explores concepts covered throughout the book. It explains the principals and action to create a true collaborative democracy within the government and between the government, the private sector, the academia and the citizens.

It starts by reminding the importance of having the right questions, since the response gotten from collaboration will depend on the quality of the question. Also how to attract and motivate a community will be crucial for the survivor of the community that will sustain the collaboration. Communities are more motivated when the work is designed for groups instead of individual, so creating tasks and roles are important. They will also be incentive to contribute if a reputation system is at work.

Important aspect of this chapter is that design of the system to bring collaboration has to be according to the work that wants to be performed. This concept is covered carefully in the previous chapter but re-examine in this one. The author argues that the design not only involves the technology, the policy or people but the involvement of all those elements. This means that when designing the proper way to collaborate the designer have to talk with the lawyers, the technologies, the officers and the citizens that will interact.

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