The politics of crowdsourcing in government


Last week the New South Wales government announced that it will use crowdsourcing to seek solutions, first to traffic problems and then more broadly to government policy challenges.

Channel 7 News did a piece on the story, including an excerpt with an interview with me about the initiative. You can watch the clip by clicking on the image below.


In my interview I discussed some of the many ways that crowdsourcing is helping to provide traffic solutions, ranging from aggregated data approaches such as that used by the US Department of Transport, through to individual reporting in Fix My Street or New York’s Vision Zero map which allows people to report traffic danger spots.

Interestingly, in the TV segment they interviewed both government and opposition politicians, with the government officials saying they were looking to the best people to provide solutions – the citizens – while the opposition declared it a complete failure of the government in being unable to do their job.

I understand that opposition parties often see their central role as criticizing anything the government does, but this does seem more than a little deluded.

Maintaining a strong delineating boundary between government and citizens is, among many other problems, highly inefficient. It is far more effective to allow people to contribute ideas and insights than to leave that responsibility solely with elected officials, who as a broad generalization do not tend to be highly imaginative.

The real issue, unaddressed in the media coverage of this announcement, is in the effective filtering of ideas to flow through to effective decisions. Getting many ideas is not at all useful if you are deluged and cannot discern the good idea from the bad.

As I am quoted as saying in the segment, it is more likely to be a single idea that creates value, rather than the aggregation of many ideas. Yet that filtering process can be very hard work. This is the precise reason that the next phase of crowdsourcing is in building more effective mechanisms to distill value from crowds.

Introducing crowdsourcing to government can be highly political. However it is in how crowdsourcing is implemented that value resides, or not.