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Is politics set to be crowdsourced in 2014?

12.24.2013
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The web seems awash with blogs either looking back at 2013 or gazing into the looking glass to predict what 2014 might have in store.  Whether this is valuable content or cheap filler I’ll leave up to you, but one such blog that did catch my eye was NESTA’s blog predicting 14 developments that will rock 2014.

The 14 predictions are interesting in their own right, and I recommend you check them out, but one stuck out for me, and that was what they called the crowdsourced politician.

This year we’ll see the rise of the crowdsourced independent parliamentary candidate, says Brenton Caffin

…In response, existing political institutions have sought to improve feedback between the governing and the governed through the tentative embrace of crowdsourcing methods, ranging from digital engagement strategies, open government challenges, to the recent stalled attempt to embrace open primaries by the Conservative Party (Iceland has been braver by designing its constitution by wiki). Though for many, these efforts are both too little and too late. The sense of frustration that no political party is listening to the real needs of people is probably part of the reason Russell Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman garnered nine million views in its first month on YouTube.

However a glimpse of an alternative approach may have arrived courtesy of the 2013 Australian Federal Election.

Tired of being taken for granted by the local MP, locals in the traditionally safe conservative seat of Indi embarked on a structured process of community ‘kitchen table’ conversations to articulate an independent account of the region’s needs. The community group, Voice for Indi, later nominated its chair, Cath McGowan, as an independent candidate. It crowdfunded their campaign finances and built a formidable army of volunteers through a sophisticated social media operation….

How likely is this?  Well, the participatory budgeting and democracy movement has been ongoing for a wee while now, and it’s hard to dispute that democracies are increasingly inviting people into what was previously a largely byzantine process.

Can democracy be crowdsourced though?  I suppose it depends how you look at the question.  If you’re looking at it in the pull sense whereby citizens get a bespoke service that they want, then that’s hard to reconcile with the current ways of paying for such public services.  It can work in a market system, but I’m not sure it can in a state driven one.

Perhaps a more likely path is one highlighted by IBM in their report looking at potential applications of crowdsourcing in government this summer.

The report from IBM provides a strategic view of crowdsourcing and identifies four specific types for use in government:

  • Type 1:  Knowledge Discovery and Management. Collecting knowledge reported by an on-line community, such as the reporting of earth tremors or potholes to a central source.
  • Type 2:  Distributed Human Intelligence Tasking. Distributing “micro-tasks” that require human intelligence to solve, such as transcribing handwritten historical documents into electronic files.
  • Type 3:  Broadcast Search. Broadcasting a problem-solving challenge widely on the internet and providing an award for solution, such as NASA’s prize for an algorithm to predict solar flares
  • Type 4:  Peer-Vetted Creative Production. Creating peer-vetted solutions, where an on-line community both proposes possible solutions and is empowered to collectively choose among the solutions.

You can check out the full report below.  The IBM suggestions chime with a post I made last week looking at the kind of tasks that can be crowdsourced.  The basic jist was that for crowdsourcing or open innovation to succeed, they need to be applied on tasks for which only one member of the group need find the solution for the whole group to benefit.

The alternative is a conjunctive task whereby all members of the group have an important contribution to make.  Such tasks generally require a lot of co-ordination and collaboration, which often renders it unsuitable for crowdsourcing.



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