Friday, December 04, 2009

Crowdsourcing Policy and Politics

@ruskin147 and @bryanglick draw my attention to a crowdsourcing experiment by @craigelder, Online Communities Editor at the Conservative Party, who has posted a leaked copy of a Government IT strategy onto a website called Make IT Better.

Rory Cellan-Jones posted a question on the Make-IT-Better website asking whether comments made there would feed directly into Conservative policy. Well obviously the Conservatives cannot commit in advance to using every comment, as some of them may be too idiotic even for the fringe parties. Craig Elder is too polite to spell this out, but in his reply to Rory he does acknowledges that the Conservatives will "pick out the best ideas that fit with our political narrative".

But "narrative" suggests not merely policy formulation but also political debate. In other words, they reserve the right to use any comments posted on their website as a stick to attack the present Government. However, it is good that the BBC is monitoring this crowdsourcing experiment, and I trust that Rory and his colleagues will catch any overly party-political use of this material.

Having said that, it is difficult to see anything much in the comments from which any political capital could be made. Most of the comments seem to be at a purely technocratic level - discussing the detailed opportunities and threats of particular technologies, and barely discussing the overall vision for public sector transformation. There are a few comments raising serious challenges, but these are posing questions for the Conservatives as much as for the present Government, and it is difficult to see how the crowdsourcing experiment in its current form will contribute to finding answers to these questions.

Having read some large chunks of the original Government IT report, together with many of the comments, I am minded to do a deeper analysis of the issues, but I may not be able or willing to cram the results of my analysis into a small comment box on a party website. However, I shall monitor the experiment and post any further comments here.

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