Networking Distributed Public Expertise: Strategies for Citizen Sourcing Advice to Government is an interesting 38 page February 2011 paper by Bill Dutton from the Oxford Internet Institute, aimed at policy makers. The paper struck me as a thinking person's guide to crowd-sourcing, criticising the notion without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Dutton "challenges conventional notions of the wisdom of crowds, arguing that distributed intelligence must be well structured by technical platforms and management strategies", and analysing lessons learned from previous efforts in this field. The paper concludes with the following nine strategies for for fostering bottom up initiatives to harness distributed public expertise, with a paragraph of advice on each.
- Do not reinvent the technology.
- Focus on activities, not the tools.
- Start small, but capable of scaling up.
- Be open and flexible in finding and going to communities of experts.
- Do not concentrate on one approach to all problems.
- Cultivate the bottom-up development of multiple projects.
- Experience networking and collaborating – be a networked individual.
- Capture, reward, and publicize success.
The concluding summary is as follows.
Expertise is distributed geographically, institutionally and socially. It has become a cliché, but no less correct, that not every expert in any given field works for your government or any other single organization. In a multitude of cases across the public sector, expertise is often located closer to a local problem or across the globe - beyond the reach of government officials when, and where, advice is most needed. This paper explains how government can creatively harness the Internet to tap the wisdom of distributed public expertise, and points to a set of challenges, guidelines and strategies for realizing this potential for networking with citizens not only as constituents, but as advisors/experts.
There are many reasons that public officials will cite for not experimenting with innovations in distributed collaboration, but these concerns can be addressed and countered by a strong set of valid reasons for moving forward on initiatives. Success will be the best counter-argument. A wide-ranging set of small, but visible projects for tapping the wisdom of distributed civic intelligence could be an incremental step for radically transforming how governments connect with citizens as experts. To get these started, champions need to emerge that understand that their agency or department is supportive of their use of networking, and has a basic set of policies, procedures and guidelines that can be built upon and not reinvented by each initiative. Developing these policies and guidelines, and following nine general strategies, such as documenting existing success stories, provides a place to start in citizen sourcing advice to government.