A day or two ago I wrote about social networking and the Development 2.0 challenge. Actually, I had something bigger on my mind, but I needed to try a small bite first. The positive responses suggest that there's a hunger out there for something bigger. Well, maybe this could fly with enough help...
Whenever a new administration comes to Washington, a cottage industry springs up to produce briefing documents, sometimes called white papers, to advise the government on priorities. In the environment field alone there are literally dozens of organizations producing recommendations, ranging from two page briefing notes to 300 page encyclopedias. This presents two kinds of problems: on the administration side, there is a formidable challenge in absorbing all of the (mostly) well intentioned advice. To the public the process is largely opaque, and it is difficult to know how to get access to what is being recommended and how to contribute.
In the early part of his first term, Bill Clinton created a President's Council on Sustainable Development to harness and channel the ideas of the public through a panel of experts. Is it possible to use social networking tools to create a new approach that doesn't rely upon experts to filter the information, but mobilizes society at large (or at least the technologically empowered parts of society) to refine recommendations on priorities for the new Obama administration?
Building upon the principles of good governance, would it be possible to create a process, using social networking tools, that will help to aggregate and organize the policy recommendations being offered, and provide a simple tool for both the transition team and the public at large to review and contribute to the recommendations? Several steps would be required:
A system would need to be designed to manage and use the data entered. It will need to be scalable, because the sheer volume of data would mean that without being able to collapse it, organize it, and search it, it would become unwieldy. After a tool is created, the recommendations must be "scraped" from the briefing documents and entered into a database. A governance system will need to be created to set and enforce standards of objectivity and fairness. Topic managers will need to be recruited to review submissions and otherwise apply standards, and to identify gaps and ensure thoroughness in capturing recommendations, and to combine duplicate entries. A process will be needed to manage inappropriate content.
Properly done, this would produce an easy to use, searchable archive of recommendations and a public forum about those recommendations permitting commentary, tagging, ranking or rating, and linking. This will promote greater access to information, greater opportunities for participation through use of social networking tools, greater public empowerment, and a more efficient process for the transition team. After the transition has been accomplished, the recommendations should migrate to a public policy wiki where the issue can be treated more expansively.
I would like to propose using recommendations on environmental issues as a pilot to provide a proof of concept that can be scaled to address the full range of recommendations to the new administration.
Assumptions made in this concept include:
that it can be done relatively inexpensively using volunteers and primary sources
that off-the-shelf open-source technology is available and can be deployed
that the design of a beta version can be accomplished in time for a launch during the inauguration
that greater transparency and public participation is desirable
that efficiencies can be achieved through this process that benefit the transition process