Friday, November 20, 2009

Public Participation in Policy - PPP

For this year's Web 2.0 Summit, Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle produced a white paper defining 'Web Squared' - their next evolutionary step beyond Web 2.0. It's about the opportunities for harnessing our collective intelligence. Data in context, in real-time. It's about seeing the web as a conduit for making real things happen in the real world, in ways that couldn't possibly occur without it.

This is the first example of web squared from the above white paper:
'The election of Barack Obama has demonstrated how the Internet can be used to transform politics. Now, his administration is committed to exploring how it might be used to transform the actual practice of governing.
The US Federal government has made a major commitment to transparency and open data. now hosts more than 100,000 data feeds from US government sources, and the White House blog is considering a commitment to the 8 Open Data Principles articulated by a group of open data activists in late 2007. There’s a celebration of the successes that many are now calling "Government 2.0." We’d love to hear about Government 2.0 success stories from around the world.
But in his advice on the direction of the Government 2.0 Summit Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra has urged us not to focus on the successes of Web 2.0 in government, but rather on the unsolved problems. How can the technology community help with such problems as tracking the progress of the economic stimulus package in creating new jobs? How can it speed our progress towards energy independence and a reduction in CO2 emissions? How can it help us remake our education system to produce a more competitive workforce? How can it help us reduce the ballooning costs of healthcare?'

There are a number of points to take from this -
  1. The provision of data in context, with semantic meaning, is the main achievement to date e.g. . This delivers transparency on what's already happened, and to a lesser degree on what's happening.
  2. We are now looking at how we can go further than simple data provision, to solve problems - to act on this information. Not only transparency, but application.
  3. We are looking at application in terms of achieving actual policy outcomes.
  4. If you read between the lines - we need to create the means to crowdsource involvement in the  policy process - discussion, definition, implementation, communication, review and measurement. Transparency not only on what's happening, but on how and why things happen.
Provision of government data and services is really just the tip of an iceberg - the real value will come when we can provide the capacity for transparency of, and participation in the entire policy process. The complexity of the policy process is immense - it makes sense to start with data and services, but the vision for Gov 2.0 will inevitably be PPP. There is no doubt that Tim O'Reilly is heading in the right direction when he talks about government as a platform.

It is no surprise that we currently use a representational system to manage our democracy - fine grained public participation in the policy process is a deeply complex vision.  It is a whole new paradigm for our democracy - the ultimate crowdsourcing endeavour, and one that is only now becoming feasible as we enter the world of 'Web Squared'.