Overload and Open Government

The people at Personal Democracy Forum had a nifty thing going during the summer conference, inviting a succession of participants to ask a question to the next (and to them unknown) person would have to respond to. This person would then in turn get a chance to ask a question, and so on, a merry go-around-slash-chain letter kind of conversation.

I happened to be called upon after Beth Noveck had asked her question about how government can turn into “open government”, leveraging useful feedback loops and crowdsourcing and the like. The video is here.

Let’s just say I’m neither as smart or as clear as Beth Noveck, shall we?, and then get on to why I continue to think overload is a real danger when institutions-governmental or other-adopt new technologies and organizational forms oriented towards information-gathering and analysis.

No-one is opposed to the idea of “useful” feedback loops and crowdsourcing, but I continue to believe that both the hype and the technology often continue to run ahead of the people who are supposed to use it.

With feedback loops,think, “what are we going to do with all this data”, i.e. think of the problems the intelligence services have had with the mismatch between their massive technological surveillance programs and relative dearth of human intelligence in the run-up to 9-11.

With crowdsourcing, think, “who exactly is the crowd, again?”, i.e. the fact that many organizations think that if they build it, people will come, and turn out to be wrong. Many supposedly interactive and collaborative platforms do not incorporate a solid consideration of who the users might be and why they would take part (think data.gov, which has yet to become all that it was supposed to become).

I hope I’m just a curmudgeon, and that Beth Noveck is right to be an optimist. She is certainly in a position to practice her optimism, and I look forward to seeing the results.

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One response to “Overload and Open Government

  1. Very interesting video exchange: I have a comment to make about “feedback loops.” If interested, click on my name to be directed to my blog entry.

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