Government - Written by Thomas Gegenhuber on Friday, May 21, 2010 8:58 - 7 Comments
Successful approaches to open government
The market for tools that are used for Open Government Initiatives is still nascent. But the Open Government Initiative of the White House reinforces the trend towards more openness in the World. Microsoft’s release of “Town Hall” is also an indicator that the field of Open Government is growing significantly. I had a look at recent Open Government Initiatives of the White House, Microsoft’s “TownHall,” and the City of Manor’s Manorlabs.
There are four lessons which one can draw from looking at these early initiatives: First, using Facebook applications (and other public platforms) to harness the ideas of the crowd is more user-friendly than having to log in on a proprietary site. Second, communities and tools that increase the “glory” of participants by attaining badges or reputations points lead to a higher intrinsic motivation of participants. Third, limited voting might ensure that voting is scarce resource and that people think more carefully about using it. Fourth, the size does not matter. Like in the case of Freiburg’s participatory budget model, a small town like Manor can also serve as a role model for open government initiatives.
Tools the U.S. Government uses
What applications make the Open Government policy possible? Apps.gov, a homepage hosted by the General Services Administration (GSA), is the online source for the departments to look for appropriate cloud computing applications. Program developers have to negotiate with the GSA to get an entry in this online database. Here is a short overview of some tools used in the Open Government Initiative:
- IdeaScale: The U.S. Government used this platform to generate ideas for the Open Government Plans. IdeaScale facilitates discussions, people can vote and comment on ideas.
- UserVoice: The Department of Housing and Urban Development uses UserVoice to share ideas and discuss those ideas for the department’s strategic plan 2010-2015. In this case, the discussion is separated into different themes. In contrary to IdeaScale, the number of votes is limited.
- VenCorps: The VenCorps platform enables collaborative competitions. The Department of Education uses VenCorps
for innovation.ed.gov. The advantage of VenCorps is that it already has a big community that uses the platform. Within VenCorps, users can attain a higher reputation by frequent contribution to the community.
Microsoft steps in
A new tool for governments and politicians is the release of Microsoft’s “TownHall. It is not listed on apps.gov (yet). Like most collaborative platforms, “TownHall” makes it possible to build online communities for policies and campaigns. Citizens can vote and discuss the issues via a Facebook application. This makes participation more user friendly because citizens do not have to log in to another platform.
Role Model City of Manor?
City of Manor is a town with the population of 6.500 people. One might not suspect, that this small town could serve as a role model for open government, but it does—in fact the U.S. Government has been looking to Manor for guidance on leading practices. The City of Manor uses QR-Codes (Quick Response) on buildings. These Codes can be read by mobile phone and leads the citizens to information about the place. So the citizen can get the information they need wherever they are, whenever they want. This feature also adds an additional context to physical places. One can get info about service hours or the history of a point of interest.
The City of Manor also started the Project “Manor Labs“. Manor Labs is the “official research and development division of the City of Manor”. This project recognizes that citizens are also innovators. Citizens can share their ideas and comment on other ideas. The process of idea generation is designed like a computer game. Citizens can earn virtual money for good ideas. There is also a “hall of fame” for the best participants of the platform. Why is this a promising approach? Thomas Malone identifies in his article “Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome of Collective Intelligence” (PDF) three incentives why people participate in crowdsourcing platforms: Love, Money, Glory. The Model of Manor Labs seems to trigger at least Glory (“Hall of Fame”) and Love (“It´s like a game”). To put it differently: Manor Labs simply makes participating fun. Seems like a good start for this ambitious project.
Editor’s Note: Thomas is a summer intern working at nGenera. He is researching crowdsourcing models in government and is also working on several projects with Sean Wise of VenCorps. As part of his studies, Thomas is focused on wisdom of the crowds approaches, design, organizational behavior and entrepreneurship. He is on exchange at Ryerson University and is currently enrolled full-time for business and economics at the Johannes Kepler Universität Linz in Austria.
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