Social media to improve public decision-making? Yes and no (and yes)

Posted: October 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: crowdsourcing, Open Government | No Comments »

In his estimable blog, Tim Bonnemann asks “Can Social Media Be Utilized to Involve the Public in Making Better Decisions?”

My first four, increasingly accurate approximations to the right answer:
1. Yes.

2. No, if the underlying question is “Can I get the ‘public participation’ checkbox checked off by turning on a Twitter account?” (Not Tim’s underlying question, of course, but some people will read it this way.)

There is a lot of approach/avoidance ambivalence about social media: people see that one can set up an account or a fan page in an afternoon, but they also glimpse, more dimly, that a lot of work is required to make that useful. (Excel will help you estimate a project budget, but it won’t make the process fun or easy.)

3. No, if the real question is “Can I use social media for public involvement and still stay comfortably in control?” See Obama asking for questions via Google Moderator, only to be forced to discuss marijuana legalization . See Digg and the DVD encryption hack issue.

(Of course, social media processes can be shaped.)

4. Yes, once you understand that social media technology is a small part of the overall effort and you’ve rethought how much or little control you need over the whole process.

Bonus points for recognizing that the technology of social media is only the fourth most important concern, after you’ve identified the specific Public you want to involve, your Objectives in involving them, and your Strategy for doing so.

Describe now, define later – a better way to understand Life 2.0

Posted: September 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Civic engagement, crowdsourcing, Open Government | 1 Comment »

When I venture into new arenas – social media, crowdsourcing, online engagement –  I’m fed by discussions with people who are doing this work. But, too often, the conversation gets bogged down by arguments about definitions.

For instance, in a chat about crowdsourcing recently, someone offered online commenting on government regulations as an example, then someone else – it might have been me – almost derailed the conversation by asking whether commenting really counted as “crowdsourcing”.

The problem: the person who’s just run a rule-making process that received thousands of comments knows what she did, how participants responded, what seemed to work, what fell short. But she – and all the rest of us – are clueless about whether this really is crowdsourcing.

In general: when we’re describing an experience or process we’ve experienced, we know what we’re talking about. But when we debate whether this experience is an example of crowdsourcing, we don’t.

Bold claim on my part, I know. And, one day, we’ll be able to agree, quickly, on whether my friend’s process was crowdsourcing, or collective intelligence, or prediction markets, crowd-storming, or peer production or something else entirely.

Why? We’ll, collectively, have more experience, and we’ll have come to (some) agreement on who the authorities are, and there’ll be some benefit to the definitions.

But today we’re still groping, learning what’s been done, identifying new combinations that haven’t yet been tried but look promising.

In effect, we’re crowdsourcing the definition of  “crowdsourcing”

(And if you’re thinking that this advice applies to discussion about “social media”, “Gov2.0″, and “online engagement” as well, you’ve got my point exactly.)