extending the peertopatent model to other fields of government

I often use PeerToPatent as examples of crowdsourcing in government, a project which makes public decision-making at the same time more transparent, more fast and more intelligent.
PeerToPatent applies crowdsourcing to patent review. Anyone can examine the patent application, submit relevant prior art and rank the prior art submitted by others.
The rationale is that the patent system is broken: too many requests, too technical and specific knowledge required make the review process almost useless as 95% of applications are approved, and then really assessed only in judiciary litigations. Companies are in favour of the peertopatent approach, although it means that they have to make public their patent applications at an early stage. But it is a price which can be asked as part of the patenting process.

Here comes the analogy. There are 2 other government areas which are broken in a similar way, and could benefit from a dramatic opening up of the process:
– the procurement process is broken. Government is not skilled enough to properly evaluate complex products it procures. Dialogue with providers is strictly regulated. Proposals are secret. Assessment is conducted behind the scenes. The result is that choices are made first of all in order to avoid litigations, by following the procedure 200%. Awards go to the proposals which are better written with respect to norms and procedures, not to the best products.
– the research funding process is broken. Governments are not skilled enough to evaluate scientific proposals. They rely on so-called experts which are identified with closed procedures. Proposals are secret and assessment is conducted behind the scenes. The result is that the award go to the proposal that are better written, rather than to the most advanced and important research projects.

I propose to open up these two processes by piloting the peertopatent approach on a limited set of pilot projects.
Bids for procurement and research proposals should be published publicly and commentable by anyone, even competitors. Arguments for evaluating the proposals could be voted by all participants, and the most voted arguments should go to the government agency in charge of the decision.

Then of course, the decision should be taken by government. Yes, the proposals are often confidential, but one could well think to apply the principle: if you want public money, then you should put your proposals in public.

I think this is necessary and important. Most of all, the system is broken and needs radical innovation. Opening up the process could dramatically increase the quality of procurement and of research. At least in the same way that it is working for PeerToPatent, which is not yet mainstream but a very interesting and successful pilot. I would start from the research funding as it is less rigidly regulated and more similar to the patent review process.

Any government interested to experiment on this?


extending the peertopatent model to other fields of government

11 thoughts on “extending the peertopatent model to other fields of government

  1. While I agree that the current procurement process is severely broken (and slow) I find it somewaht difficult to imagine an web based voting system that isn’t open to abuse by competitors (“let’s use that botnet we rented from the hackers”).

    Maybe the solution could be to do it gradually. Today, the procurement specification (the tender documents) suffer from the process and become overly detailed at a too early stage, especially when it comes to software development procurement.

    Could crowds be used in the design process to create the requirements instead? This could lead to specifications that at least would create services that citizens want.

  2. Thanks Peter as you give me a change to clarify. I don’t mean to say that crowds should vote on the best proposal. I propose the PeerToPatent approach. Crowds should put forward qualitative comments evaluating each proposal. Then they should vote the most useful comments, which would then be sent to government as decision support.
    Your suggestion about specifications is very good, and somewhat covered by current legislation on competitive dialogue. Although opening up the specifications to the crowds gives it an interesting twist. Food for thought!

  3. Ah, sorry, my misunderstanding. You want crowd input in the process rather than the decision.

    I guess there are other areas apart from procurement and research funding that could benefit from this. In fact all areas where money is exchanged for services or goods (a.k.a spending our commonly collected resources) or before government makes decisions that may affect citizens or other parties should be open to input. If the decision remains with the agency, I guess the worst case scenario is that they disregard input.

    In Sweden I have a practice of agencies collecting information from other agencies (and sometimes other parties) before larger decisions are made. This is sometimes public but most often done without electronic transparency. The PeerToPatent approach should be very useful here. I’ll see what I can come up with.

  4. Luigi Reggi says:

    Hi dear David, long time no see!
    Hi dear David, long time no see!
    I think your proposal about research funding is really interesting. Now I’m dealing with structural funds on R&D in Italy and it’s pretty clear that many public authorities in charge for selecting projects only tend to follow legally correct procedures and speed up the spending, without caring about quality.
    Last year I met many people responsible for the selecting procedures of the projects. Some of them had totally no idea how to handle this process and how to find those so-called experts….. They were told to access to internal expert databases at national level provided by the Ministry of Research.
    Maybe there is room to propose an experimental project with the aim to connect the scientific community to the regional managing authorities, maybe starting from a little part of a regional call (i.e. a specific sector). As always, I think it’s not a matter of available money, it’s a cultural approach that should be changed…

  5. Ciao Luigi, thanks for that. Seems very interesting and would love to work on this. Let’s talk directly about this.

    Peter, I think we should simply give government a guidelines: when problems are too complex to be solved by you, let’s open up the discussion and evaluation of the policy measures. It’s a matter of trasnparency but also of intelligence. I am more interested in openness as an answer to complexity, i.e. on the intelligence part. Good comments, thanks

  6. Very hard to disagree. However, let’s not be deceived: David is not suggesting a simple hack to get around a certain problem, he is proposing a major shift from a centralized control system to a (more) distributed control one. Embracing this solution requires a cultural approach (to use Luigi’s words) that seems very far from the PAs that now are facing that problem. It’s Arrow’s paradox all over again: if they had the culture to understand David’s solution they would probably not be in this situation to begin with.

    Having said that, launching experimental projects is certainly a good idea. Kublai is just that, and is having way more impact than we expected.

  7. Andres Nin Pérez says:

    At least I can think one more area for crowdsourcing, those all grants central governments give local and regional entities to implement IT projects. Another one, the target of the different stimulus plans now in place. Why to bail out banks and not department stores?

  8. Thanks. Your comments sparked a reflection. Openness and sharing help overcoming information asymmetries. Citizens look for information and share knowledge , thereby reducing information asymmetries towards companies and government. Government can reduce its information asymmetry in procurement and research grants by reaching out and opening the process to external intelligence.
    Alberto, this is exactly what kublai does, it helps creative people reducing information asymmetries on funding procedures, and government with information asymmetries on real quality of creative projects.
    Andres, good suggestions, have you seen http://www.stimuluswatch.org/ is the second of your suggestions.

    Yet I still think procurement and research grants are two key areas, with deeper information asymmetries.

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