Building on my previous post on policy-making 2.0, I would like to elaborate on the issue of questions and answers. This is a very basic and traditional way for government to interact with citizens. Reflecting on current experience with web 2.0, q&a today have an increased potential insofar they are symmetrical.

Government can ask questions to citizens: about whether they agree with a proposal (as in traditional consultations), or seeking for additional information and intelligence (as in peertopatent.com and evidencechallenge.com). For the latter, quora.com appear to be the most appropriate platform.

Citizens can ask questions to government: while traditionally this role was played by newspaper, today there is an increasing direct role for interviews by citizens, for example using Google Moderator. This is important because it empowers citizens to have a role in setting the policy agenda. For example, in the first Google Moderator session of Barack Obama, a group of citizens was able to place a question on marijuana at the first place. While in itself this is not a particularly positive example, it shows the change in patterns and the increased power of citizens. And yes, I am not naive: this empowers more those already empowered.

So the suggested tools are:

  • Government ask citizens: questionnaire or commentable documents for feedback; quora.com for insight.
  • Citizens ask government: Google Moderator, uservoice.com

A further difference in the 2.0 world is that both questions and answers are public. While traditional consultations, such as those that government still does, are based on questionnaires and documents that are sent to government (and sometimes put in a drawer or published as summary response), tools such as co-ment.com or uservoice.com enables citizens to see what other people have commented (directly and in real time, unfiltered).

Last but not least, anyone can set up a q&a: quora, google moderator and other tools are (almost) free.

So we might talk about “q&a without permission“.

 

UPDATE: the European Commission recently used Twitter to have these 2 symmetric kinds of conversation. The Tweetchat with Commissioner Kroes let citizens ask questions to the Commissioner, while the one with Director General Madelin was the opposite: it started with a question from the EC to citizens on “how can we keep the digital agenda digital”. Social networks, forums and twitter can host both types of q&a, but they are fully unstructured as they do not allow any prioritisation of questions and answers (a key function of quora and google moderator).

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