Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy



A first try on context aware applications

One of my main concerns about current applications for collaborative governance and participation is their high costs of engagements. They are still designed for people that are really interested. In a way, we can compare these applications to the classic game platforms, such as XBOX and Playstation, which are designed for hard-core gamers, while new platforms such as WII and IPHONE games aim to involve the casual player. We need the WII of participation!

To be fair, web2 applications have already made huge steps in making e-participation tools easier and more usable, but still work needs to be done to engage “the second wave of users” (as Lee Bryant commented in one recent workshop at IPTS).
Therefore, research is needed to make participations easier, less costly, more interesting and relevant.

CONTEXT AWARENESS could significantly reduce the costs of participation, and facilitating it. We should not expect people to suddenly become participative citizens because it is a good in itself, but because it is practically useful in each specific situation (the long tail of participation). In terms of the previously mentioned “double dividend”, this could both dramatically increase the rate of participation, and provide interesting technological developments as context awareness is very much an innovation field of ICT at this stage (it is one of the features of web3.0, for some).

Context can have very different determining variables. Depending on my current situation (where I am, what I am doing, what I am reading etc.), I should be offered information on specific decisions being taken that could affect me.
1. For example, LOCATION-BASED participation services could be provided, so that when entering a public space (a park, a library…) I am informed of the changes that have been proposed (a proposal to reduce the number of art-books in the library). I could provide my view on the spot, both qualitative (suggestions) and quantitative (voting). I could also see what other users suggested and commented about the service I am using.
2. Another way to ensure context-awareness is through TASTE-SHARING tools. Just as Amazons builds on users’ data to suggest new books (customer who bought this also bought), e-participation tools such as debategraph could suggest “policy issues”: :citizens who engaged in this discussion also were interested in”. This makes it possible to leverage users’ intelligence to ensure better relevance (and less costs) of participation. Technologically, this requires algorithms that build patterns out of users behaviour.

Certainly these tools require better structured data to ensure interoperability, in a way or another, so that information such as taste, choices, location is made available across platforms. A specific pet idea of mine is to develop microformats for ratings of public services so that citizens’ ratings are made available across platforms.

Does this make any sense to you?

Technorati tag: egov2research

starting the conversation on future egov2.0 applications: the state of the art

The way I approach the problem of envisaging innovative egov20 applications is to look for incremental innovation.
a) I start looking at the best project that I know that leverage individuals’ collaboration for public goals.
b) Then I try to look at what “next steps” could be made to make these services better.
c) Often, it turns out these are just minor improvements which do not need research, but “just” code. Therefore, I filter out the results on the basis of their innovativeness.

This is not a scientific method, it’s a made-up way to give a structure to the process. I am sure it can be improved.
But most of all, I know nobody can to this by oneself. It needs an open discussion. We need to involve technology experts from different fields together with public policy experts, and engage in OPEN discussions. Each of us has its view, and because of the different field of expertise, often we are unable to talk to each other and advance the debate. That’s the reason for this debate, which hopefully you can follow not only on this blog but on metaaggregator such as the technorati tag feeds for egov2research, which is of course still empty at the time of writing .

So, here are some of the best projects I know to engage the wider public in public governance:
• Collaboration in Patent review: Peertopatent , not only because it uses the input from individual citizens, but most importantly, collaborative filtering tools.
Debategraph, which enables the tree-shaped structuring of a large-scale conversation, and the relation to the evidence to support each claim
• Tools for enlarging the policy debate to a wider public: OFCOM discussion on regulation of BBC; the discussion tool used for the GNU free documentation license
• The BBC white spectrum tool, used to visualize comments of a sensitive debate held on the blog
• Farmsubsidy now geographically locates each recipient of agricultural subsidy (starting from Sweden)
Gapminder, and similar tools to play with public data and to make them more meaningful
• All of projects, but now I am a particularly interested in fixmystreet and planningalerts

Overall, the continuous rate of new applications launched clearly shows the huge innovation potential, and the opportunity to invest in this.

Investing in these tools has therefore a high potential impact in two directions (the so-called “double dividend”):
– on the quality of debate and the level of citizens’ engagement.
– in the innovativeness of the ICT applications developed: for example GapMinder software was built for analyzing demographic data of the UN, and it has then been bought by Google to improve its “Google spreadsheet” software.

In the next posts, I will try to imagine how these applications could look like in 5 years if research is carried out.

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