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[pdf09] Bech Noveck on White House office of openness

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. POSTED WITHOUT REREADING. You are warned, people.

Beth Noveck talks about the whitehouse.gov/open project that aims at opening up egov policy development to citizen participation. Beth is the White House person responsible for bringing open government to the fed gov’t. The Open project asked for ideas about open gov’t policy. Now it’s in the winnowing phase.

Micah asks if this is open source policy making and where it ends. Beth gives some examples. E.g., the opening up of the patent policy.

The Open project uses IdeaScale software because it has community self-moderation. People can propose ideas (4,205 so far) and rank them (367,000 votes so far). The tag cloud’s largest tag is “birth certificate.” These are people who want to see Obama’s birth certificate. (“Again,” Beth says.) Micah asks if this is a feature or a bug. “Are people freaking out because it’s on a gov’t web site?” Beth: “We gave a platform for people who have a cause.” People flagged and rated comments, “taking back the forum.” In any online community, you see the griefers as part of the lifecycle, she says (wisely).

Micah looks at the Office of Science and Technology Policy blog, which takes public comments. “We have the most wonderful conversations,” she says. “The community itself was able to come in and say that these comments are off topic.” They’ve moved off topic comments to another page; they’re still there. The crucial institutional innovation is the recognition that we don’t have all the expertise. We will make better decisions if we can engage others. She says that the scale of participants is small — hundreds, not thousands — but that’s ok if the quality of the conversation is good.

These online tools are not the only ways to participate, she says. They want to make sure that those who are not as digitally literate are also able to take part. These new ways “supplement and augment” the traditional ways of federal rule making.

We’re now heading into the third phase of the project, using MixedInk, a collaborative writing tool. This lets people suggest language for the policy. This helps drafting, but it also helps educate people about how hard it is to draft policy. MixedInk lets people vote on different drafts, so it’s not a “last one to write wins.”

She says they’re getting suggestions that no small group in the White House could have come up with on their own. They’re hearing impacts on people’s real lives. They’re learning about cool tools. They’re getting amazing suggestions for dealing with the Paperwork Reduction Act.

They’re going to distill and filter, and then put the results back out for public discussion.

[I actually choked up a bit listening to Beth, which I find embarrassing, but what the heck.]

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