Crowdsourcing Shows The Inadequacies Of The Current Bureaucratic System: The Lib Dems need to challenge the status quo
16 September 2010 Leave a comment
There is a movement in politics to a more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government, but there is a lack of substance and detail that will achieve each of these goals. The Obama Administration is a good example of how one country is looking into how to make this work with their Open Government Initiative.
As essential ingredient of this agenda has been the rise of Crowdsourcing which is becoming a larger phenomenon in the business and political world. Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call. And there are ready made websites for government departments to use to use crowsourcing such as ideascale.com
There will always be those who think this is a worthless endeavour as well as some more legitimate concerns but the need for a more democratic system will always seek for ways to engage, collaborate and create partnership with citizens.
Crowdsourcing is one method which is being tried by the UK government such as here , here or here. However as I have argued a move to collaboration requires a shift in ‘spirit’ of the government and a change in the bureaucratic system. The failure to see the need for this change has left one government crowdsourcing project ignoring 9500 people here or here and another being modified to make it less collaborative.
It is a step in the right direction but I feel it is coming from the wrong angle. We can see it 2 ways, one being: Business has started using crowdsourcing to run a more efficient and innovative company. Politics, taking notes from business, has seen this as a better way to improve government and so started similar projects. Clearly there is the additional benefit that it is more democratic and so it ticks the right boxes i.e. more efficient government and more democratic.
The other way would be if we start from the need to create a more democratic, participatory and collaborative system. We may come to the conclusion that crowdsourcing is a good idea. However, we will also come to the conclusion that any new idea or consensus from a crowdsourcing initiative may mean a change in focus for a department, the civil service or politician. We therefore need a system that will allow for this change. Currently the bureaucratic system we have does not allow for this very well and so we would want to relook at this so that initiatives like crowdsourcing can be useful.
Without this change in the system we get what Simon Burall, director of Involve says
badly designed consultations like this are worse than no consultations at all. They diminish trust and reduce the prospect that people will engage again
Which will feed cynicism, skepticism, distrust and anger towards any party who has tried to use these methods. And rightly so, if the inner workings of our government do not allow for a more democratic system then it is not fit for purpose. If the political parties who are responsible for the government do not make it fit for purpose then they are not fit for government.
The Liberal Democrats need to start understanding this fundamental need for a change in the bureaucratic system to allow for greater democracy: collaboration, participation and engagement of the citizens in government business. As the anti-establishment party they are in the best place out of the political parties to make this case and challenge the status quo.