ExpertNet: What is the future of the open government platform?

The President has lunch with Sen. Bob Casey at the Famous 4th Street Deli in Philadelphia
The President has lunch with Sen. Bob Casey at the Famous 4th Street Deli in Philadelphia. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Citizen engagement platforms grew in 2010. There will be more such platforms coming from top, through open government, and from the bottom, as civic developers create, host and use their own communities. The opportunity for citizens to participate in the co-creation of the most high profile open government platforms for citizen consultation, ExpertNet, will close on January 23rd, when the White House’s Request for Information will end.

The White House has been taking public feedback on designing democracy with this citizen consultation platform for weeks. In a number of respects, the discussion on ExpertNet.wikispaces.com has resembled an unconference, where the participants themselves drive the process.

So what’s interesting here? “It is the idea that the public will be (directly) shaping policy that is intriguing, and is a critical component to bridging the gap, both the economic gap as well as the digital gap, as the average citizen is the real stakeholder, and before now has had no forum for influencing change so directly,” said Megan Eskey, OpenGov Lead at the NASA Ames Research Center.

Or put it another way, as Anil Dash did earlier today: how should a White House Quora work?

The White House is looking to build a web community to get its questions answered, sort of their own Quora, and they’re trying to do it the right way. They’re asking those who would participate to help shape how the community itself works. They’re not trying to create a network from scratch, but instead trying to connect to networks that already exist. And they’re not just making a community for the hell of it — they’re trying to build one with purpose.

But they’ve asked for our help, from those of us who build, and know, and love web communities. We’re being asked to share our expertise in what does, and doesn’t work on successful web communities. Our deadline for participating is on Monday. Giving them insights into our hard-earned lessons will only take 15 minutes of your time this weekend, and will keep us from having to wonder, “Why wasn’t I consulted?

Many lively discussion threads have emerged, including suggestion for moderation, voting, ownership of intellectual property and more, including:

“It’s not so much the idea of a wiki or whatever platform ExpertNet rolls out, but rather the format they are looking at of matching experts with those seeking to solve immense problems,” said Eskey. “Whether it is a wiki or a social site or some other crowdsourcing tool like delib’s dialogue app, that feedback loop is critical, especially if the digital divide is to be bridged via new bills that are introduced into Congress, although at this time the project is envisioned for executive agencies and departments only,” she said. Eskey noted that any ideas for using ExpertNet within the legislative branch should be directed to elected representative(s) in Congress.

For those interested in the future of open government and citizen consultation, there’s no time like the present to weigh in. Tim Bonnemann of Intellitics has also posed six questions for ExpertNet for further consideration.

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

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