Innovation from our Government. Beth Simone Noveck. Wiki Government. More people responsible for policy decisions.


In her book Wiki Government, Noveck argues that the digital age requires us to fundamentally rethink democracy because the internet allows for a much more collaborative legislative process and can potentially make more people responsible for making policy decisions. “The private sector has learned that better decision making requires looking beyond institutionalized centers of expertise,” she wrote in the book. “Now it’s time for government to do the same.”….

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Position: United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director, White House Open Government Initiative

Why She Matters

A patent office where anyone with an internet connection can help review applications. An online conference that makes it feel as if you’re sitting around a table. Bills drafted and edited entirely by constituents. These sound like far-off ideas, but they are all possible, thanks to tools pioneered by Noveck.

The open government advocate has a degree from Yale Law School. Though she is a fulltime law professor at New York Law School, her professional career has focused on developing technologies that increase participation in democracy. In the Obama administration, Noveck leads the open government initiative at the Technology Office at the White House.

The Issues

Noveck is leading the Obama administration’s open government initiative, where she will focus on incorporating more voices into policy planning. To do this, she has already created several online forums where readers can comment on White House proposals and add their own ideas.

In order to ensure thoughtful, targeted feedback, Noveck emphasizes several core principals – instead of calling for general feedback, she asks readers specific questions. She has also added tools that allow readers to rank others comments so that she can track the most popular ideas. Additionally, she believes that sites must actively recruit the audience they are seeking, reaching out to volunteers across relevant industries.

“We have to focus on the outcomes,” Noveck said at an April 2009 conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. “We spend much too much time measuring on the basis of the inputs: how much we spent on a project, how much it cost us, how much we’ve given out in grants, how much we spent on a particular IT system … instead of asking, ‘What does it help us achieve?’”Towns, Steve, “Beth Noveck: Government Transparency Must Deliver Results,” GovTech, May 11, 2009 (2)Towns, Steve, “Beth Noveck: Government Transparency Must Deliver Results,” GovTech, May 11, 2009

Noveck would eventually like to create a system that allows internet users to comment and revise policy as it is being written. “It’s one thing to build a Web site that gives people a place to submit a suggestion and another thing to actually create a policy to route the information to the right place, to ensure that there is someone at the other end to receive it,” Noveck said at a 2009 conference.Towns, Steve, “Beth Noveck: Government Transparency Must Deliver Results,” GovTech, May 11, 2009(3)Towns, Steve, “Beth Noveck: Government Transparency Must Deliver Results,” GovTech, May 11, 2009

Encouraging Participation in Government

In her book Wiki Government, Noveck argues that the digital age requires us to fundamentally rethink democracy because the internet allows for a much more collaborative legislative process and can potentially make more people responsible for making policy decisions. “The private sector has learned that better decision making requires looking beyond institutionalized centers of expertise,” she wrote in the book. “Now it’s time for government to do the same.”Amazon.com web site(4)Amazon.com web site

To do this, Noveck proposes a system in which a wide range of experts can collect and analyze information. She envisions online networks that allow participants to contribute small bits of knowledge and suggestions on a broad range of projects.Newcombe, Tod, “Beth Noveck’s Wiki Government Book Review,” June 8, 2009(5)Newcombe, Tod, “Beth Noveck’s Wiki Government Book Review,” June 8, 2009 She has called for the creation of “civic software” that will enable online communities to discuss ideas for their communities and develop tools for “enabling the expert public to contribute targeted information.””Beth Noveck: Wiki-Government,” People & Place, March 29, 2009(6)Beth Noveck: Wiki-Government,” People & Place, March 29, 2009

One challenge the fledging operation has faced is keeping contributors on topic. Its first online forum – where it asked participants to generate ways President Obama can fulfill his open-government pledge – generated comments on legalizing marijuana, extraterrestrials and the veracity of Obama’s birth certificate.

In the New York Times, Noveck suggested that this was a healthy part of the process. “Even for people who want to talk about U.F.O.’s or the Kennedy assassination, we have created a forum for people to have a conversation with each other, and potentially to go off and organize and develop this further,” she said.

She also argued that tools like an online voting system for the best ideas and a system for flagging off-topic comments allow readers to police themselves.Hansell, Saul, “Ideas Online, Yes, But Some Not So Presidential,” New York Times, June 23, 2009(7)Hansell, Saul, “Ideas Online, Yes, But Some Not So Presidential,” New York Times, June 23, 2009

Technology writer Micah Sifry wrote that “the process still leaves a lot to be desired, which may be more the fault of the topic at hand and the tools available, then the specific choices being made by the OSTP’s team.” He noted that there were a limited number of comments that dealt with the issues at hand.Sifry, Micah, “Open Gov’t Dialogue Improves; But Import Still Unresolved,” Personal Democracy Forum,  June 10, 2009.

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Comments
3 Responses to “Innovation from our Government. Beth Simone Noveck. Wiki Government. More people responsible for policy decisions.”
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