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Book Review: Wiki Government


November 17, 2009

Wiki Government: How technology can make Government better, democracy stronger, and citizens more powerful

 by Beth Simone Noveck

Beth Simone Noveck, Professor of Law and director of the Institute for Information Law & Policy at New York Law School and the McClatchy Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Stanford University, extrapolates a Government 2.0 case study. The US Patent Office “Peer-to-Patent” initiative leveraged the “wisdom of crowds” to overcome “an inefficient, inaccurate process.” Ms. Noveck urges government to “think wiki”. She provides insight into how the public and private sector can work together to government efficiencies. She has made this case more valuable by expertly predicting next steps in the evolution of Government 2.0. The text suffers somewhat by delving into legal minutia and the intricacies of the American government.

There are effective observations about the lack of diversity in managing government programs and clarity of government priorities. And a bold prognosis: “institutions must be rethought for the age of networks. The opportunity now is to move towards collaboration.”

Ms. Noveck makes a distinction between collaboration and traditional concepts of wisdoms of crowds: “collaboration does not so much imply throwing people at a problem as coordinating the right people in different roles.” This distinction is worthy of study. Should Government 2.0 follow the “out-of-the-box” generalist approach advocated by many, or enable expert communities of practice? Ms. Noveck points out that “professionals do not have a monopoly on information or expertise.”

Perhaps the most compelling notion presented in this book, published by the Brookings Institution, is “beyond transparency.” Governments around the world are struggling with providing nominal transparency. Ms. Noveck supports a compelling argument that Government 2.0 will usher an advanced paradigm of transparency with examples in intelligence, product safety, health, environmental protection and education. “Third parties can bring technical, design, and statistical acumen to a project and make information meaningful.” (And, she describes a vision for efficient intellectual property in a way that almost makes it exciting to the layman.)

The notion of visual data representation enabled by mashups to make “information intelligible” proposed by Ms. Noveck may enable effective citizen collaboration. She demonstrates how Government 2.0 can overcome the limitations of traditional public consultation.

Ms. Noveck acknowledges the “groundswell of attention” to transparency while recognizing the lack of “outcry for participation.” Governments struggling with the notion of releasing more data to the public have a lot more to look forward to! Perhaps the “culture of expertise is too entrenched”, yet Wikigovernment foreshadows a change.

The text suffers from an American-centric point of view. Readers from other countries, particularly non-Anglophone, will need to abstract these lessons. And, many examples in “participatory governance” around the world can be useful to the American experience. Mind you, some of the quotations from Jefferson and Franklin remain topical today-even to those whose ancestors wore the red coats.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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