Beth Noveck on Wiki Government
December 19th, 2007

Beth Noveck, who authored a thought-provoking article in First Monday about “A Democracy of Groups” a while back has written an article on “Wiki Government” for Democracy Journal. She’s not just a theorist. Her “peer to patent” project might well succeed in applying collective intelligence to fixing our broken patent system:

But how might this open, online collaboration improve governmental decision-making? How do we square the expertise and talent we see emerging via Wikipedia or YouTube with the professional standards of science to which we expect governmental decisions to conform? After all, Wikipedia has been known to contain errors and defamation. For every brilliant art film or newsworthy clip, there are thousands of pieces of video junk on YouTube. To put it bluntly, information quality may not be a matter of national security when it comes to a fifth-grade book report, but it is essential to nuclear regulations or environmental safety standards or the quality of issued patents. While we know that excessive reliance on professionals is problematic, we do not want to replace one set of abuses with another by eliminating the professionals and replacing them with direct, popular decision-makers.

Rather, we want to design practices for “collaborative governance,” shared processes of responsibility in information-gathering and decision-making that combine the technical expertise of public experts with the legal standards of professional decision-makers. There are plenty of people with expertise to share if their knowledge can successfully be connected to those decision-makers who need it. It is not necessary to pre-select authenticated and known professionals when structures can be put in place to ensure that informational inputs are discernable, specific, well-labeled, and easy to search, sort, and use. An online system will not be without its own problems and abuses, but the assumption is that greater public participation, not in setting values but in supplying information or making sense of and connections between informational sources supplied by others, can substantively improve decision-making.

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