How do legislators find experts? Crowdsourcing vs. Curation

A new report released today from the New America Foundation discusses several case studies to solve “Congress’ Information Crisis”.  Research Fellow Lorelei Kelly, author of “How Do They Know?” describes the challenge at the outset of the report, making the case for expert advice while embracing open and decentralized ways of policymaking, as follows:

“At this stage of the global information revolution, we need a clear distinction between crowdsourcing and curation for policymaking purposes. Not all information is created equally. Mass and volume are inadequate criteria for lasting solutions. Crowdsourcing input to Congress often lacks quality control. It can be characterized by sentiment rather than substance. Curated input, on the other hand, seeks a more rigorous and peer reviewed method of participation in policymaking. It requires accredited or experiential knowledge. Experts have a special role.”

Dr. Kelly subsequently defines both as follows:

“Crowdsourcing: the open and all-inclusive practice of soliciting input, opinions, ideas or services from a large group of people and especially from the online community

Curation: a selective and custodial process of discovering, gathering and presenting expert content”

The report highlights several initiatives from across the US and around the world that have worked to enhance democracy through innovative decision-making, engagement and information-management programs. They include for instance:

Iceland in 2010 opened its constitutional rewrite to mass participation, offering citizens the chance to use technology to update and modernize their founding document.  This process exemplifies effectively managed crowdsourcing.

Arizona State University’s Decision Theater is a technologically enabled system for  predictive modeling  whereby  participants see the tabular data behind complex problems configured on screens with visual data and in terms of simplified policy tradeoffs.

Germany developed an online experiment called liquid feedback, which is a collective text editor that broadens input into policymaking.”

The author concludes:

“Who has access and what sources have influence are important subjects of scrutiny and debate, as they often determine the destiny of nations. Today’s information revolution combined with unprecedented transparency have created both a crisis and an opportunity for the United States and for many other countries around the world. Lacking a modern knowledge management system, stymied by obsolete processes and missing capacity, the US Congress is nevertheless a mining camp of possibilities for improved civic engagement, especially for the provision of expert knowledge.”

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