Commitment Analysis: Expert Networking Platforms

The following was written by Lucas Cioffi, Co-Founder of Bark!Best Inc

In the December release of the US government's Second Open Government Action Plan I was pleasantly surprised to read that the ExpertNet concept continues to evolve, even though progress has been sporadic since it was first announced in 2010.

Aside from Regulations.Gov, ExpertNet comes the closest to addressing the President's vision in the original opengov memo from his first day in office in 2009:

Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information.

Although it's moving forward the activities around ExpertNet leave much more to be desired, because so much more is possible and plenty of time has passed since the President announced his initial vision for such a system in the quote above.

Here are several suggestions for making the ExpertNet initiative more successful:

1. Innovate in the open.  Blog about challenges and successes as you go, if only to document what works for the next agency that will attempt a similar system.

2. Reach out to the public for help, especially the many people who participated in the 2010 open, online brainstorm around ExpertNet who probably aren't even aware that there is any movement on this initiative at the FDA or elsewhere.  The purpose of ExpertNet is to do targeted public outreach, so naturally public outreach should be part of developing the system itself.  In the technology world, when companies "eat their own dog food" as they build a product, the product improves rapidly.

3. During the pilot projects, be explicit about what hypotheses you are testing.  Testing assumptions and hypotheses is a foundational strategy for the Lean Startup method which is prevalent among tech startup because it works.

4. Create a sandbox where tech companies such as mine and dozens/hundreds of others can work with federal agencies on small scale experiments.  Then be prepared for learning a tremendous amount of great lessons learned in a short period of time.

5. And be bold!  Design a system that can harness the collective intelligence of the American people rather than just experts.  Yes, this means that there will be variable quality of responses, but if the system has a useful way of sifting through the feedback there will be some surprisingly valuable contributions from unexpected sources.

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