Crowdsourcing policy, visualising debate and evolving consultation

LocalGovCamp an unconference for local governmentI attended a session on crowdsourcing public policy at the recent LocalGovCamp event, an unconference for local government held in Birmingham.

Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a task traditionally performed by employees or contractors and opening it out to a large group of people. It’s mass collaboration to collectively achieve a task or refine something that already exists into something better.

David Price led an interesting session on crowdsourcing policy, demonstrating how Debategraph—a global debate map—can be used to:

  • Set up a policy debate
  • Open the debate to enable others to collaborate
  • Graphically visualise the issues and inter-relationships within a debate
  • Share and re-use the debates both on and offline

Here are David’s slides:

…and here is an example of a Debategraph in action.

Independent readers and the Debategraph community are collaboratively visualising intelligence to comprehensively map issues surrounding climate change before states begin formally negotiating a new international treaty to tackle global warming.

Evolving consultation

Thinking closer to home, Debategraph struck me as a potential step forward along the path of evolving online consultation, a path which has rapidly changed in the last 12 months.

Roughly, these are the steps I’ve seen:

  1. We’ve had consultations as lengthy, inaccessible PDF documents posted up on websites inviting return comments by email. They’re difficult to use and a surefire way to get a low response.
  2. Harry Metcalfe and Steph Gray of the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (DBIS) came up with ConsultationXML, a way for web publishers to convert “horrid” PDF data into meaningful XML. The resulting XML can then be transformed into HTML which is then used to develop consultation websites for users to interact with.
  3. Large consultation documents can be broken up into chunks and displayed on a website deliberately structured to encourage commenting. WordPress was used as platform for the plain English version of Birmingham’s Big City Plan. DBIS released the Commentariat WordPress theme under Crown Copyright, which you can see in action on this low carbon industrial strategy consultation.
  4. … could this next step be visualised collaborative debate?

As Debategraph provides a definitive articulation of a debate—changes are iterative, open to anyone, can be rated and there are checks in place to prevent distortion by “blowhards” or commenters with an agenda—I think it might be interesting to see a debate where statistical evidence is involved.

It would be interesting to see emerging issues in a visualised debate of what people think inter-connected with the statistical evidence of what is actually happening.

Debategraph is a much larger world than I’ve been able to describe here. It’s also a creative commons project and ultimately a global graph of all debates, semantically interrelated. I’ve just used this post to jot down my ideas after the event.

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  1. [...] Gavin Wray – crowdsourcing policy, visualising debate and evolving consultation [...]

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