Capitol Public Radio: “Lawmaker Turns to Crowdsourcing to Create Legislation”

About, Crowdsourcing, Open Policymaking, Press

I was interviewed last week by Katie Orr, State Government Reporter at Capitol Public Radio in Sacramento, CA to talk about California Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s recent open policymaking experiment (see our coverage here).

You can read and listen to the entire segment online: Lawmaker Turns to Crowdsourcing to Create Legislation.

Here are the two quotes that made it on the air:

But while the concept may have promise, the wiki-page shows only about 12 people made contributions to the bill.

Tim Bonnemann is the founder and CEO of Intellitics, a company that helps organizations connect and interact with people through social media. He’s been observing Gatto’s wiki-bill process and says there are a few flaws that need to be worked out. For instance, he says there should have been more outreach and guidance.

“They also started at the most difficult part, which is writing legislative copy,” Bonnemann says. “When maybe they should have invited people more to share stories and indentify [sic!] challenges and develop solutions together.”

But as for keeping special interests out of the mix, Bonnemann says wiki-bills might actually help.

“In general, the more public, the more transparent the process is overall, the more difficult it becomes for people to slip things in unnoticed,” Bonnemann says.

Naturally, I had a few more things to say. Here are my answers in full (transcribed from audio):

What do you think of Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s recent experiment to crowdsource legislation via the web?

Well, first of all I think Mr. Gatto deserves big kudos for trying this in the first place. Public participation, in my view, is generally a good thing, and there should be more experiments trying to figure out how we can use technology effectively and meaningfully. In this case, there may have been a few challenges. From what I’ve seen, there was a bit of a lack of outreach. The team was very hands-off in terms of guiding participants through the process. And they also started at the most difficult part, which is writing legislative copy when maybe they should have invited people more to share stories and identify challenges and develop solutions together and only then start with the writing, and only with the help of someone who is really good at writing law.

Have there been other experiments in this area?

Yes, there have been similar experiments in this field where people are trying to use technology to support policymaking or lawmaking. The interesting thing here with crowdsourcing is that you’re relying on an unidentified group of people, unlike stakeholder engagement where you’re reaching out to a known group of people with an existing or known relationship to the issue you’re trying to address.

Could lobbyists gain control over the process?

Yes, I guess no process is completely safe from anyone trying to influence it, but there are safeguards you can build into your design, and I think in general the more public, the more transparent the process is overall, the more difficult it becomes for people to slip things in unnoticed.

Do you believe crowdsourcing legislation online is the way of the future?

Well, I’m certainly excited about the opportunities that we have around using technology to make all kinds of processes more participatory, more accessible, and to involve more people in, for example, the policymaking process. It’s still early days for crowdsourcing so we have to see what happens there. What matters, though, is that crowdsourcing is just one tool or one method among many and which one you end up using depends on your situation, which audience you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to accomplish. I just hope that Mr. Gatto will try this again sometime, and hopefully he can build on what he learned this time around.

The report mentions that Gatto is “already looking toward his next wiki-bill effort”. If done right, this could be a really big deal. Having a representative willing and eager to make this work is half the battle. Now all he and his team need is a little support designing a more robust digital engagement process.

About the author: Tim Bonnemann is the founder, President and CEO of Intellitics, Inc., a digital engagement company based in San José, California (USA).

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