The Conservative government’s recent offer of a £1m prize to any software developer that can create a web platform to engage the public in the policy-making process has been held up as electioneering and form over substance. I consider that a bit harsh, but there are some problems with the proposal.
The idea is that this prize will come into effect once the Tories win the next election. That’s stumbling block number one, because you can never discount Mandy’s dark forces. But politics aside, I have an issue with this being partisan. A much better approach seems to be that taken by the USA’s Expert Labs where a non-profit independent entity has been set up to achieve three goals:
- We ask policy makers what questions they need answered to make better decisions.
- We help the technology community create the tools that will get those answers.
- We prompt the scientific & research communities to provide the answers that will make our country run better.
I think that this is a good template, and with proven performer Anil Dash appointed as Director it has a great chance of success.
My second issue is that whilst going out to the crowd to see who can produce the best platform is in line with the mass collaboration ethos I wonder whether it will inspire decent entries. I can’t see it generating the same sort of excitement, or wealthy backers, as launching a man into space:
The Ansari X Prize, a $10 million award for the first privately built, manned rocket ship to fly in space twice in a span of two weeks, captured the imagination of many engineers and high net worth individuals. Eventually it was won by a rocket funded by Microsoft founder Paul G. Allen that achieved the feat on the 47th anniversary of the Russian Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to be launched into space.
Also, the rules for winning Ansari were very clear cut, whereas judging crowdsourcing platforms is far more subjective.
By the time the conservatives win the next election, if they do, then I am sure that this idea will already have been refined by the feedback they are getting now. And whether or not Cameron succeeds, the trend to wikipolitics in developed countries is clear. Individuals in democratic societies will be able to vote and contribute post-election.