WRITTEN ON December 30th, 2009 BY William Heath AND STORED IN Design: Co-creation, Foundation of Trust, Save Time and Money, What do we want?
Cripes. HM’s Loyal Opposition has announced – if elected – a £1m prize for an online platform for large-scale crowdsourcing.
This almost comes onto the radar of big IT suppliers. It’s massive for smart little NGOs; it would have funded about a decade of early MySociety work.
I got it in an email (extract below). There’s probably a URL but I dont have it yet. This was announced by my local MP Jeremy Hunt. They’d take the cash from the Cabinet Office budget.
This is going to be fun!
Hi there – hope you’ve all had a merry and relaxing Christmas.
I just wanted to flag up the £1 million competition that we have
announced today for anyone who can develop an online platform that
enables us to tap into the wisdom of crowds to resolve difficult
policy challenges. In government, we will use this platform to publish
all Green Papers, and open up the entire policy making process to the
public. See briefing note below for more details.
This really is the most radical crowdsourcing announcement ever made
by a UK political party – not only in terms of our commitment to
opening up the policy making process, but also because of our use of a
Longitude/Netflix style prize.
We’d be really grateful if you were able to flag up this announcement,
and the press release below, to your contacts in the IT media. After
all, we want lots of people to enter this competition and develop
online collaborative platforms – so publicity is obviously crucial!
All the best
Hunt: Solving problems together – harnessing the Wisdom of Crowds
The Conservatives are today announcing a competition, with a £1million
prize, for the best new technology platform that helps people come
together to solve the problems that matter to them – whether that’s
tackling government waste, designing a local planning strategy,
finding the best school or avoiding roadworks.
This online platform will then be used by a future Conservative
government to throw open the policy making process to the public, and
harness the wisdom of the crowd so that the public can collaborate to
improve government policy. For example, a Conservative government
would publish all government Green Papers on this platform, so that
everyone can have their say on government policies, and feed in their
ideas to make them better.
This is in addition to our existing radical commitment to introduce a
Public Reading Stage for legislation so that the public can comment on
draft bills, and highlight drafting errors or potential improvements.
Launching the competition, Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:
“Conservatives believe that the collective wisdom of the British
people is much greater than that of a bunch of politicians or
so-called experts. And new technology now allows us to harness that
wisdom like never before. So at this time of year, when families and
friends are getting together, we’re announcing a new idea to help the
British people get together to help solve the problems that matter to
“There are currently no technological platforms that enable in-depth
online collaboration on the scale required by Government – this prize
is a good and cost-effective way of getting one.
“Too often policy has been ill thought through with disastrous
consequences. When formulating and implementing policy why should we
not listen to the hundreds of thousands of experts out there?”
For further information please call Ramesh Chhabra on 07738 935 187
Notes to Editors.
In the bureaucratic age, decisions in government, business and other
organisations were typically made by a small, closed group of experts.
In the post-bureaucratic age, new technologies enable us to reject
this top-down approach to decision-making. These new technologies
allow us to harness the wisdom of the crowd, take advantage of the
power of mass collaboration and make use of the information and ideas
dispersed amongst large groups of people. Evidence from around the
world has shown that this post-bureaucratic approach can result in
more efficient and effective decision-making and problem solving than
relying on small groups of experts.
Harnessing the wisdom of the crowd in this way is a fundamentally
Conservative approach, based on the insight that using dispersed
information, such as that contained within a market, often leads to
better outcomes than centralised and closed systems. The Conservative
Party has already used crowd sourcing to develop new policies, for
example through our ‘Stand Up Speak Up’ initiative. To make sure that
we make best use of this approach, a Conservative government will
offer an unprecedented £1 million prize for any individual or team
that develops a platform that enables large groups of people to come
together online to solve common problems and develop new policies.
Harnessing the wisdom of crowds – case studies
Innocentive is a website used by leading companies such as Proctor and
Gamble and charities such as the Rockefeller Foundation, to tap into
the wisdom of the crowd and get answers to otherwise intractable
research problems. There are over 160,000 scientists and other experts
in the Innocentive network, and they are incentivised to take part
through cash prizes for solving problems.
Improvng the Netflix algorithm
Netflix, a US-based DVD rental company, wanted to improve the
algorithm it uses to recommend films to users. Instead of hiring a
research team itself, it threw open its dataset, and offered a $1m
prize for anyone who could improve its algorithm by 10% or more. This
approach yielded a solution far more cheaply and quickly than relying
on an internal team of researchers.
Peer-to-Patent uses the wisdom of the crowd to improve the patent
process, and has been trialled by the US Patent Office. Under this
approach, patent applications are posted online, so that instead of
relying on a small group of bureaucrats, anyone in the world can check
whether the application is valid. This approach seems to be much
faster and more efficient than the traditional closed approach to
appraising patent applications.
Solving maths problems
In January 2009, Timothy Gowers, professor of mathematics at Cambridge
University and a holder of the Fields Medal, posted a hitherto
intractable maths challenge on his blog, and invited readers from
across the world to collaborate and solve the problem. The resulting
comment thread spanned hundreds of thousands of words and drew in
dozens of contributors. Six weeks later, the theorem was proved.
Harnessing the wisdom of crowds – 10 potential applications
Here are ten ideas to get the ball rolling: ten problems (ranging from
the serious to the somewhat seasonal) that we think could better be
solved by the collective wisdom of the British people than by a bunch
of experts sitting round a table. But the whole point of our
competition is to stimulate discussion about the different problems
that we can solve together if we had an easy to use online platform
for collaboration…so here are some of the possibilities:
1. Identifying and rooting out wasteful government spending.
2. Designing credit card bills that anyone can understand.
3. Finding a safe place to park your bike.
4. Rating the quality of schools and hospitals, to help other
people make informed choices.
5. Making government information – for example on how to fill in
your tax return or set up a new business – clear, simple and useful.
6. Creating new technology that blocks all spam emails.
7. Locating current and planned road works, and working out a route
that avoids them.
8. Deciding how National Lottery good causes money should be spent.
9. Picking the England squad for the 2010 World Cup.
10. Designing a strategic plan for your community or city.
Harnessing the wisdom of crowds in policy making
In the post-bureaucratic age, opening up the policy making process can
help us to design better policy and transfer more control to
individuals and communities. The Conservative Party is committed to
harnessing the wisdom of crowds in a number of ways:
- We will introduce a Public Reading Stage for legislation, so
that the public can help to spot errors in legislation, and feed in
their comments during the legislative
- We will set government data free, enabling the public to
collaborate and develop new social and commercial applications.
- We are publishing online, and in real time, the expense
claims of our Shadow Cabinet, enabling full and instant scrutiny.
- We have published online a leaked version of the
Government’s IT strategy, so that people can post their suggestions on
how to develop a better set of policies.
A Conservative government would seek to make extensive use of this
approach. However, there are currently no technological platforms that
enable in-depth online collaboration on the scale required by
We are today announcing that a Conservative government will offer a £1
million prize for any individual or team that develops an online
platform that enables large scale collaboration and meets the
specifications that we will be publishing alongside the official
opening of the competition following the election. This platform will
then be used by a future Conservative government to throw open the
policy making process to the public, and harness the wisdom of the
crowd. For example, a Conservative government will publish all
government Green Papers on this innovative and open platform. The
source code of the platform will be made openly available, so that it
can be used by local councils, social enterprises and other
organisations free of charge.
While leading institutions such as the Gates Foundation, Google and
Netflix have successfully made use of procurement prizes, this £1
million prize will be the largest prize ever offered by a British
government in the modern era. The prize will be funded from within the
Cabinet Office budget.