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
them.

“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?”

ENDS

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

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

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

process.

-         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
government.

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.

23 Responses to “Tories announce £1m competition for large-scale crowdsourcing platform”

 
David Moss wrote on December 30th, 2009 5:41 pm :

Too late!

The prize has already been claimed. By Simon Jenkins. In the Guardian:

I claim one million pounds. The Conservatives are offering that sum to the person who designs a mechanism for effectively harnessing the wisdom of crowds in order to make better government. My scheme lets every citizen directly control how his and her schools, hospitals, police and other public services are doing. It enables them not just to ask questions. It enables them actually to be in charge.

It is called the vote …

… Cameron thinks, like Tony Blair, that a website is an adequate substitute for democratic accountability.

Like all British parties, the Tories fear democracy. But the remedy is easy. The Athenians invented it and most countries practise it. It is called voting. A million pounds please.

William Heath wrote on December 30th, 2009 9:28 pm :

David, Simon – that cuts no ice with me. Have you both watched Ivo Gormley’s movie “Us now”?

One vote every five years is no way to express everything you feel about every issue that arises. How could my one vote tell the Tories “more strength to your arm” on the economy, database state etc, but drop your support for daft wars, daft wars on drugs and the Digital Economy Bill.

One vote is nothing like as expressive as, say, how you spend your money in the supermarket. Imagine having just one vote every five years for Tesco or Siansury. Tesco wins. Every week it dumps a load of food you dont want on your doorstep, and bills you. Next time you vote Sainsbry They do the same.

I think this is a really radical idea from the Tories. I detect (but con’t confirm) then hand of Steinberg.

Trouble is, what they are asking is quite difficult. I dont think anyone has yet done it credibly.

firstconversion wrote on December 30th, 2009 10:58 pm :

so unradical it hurts. get them off the bandwagon before they embarrass themselves

FB and twitter would do fine as teh solution they are looking for. They havent considered what it would actually take to run a website.

The netflix example is completely different to what they are proposing and the analogies they draw are just wrong. Optimising an equation is completely different to building, running and supporting a large website.

Theres a big difference between Wisdom of the Crowds and having an individual from a crowd creating a solution, which they seem to have missed

David Moss wrote on December 31st, 2009 2:58 pm :

A copy of the following email was sent to me, presumably by mistake:

From: CabSec
To: SecStateDTI
Copy: Chris.Galley@homeoffice.x.gsi.gov.uk]
Date: 31 December 2009
Subject: The wisdom of civil servants

Pete

You know perfectly well I can’t advise you on how to undermine the Conservative proposal for a sort of eParliament. That would be political.

Don’t want to undermine it anyway. It’s a marvellous idea. Positively heart-warming. Best stocking present the Cabinet Office could possibly have been given.

All blogs need moderators, otherwise they fall apart. I’ve already drafted the recruitment ads for 1,000 moderators to join CabOff and invigilate British democracy. Give the little man his say.

His Grace* has already done a marvellous job, producing the first editorial guidelines for wikiPol. CabOff will remain in sole charge of what issues are aired, how they are worded, and how the contributions of the public are ignored.

Only really one cloud on the horizon. That Jenkins article suggesting everyone should vote for everything, and control should all be local. If you’d like any help rebutting his flagrant attempt to wrest control from central government, I think I can safely say that that wouldn’t be political.

Best
GOD

———-

* Believed to be a reference to Liam Byrne MP

Bookmarks for December 30th through December 31st wrote on December 31st, 2009 5:01 pm :

[...] Tories announce £1m competition for large-scale crowdsourcing platform – "Cripes. HM’s Loyal Opposition has announced – if elected – a £1m prize for an online platform for large-scale crowdsourcing." [...]

Rick Parussel wrote on January 1st, 2010 12:15 pm :

I disagree with those that have been deriding this idea. It’s encouraging to think that the Conservative government is willing to ‘think out of the box’ – just what this country needs at a time like this.

I believe the idea has legs, but only if the details are worked through carefully. There’s a fine line between a system that allows wild and loony ideas to propagate and a system that truly refines ideas through the wisdom of crowds.

Crowdsourcing and Public Participation II « Intellitics wrote on January 3rd, 2010 7:19 am :

[...] to the press release (quoted on the IdealGovernment from an email), the end goal here is to create a citizen participation [...]

Thomas Wrobel wrote on January 4th, 2010 2:39 pm :

Its a wonderfull idea, but one hard to pull of.
They need to look at sites such as;
http://vark.com/ask (lets you find someone who has skills/knowledge to help you answer your question…works well, but no system in place for checking validation of answers or collaboration)

http://a.freshbrain.com/solvr/ (collaborative problem solving,simple yet good structured method to divide problems into sub-problems and to point out problems with proposed solutions….however, no way to collect people of a skillset needed to problem solve what you need, and no security in place for the results to be unbiased).

http://moderator.appspot.com/ (Googles method for suggestion/voting and question preposal, works well, and use’s accounts to be secure…however, no real methods for people to collaborate or to actively find help you need)

Ideally, we need a hybrid of the above.
Something that lets people with the skills and knowledge look for areas they can help in, and provide a structured environment for them to propose and evaluate solutions.

Dont correctly, this would have quite a huge impact on society and our democracy. Rather then expecting the few in power to lead the many, instead they just become the organisers and guides to the suggestions and ideas the rest of mankind come up with.

I quite agree with William Heath above with his excellent analogy.
5 year votes are not enough to reflect on the ideas and believes of the population at large. We live in a very “low level” of democracy, this will help raise it up.

William Heath wrote on January 4th, 2010 3:43 pm :

I can now confirm the hand of Steinberg :-)

Woodson Martin wrote on January 4th, 2010 4:50 pm :

In preparing for his first 100 days in office as President of the United States, Barack Obama’s transition team launched a website to do something very like what the Conservatives have proposed here. That site, a part of the larger Change.gov website, allowed citizens to propose, review, vote for or against, and comment on ideas for changes to public policy. Those ideas were consolidated into a “Citizens Briefing Book” for Obama upon his innauguration.

That site was launched in under three weeks using commercially available technology from salesforce.com. You can read more about that initiative on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen%27s_Briefing_Book.

“Many of the ideas you offer, from improving light rail transit to modernizing our energy grid to creating a new service corps, have been embraced by my administration,” said President Obama in a video released along with the briefing book.

This same salesforce.com technology has been deployed by many commercial firms to harness the ideas of customers. Notable examples include Starbucks: http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/ and Dell http://www.ideastorm.com/

Tim Bonnemann wrote on January 5th, 2010 8:41 am :

One issue with Google Moderator, Salesforce Ideas, UserVoice and others is that they are strongly biased towards those questions or ideas that make it onto the “leader board” in the initial stages of a project. At least that was the case during Change.gov (at a scale of thousands of ideas and comments). These early leaders then received a disproportionate amount of the participants’ overall attention (in terms of views, votes and comments).

This is usually ok for a company but may not be acceptable for a government-sponsored site with a requirement to treat citizens’ input more fairly.

David Moss wrote on January 5th, 2010 1:30 pm :

No-one can object to the notion of an interactive suggestions box any more than they can object to motherhood and apple pie. No-one sensible.

Sometimes you have to be sceptical, though. This is one of those occasions.

Consider:

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 them.

“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?”

There’s a dash of flattery — “the collective wisdom of the British people”.

There’s a dash of false modesty — “a bunch of politicians or so-called experts”. But not just false modesty. Vindictive populism, as well.Take a look at Martyn Thomas’s contribution, response #15 to Time to say what we want from government IT. Is Professor Thomas one of these so-called experts? No, he’s a real expert. They do exist. But Mr Hunt runs the risk of turning them into the object of ridicule.

There’s a dash of confusion — “new technology now allows us to harness that wisdom like never before” and yet “There are currently no technological platforms that enable in-depth online collaboration on the scale required by Government” and yet we know from Woodson Martin’s response above and others that these platforms do exist.

There’s a dash of patronisation — “at this time of year, when families and friends are getting together, we’re announcing a new idea …” The communication of Mr Hunt’s Christmas bounty is more important than checking to see if the product already exists. We already have this Christmas present. And the civil service already know how to smother it.

And there’s a dash of disingenuous mock openness — “When formulating and implementing policy why should we not listen to the hundreds of thousands of experts out there?”. Good question Mr Hunt. As Marina Hyde asked in her Guardian article last Saturday, why didn’t the Conservatives listen to the wisdom of the millions who marched against the Iraq war?

We know the answer to that. It’s because the Conservatives, like Labour, like all politicians surely, think they know better. That is not surmise. They have said so. Oliver Letwin, Chairman of the Policy Review and of the Conservative Research Department, wrote in the Times:

Cameron Conservatism puts no faith in central direction and control. Instead, it seeks to identify social and environmental responsibilities that participants in the free market are likely to neglect, and then establish frameworks that will lead people and organisations to act of their own volition in ways that will improve society by increasing general wellbeing.

The crowd is so unwise that it doesn’t even know what’s good for it. The crowd needs to have its will manipulated/nudged by a responsibility neglect tsar, who will fool/brainwash the crowd into believing that it is acting of its own free will. So says Oliver Letwin. They are quite incapable of achieving that, of course. It remains distasteful that they should try.

In the circumstances, it would be irresponsible not to be sceptical.

William Heath wrote on January 5th, 2010 4:13 pm :

Look, we’re always sceptical, but you’re just being cynical here.

I think there’s the germ of a valuable and powerful idea here. I dont entirely support how my local MP Jeremy Hunt has articulated it: dismissing “so-called experts” is the sort of langage we expect of people who sack David Nutt and prefer to get their drugs policy from the Daily Mail.

But there’s something here can can try t make the best of. And house rules require that. if we’re not entirely satisfied with how this stands, we suggest how we can make it better. You’re falling short here David.

David Moss wrote on January 6th, 2010 11:16 am :

William old man, as you may imagine, I disagree with everything you say in response #14 except the 2nd sentence of the 2nd paragraph.

In particular, it is clear from my comments that control of the crowdsourcing facility is an issue. If the politicians and/or civil servants retain control of what issues are consulted on, how the issues are worded and what happens with the suggestions submitted, then the initiative is likely to be smothered, the status quo will be retained. That is a WIBBI, isn’t it. WIBBI some power over the process was relinquished by the politicians and civil servants, and handed over to … someone else. House rules therefore observed.

I would suggest also that debate will be facilitated if we take an example. No-one can possibly disagree that “our” proposals should be “wise and inventive“.

But we need more flesh on the bones. I suggest that we take the Abdulmuttalab case as our example.

What would the public suggest is the proper response to the 25 December 2009 pantybomber?

It’s the public who will have to queue up for hours in airports and be patted down and “X-Rayed” (actually, it’s wireless technology, not X-Ray). It’s the public who won’t be able to go to the lavatory for the final hour of a US flight or even read a book on their lap. That’s if the new security measures being suggested are implemented. What alternative would the public propose?

With that as our example, how do we get the issue onto the public consultation platform? How do we publicise the availability of the platform? How long should the debate continue? Who will word the description of the issue? Who will decide which public suggestions are worth pursuing? Will the authorities just proceed with what they planned anyway and ignore the crowd’s suggestions? Etc …

@crowdmanage wrote on January 6th, 2010 2:40 pm :

I think a crowdsourcing platform for public policy is an excellent idea. The vote does not capture collective wisdom in the same way as a platform would allow. But I prefer the non-partisan and appointed (rather than competition) approach of expert labs (http://www.crowdmanage.com/government/public-policy-crowdsourcing/).

Daren C. Brabham wrote on January 6th, 2010 4:03 pm :

I’ve been working on crowdsourcing as a way to solve public problems and boost public participation for some time now. If you’re interested, see two of my papers on the topic:

One from the journal Planning Theory: http://www.darenbrabham.com/files/brabhamplanning.pdf

And one from the journal Convergence:
http://www.darenbrabham.com/files/brabhamconvergence.pdf

My dissertation focuses on this topic, with an investigation of Next Stop Design (www.nextstopdesign.com), a crowdsourced bus stop design competition I headed up that was funded by a grant from the US Federal Transit Administration.

In fact, a Conservative Party official interviewed me about this topic a few months ago.

db

Guy M wrote on January 11th, 2010 2:42 pm :

This is a cracking idea from the Tories and should be applauded and supported. The success or failure lies in the criteria that need to be met to claim the prize – more here: http://wp.me/pHMG9-2y

Nigel wrote on January 12th, 2010 4:08 am :

There are several solutions in the works, but they have one issue which the Tories might not be happy with: they tend to castrate political parties in favor of direct citizen empowerment.
Here they are: http://www.metagovernment.org/wiki/Main_Page

The Armchair Revolution Begins to Stand Up « Face Youth Lab wrote on January 13th, 2010 4:42 pm :

[...] attempts that politics is being merged into new technologies through organizations, crowdsourcing (the Tories are offering £1million on a large-scale  platform) and games (The UK Parliament has created an ‘MP for a Week’ online role playing [...]

David Moss wrote on January 15th, 2010 11:52 am :

Bruce Schneier’s monthly newsletter has just arrived. It seems that Slate magazine, like response #15 above, has also suggested a public competition how to improve airport security. That gives us a hook to hang our ideas on. It concentrates the mind, it provides focus. So come on — what are the design features of a crowdsourcing system that will elicit sensible solutions to the problems of airport security?

In Mr Woody Allen’s film Bananas:

[The rebel leader] Esposito announces that he is the ruler of San Marcos, and orders that the country’s official language will be Swedish and that citizens must now change their underwear every half hour, wearing it outside their clothing so that it can easily be checked.

How, for example, would your design deal with suggestions like Mr Allen’s? How would you stop other contributors flaming him? Will your system accept contributions in Swedish? What would you do if the US Transport Security Administration implemented this idea without giving Mr Allen the credit for it? Having got into the habit of handing out million pound baubles, should the government pay for ideas? Etc …

[...] “Tories announce £1m competition for large-scale crowdsourcing platform” by William Hea…; category 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. [...]

[...] to make a firm commitment to take the wisdom of online crowds on board (and there’s still the prospect of the £1m prize for a suitable online platform which makes it possible, maybe). Likelihood of happening: [...]

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