Earlier this month, the White House Open Government Initiative and General Services Administration requested your input in helping us to design an effective public engagement tool that will make it simple for public officials to pose questions that you can share your expertise in ways that are timely, relevant and informative for policymaking. Here's a detailed description (what technologists call a "use case") of the online process in hopes of getting specific suggestions in response:
First, public officials use ExpertNet to pose questions to the public about any topic we're working on -- from creating new jobs to preventing homelessness among Veterans or developing next-gen transportation systems. A simple, online "wizard" will help them make their questions clear. There's an active discussion on the ExpertNet wiki about how to design constraints into questions to improve the quality of responses. One user, GovLoop, writes "it is really hard to write great questions. In survey research, a lot of time and effort is spent on the question formation." Another user, AngieChock, points to the Delphi Approach of posing questions to encourage an interchange of views. Check out "Defining the Topic and Asking Questions" for more.
Second, we want to make sure that the questions reach people with the greatest expertise or enthusiasm for a topic. We imagine distributing questions to professional, online communities; user MDickey1 suggests simply using RSS feeds. Mixtmedia, another wiki user, also adds that better distribution of news about public participation opportunities will attract citizens serving their democracy, entrepreneurs wishing to impress government and others with their marketable know how. Check out Distributing Questions to Professional Networks for more about whether to enable people to rate and rank one another's submissions - in the way we now rate movies or books. Check out Facilitating Structured Responses for more.
Finally, we know that no system will work unless public officials participate actively and explain how the agency uses public's ideas. For example, David Stern1 offers a detailed design for a feedback template. Check out "Synthesizing Public Input and Returning Feedback" for more.
What We Want to Hear More Of
Submissions that have been helpful include those that offer suggestions or solutions to queries or offer a new way of thinking about an aspect of the platform. We are eager to hear about specific examples of tools that will achieve goals outlined here (or something different and why that's preferable). We'd like specific examples of people using such practices, what works well, and what doesn't. We want prototypes, wireframes, and designs. Our goal is to implement a new system for citizen participation as quickly and cost effectively as possible.
Expertise Understood Broadly
We chose "ExpertNet" as the working title (we have a page where you can suggest an alternative) because we believe that everyone has expertise, experience and enthusiasm which, if shared in manageable ways, will help us make smarter decisions together. We aren't just looking for participation from people with the highest professional qualifications. We want to make sure that everyone who is interested and has something relevant and useful to share has an opportunity to participate. This is a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" and we have the technology to collaborate on solving the major issues that confront us.
Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer
Shelley Metzenbaum is Associate Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for Performance and Personnel Management