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Office of Implementation Assessment: Creating a Crowdsourced Virtual Agency

I believe that the best argument made by Eggers and O’Leary in If We Can Put a Man on the Moon was the need for lawmakers to consider how their proposals will be implemented when the programs are passed to the agencies. I was thinking about this when I was visiting the Woodrow Wilson Center’s electronic archives for the (now defunct) Office of Technology Assessment.

For those not familiar with OTA, it was an agency that performed deep technical analysis of current science and technology topics. Founded in 1972, it produced reports on the impact of the supersonic transports, how to best prepare citizens for disasters, and the benefits of early childhood health programs. OTA provided objective and succinct guidance to Congress on technology issues until it was shut down in 1995. The science community has continually called for OTA’s reestablishment and in 2008, GAO was tasked with producing technical assessment reports.

This year, the Woodrow Wilson Center argued [PDF] for creating a network of nonpartisan organizations to provide objective technical assessments (Expert & Citizen Assessment of Science & Technology – ECAST Network). This is a great idea but I think it should be taken one step further: a nonpartisan network of scholars and practitioners to provide analysis and strategies for implementing major legislation.

Now, your first response is probably that we already have more than enough organizations that provide detailed advice on how to implement almost every bill before Congress. Very true but the problem with their advice is that it is often politically-motivated and rarely deals with the realities of how the agencies will make the programs work effectively and efficiently. Also, I’ve yet to see these proposals consider how their strategies will impact other program and government operations as a whole.

We have a unique community of practitioners and scholars from all levels of American government here on GovLoop. I envision developing some type of online structure that could tap into the expertise and practical knowledge that this community possesses and channel it into implementation strategies for such topics like health care, emergency preparedness, and similar topics. We already have tools for collecting ideas, judging those ideas, and crowdsourcing innovations and best practices.

I’m just tossing this idea out there to see if anyone would be interested in discussing it further. I have a few concepts for next steps but I really want to just start the dialogue. This could also serve as a general conversation on creating virtual agencies and better citizen engagement through crowdsourcing (like Beth Noveck’s concepts in Wiki Government).

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Profile Photo Alex Glaros

Bill,

Beth’s Wiki Government is a promising path out of our politically divisive environment. It’s absolutely great thinking.

What I would add is a prototyping component to every idea in order to test it on a small scale first where possible, with metrics, which would build trust into this new government process that Beth is recommending.

Thanks for spreading the word on this breakthrough concept.

Alex Glaros

Profile Photo Bill Brantley

@Alex – Thanks for the comment! Yes, I was greatly impressed by Beth’s book and her concepts for crowdsourcing public administration. That’s why I would like to see it applied to other government issues.

Profile Photo Pam Broviak

I like this idea – if implemented correctly, it could prevent a lot of the problems and efficiencies that occur after passing of some legislation. For example, a lot of improvements could have been made to the stimulus legislation if only Congress had better understood how these funds would be received and spent at the local level. Perhaps they could have then tailored the legislation to better streamline the funding and project approval.

I think the key would be to have an interface for reviewing and commenting on legislation that was very easy to understand and navigate. And one that would perhaps allow someone to drill into the bill and comment on very specific parts instead of the entire thing.

Profile Photo Bill Brantley

@Pam – Thank you for your comments! Yes, I see this is a way of sneaking knowledge management into the legislative process by developing a knowledge base of best practices and templates that the Congress can draw upon when crafting bills.

And your idea about an easy to use interface is vital to the effort. I think the best model right now is the redesigned Federal Register website but expand upon it so that you can form groups and subgroups around the specific bills and parts of the bills. Something with the functionality of Google Docs but also able to accept/send Twitter feeds. Like Alex suggested, I need to pilot the components and then put them into a single package.

I’m planning on throwing together a pilot later in November. Not sure what piece of legislation would make a good test case.

Profile Photo Matt Baca

Great post, Bill. I have a similar pilot program going now, though it’s less focused on experts and more about expanding participation in democracy. Check out writethebillwiki.com and policypoints.wikispaces.com if you have a chance. (I also welcome feedback!) There’s also some very interesting work going on at opencongress.org, and expertlabs.org has a project that sounds somewhat close to yours as well.