Commenting is not crowdsourcing

I’ve noticed a lot of people getting quite agitated by this Guardian piece about how the Programme for Government ‘crowdsourcing’ (sic) exercise has ended ‘without a single government department expressing a willingness to alter any policy’.

Now, I’m speaking for nobody but myself here – but what the Guardian piece doesn’t fairly reflect is that it was not a crowdsourcing exercise, nor even a consultation.

It was the definitive statement of the outcome of negotiations between the two parties currently forming the country’s coalition government. It was not ‘give us some ideas for what you think we might have agreed.’ The comment box provided an opportunity for people to voice opinions or ask questions, and government promised it would listen.

There was no commitment to take the responses back for a second round of coalition negotiations. To do so would have been quite ridiculous. So I’d argue that it’s entirely reasonable for the departmental responses to take the position of ‘well, we’ve heard what you say, but…’.

9 thoughts on “Commenting is not crowdsourcing”

  1. Well – except that it is slightly worrying that there was ~nothing~ than provoked them into action and change…? Or are the politicians and civil servants running the departments so perfect that despite the volume of ideas (of which some or many were just statements of support or ‘yah boo sucks’ comments admittedly) – there is nothing there which made them even think a teesy weeny bit differently? Pesonally, I cannot imagine receiving that volume of feedback and not being challenged to think a little more…

  2. Except that the page you link to says explicitly that it was a consultation. I quote:

    Our Programme for Government signalled the start of a new and better way of engagement and policymaking. As Oliver Letwin says in the video: ‘At last, government has realised that there are 60 million citizens who really do have ideas. Through processes like this, we can give real power to the people and make things open.’

    Are you saying that in your opinion, HM Government has honoured its commitment to listen to the electorate and engage with them, by what it has done? Why do you say that people’s agitation is unfair and ridiculous?

  3. I don’t want to get into an argument over semantics here, but there’s nothing in that quote which says, ‘this process is a consultation.’ And it was the thought of the two parties returning to the negotiating table which I described as ridiculous.

    This document could have been chucked up on the web as a PDF. It wouldn’t have been the first time, far from it. But they took the opportunity to do something a bit more with it, laying down a marker that the new government wanted to be open, to encourage discussion.

    Spending Challenge and Your Freedom, for better or worse, were true consultative, crowdsourcing exercises. This one simply wasn’t.

  4. Simon – was that a response to Gordon’s post or mine as well? If it was a response to mine too – I am not arguing that it was a consultation… merely that any serious and listening dialogue or discussion usually results in somebody changing their mind a little… It would be good to know if those who read all the comments – had anything else to say back.

  5. It was spun as a crowdsourcing exercise. New politics;post-bureaucratic age etc. And if it was only a statement – what’s the point of allowing comments? And why spend £20K on each site?

  6. Tom, I think you’re unfairly lumping together the Programme For Government site and the two Delib-based ‘crowdsourcing’ exercises. They are very different.

    The £20k figure you’re referring to is presumably based on the price quoted in Francis Maude‘s PQ answer for the annual cost of the Your Freedom site. The PFG site was built by a different operator (namely, myself) using different technology, for a different purpose and with a different result.

    And whilst I can only speak for the part I was responsible for, I can’t believe it will have totalled anything like £20k.

  7. You’re right; sincere apologies. I read the Guardian article and thought they were referring to the two disastrous, poorly moderated sites. Apologies once again.

  8. >>for a different purpose and with a different result.
    I may be missing something here – and this is not a crit. of you personally since we all go where the work is.
    But, I’ll ask the stupid question… given the comments above… what was the purpose, and the result?

  9. I just wrote a short post about this topic (alas, before having discovered this thread): http://www.intellitics.com/blog/2010/08/07/programme-for-government-consultation-what-was-the-promise-to-the-public/

    I think the key challenge is that unless the scope and the boundaries are made very explicit (more than was the case here) the public is always quick to expect a lot more influence than what the sponsor/convener has in mind.

    Here’s what the site said when it first launched: “We’ll take all your comments and suggestions on board and publish the Government’s response to those policy areas receiving the most feedback.”

    In my view, this leaves way too much room for interpretation. To many participants, “taking comments and suggestions on board” implies that there is still at least some room for the document under discussion to be modified based on their input.

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