Monday, March 24, 2008

Creating Collaboration in Governments

Wiki’s are websites that allow users to add, remove, edit and change content. Unlike typical websites wikis are invitations to collaborate, self-organize and create order from chaos.

The best-known wiki is Wikipedia, the free content collaborative encyclopedia with over 7.2 million articles. In March 2000 Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger initiated the then radical goal of creating a publicly editable encyclopedia. Today Wikipedia is ranked amongst the top 15 most visited sites in the world and its publicly edited content is recognized by Nature as having similar accuracy as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The success of Wikipedia is attributed to it using the features of a wiki. Wikis are generally designed with the philosophy of making it easy to correct mistakes, rather than making it difficult to make mistakes. Thus, while wikis are very open, they provide a means to verify the validity of recent additions to the body of pages.

The "Recent Changes" page on a wiki provides a list of all the edits made within a given timeframe. The “History” page on a wiki allows to track all the edits made to a page since its posting. Wiki’s also help track the contributions of different users making vandals and vandalism easy to spot and correct.

Wikis also provide for creating pages with restrictive access- only those with a valid access can view, add, remove and change the content on these pages. This allows the creation of wikis with access to registered users or controlled groups.

Decision Making in Government
In a government the process of decision-making is a collaborative process- whenever new ideas are proposed, applications are made or decisions need to be made the government creates a ‘file’. This file then takes a journey back and forth through the hierarchy of the government from the clerk who generated it to the Minister or even the Chief Minister and then back. The file travels through the government office across through a path defined by a ‘book of rules or procedures’, tradition of the office or a path marked by the person who created the file. It can also be redirected to other people, departments, and ministries. Sometimes files remain on a table for long periods.

Each file has a right hand side of the proposal backed with supporting documents and a left hand side that tracks its journey and the comments or ‘notations’ of those who receive, ‘study’ and forward the file.

A wiki is an ideal way to enable this government wide collaboration of decision-making. Instead of a file a wiki would create a wiki-page on the file-topic. All who are given access to the wiki could see new pages or edits on old pages using the “Recent-Changes” feature or simply search for pages with categories relevant to them. They can then just make any changes, which then become instantly available to all across the government.

With a wiki the government office is well equipped for quick turnaround and transparent decision making.

Imagine- no more file tracking, no-more wait. No more barriers of departmental walls to seek out information on relevant projects.

Imagine a complete transparency of the changes made by everyone who contributed to the process. Imagine the Right to Information Act (RTI) simply granting access to the relevant pages and no painful searches for information that does not exist.

Collaborating with citizens
Governments traditionally do not collaborate with citizens- inputs of citizens can at best be heard through citizen-groups, lobbyists, NGO's, media focus or representations. Governments therefore become very insular and loose the sense of purpose of activities in a sector or area.

By creating wiki’s that allow citizens to add, modify or even delete information the government can create collaborative-governance. For example a draft development plan could be ‘opened-up’ to citizen collaboration in the form of wiki pages. Citizens would then be able to fill in the gaps, add content and collaborate to developing a better region.

The opportunity
There are enormous possibilities to use the power of the internet to not only create collaboration in government but empowering the democratic process beyond the electoral process. It is an opportunity to see other offices, departments and citizens as partners and not adversaries. An opportunity to create shared visions and empower powerful missions.

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