More Storytelling! (And Other Ideas for ExpertNet)

By David Stern, AmericaSpeaks

As Joe Goldman noted last week, the White House and the GSA have invited the public to offer feedback on a draft Request for Information using a wiki.  (This was an innovative experiment in and of itself — wikis have not often been used to gather input in the past.)  The RFI describes a system that would enable officials throughout government to solicit the advice of experts, including self-selected amateurs and enthusiasts, by choosing topics and asking questions, distributing those questions to target participant groups, gathering feedback, and synthesizing it and returning feedback to the public.

We’ve offered a few thoughts in the wiki’s discussion area, and wanted to share those with you.  In part, as the title of this post suggests, we think that ExpertNet needs to incorporate more storytelling!

Let’s step back for a second: we think this plan would be a big step in the right direction even if implemented exactly as drafted.  But if we had our druthers, we’d make a few modifications and additions to this new hypothetical tool, including an even greater emphasis on outreach. In our comments, we suggested that ExpertNet should be housed outside government’s walls and made some suggestions for incorporating the optimal voting process.

Those who saw the op-ed written by AmericaSpeaks’ President, Carolyn Lukensmeyer, or heard my interview with Federal News Radio last week already know what I mean by telling more and better stories.  For the rest, here’s a bit of elaboration:

Telling the public what it said and how that information was used is too important to be subsumed into the synthesis and analysis step.  Much as the content-oriented first step (defining a topic and questions), has been separated from the outreach-oriented second step (distribution to professional networks), here content and outreach should also be separated given the critical nature of each in establishing a healthy participation ecosystem.

In short, ExpertNet needs to enable more storytelling.  A consultation should not only be built around the immediate policy outcomes, but should also incorporate a major effort to identify the successful examples in which citizens or experts had a genuine impact, particularly a significant one, and shouting those from the rooftops.

The media will begin to cover such stories when they recognize that participation is genuine, which in turn will facilitate broader outreach.  The public (both participants and non-participants) will be more likely to respond to future requests for participation, and to learn what types of feedback are likely to be successful.  Partner organizations that provide access to key groups of citizens or experts will be more likely to invite their membership to respond to future requests for input and expertise.  Finally, knowing that they will be required to communicate feedback at the end, government officials will learn to operate with potential success stories in mind from the very start.

You can join the discussion and read the rest of this comment, including specific recommendations on what the post-consultation feedback process should include, here.

To remind you, the deadline to participate and offer feedback in January 7 — so head on over now to help shape the future of citizen participation with government.

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