Public policy with input from the public

Last night I attended an Obama campaign tech-policy panel discussion here at Penn. Unfortunately the consensus among me and my CITP friends who attended was that the event was almost completely uninformative on tech issues. One thing I did learn was that the Obama campaign is making use of some 1500 experts in the public to draft policy. That’s a refreshing idea. In the OHP report, I wrote the last chapter urging Congress to bring the public into their decision making process about using technology for transparency. In January, at dinner during the CITP’s cloud workshop, John Wonderlich and I and others were talking and a (to them crazy, to me interesting) idea came out about creating shadow congressional committees filled with experts/delegates from the public, rather than politicians.

Apparently this failure to reach out to experts and the public extends to the executive branch as well. Says an anonymous (but knowledgeable) writer, “it is widely-accepted that the federal government’s attempt to use the internet for regulations commenting (Regulations.gov) has been a failure.”

This seems to me to underlie some of the larger problems we face. The distrust of politicians created by, for instance, pay-for-access is about the fact that politicians aren’t turning to the right experts for advice. When Ted Stevens is mocked for his understanding of the Internet (though I say that a series of tubes is remarkably accurate), it’s because he clearly failed to talk to an expert.

There’s a structural problem here. Why don’t decision makers seek public input? What can we do in the public to make talking to us more appealing?

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