As we gear up to announce Expert Labs' first projects, it's worth restating some fundamental principles that are driving our efforts. While most of the talk about technology and government has had to do with politics or campaigning, we're much more interested in policy and governance -- the things that actually help government serve the people.
Most parts of government have been broadcasting information using the web, which is an important first step. But at Expert Labs, we think policymakers can use the web not just to talk to citizens, but to listen to them.
And to listen to the people, government has to go where the people are. A really exciting early step is CitizenTube, built on top of the YouTube platform. The White House is using the system to power what they're calling State of the Union 2.0. The Constitution requires the President to give us an update, of course, mandating "He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient".
Of course, that doesn't say anything explicit about having to listen, though listening and responding is obviously a necessary part of the process. Maybe it's because Expert Labs is part of the largest general scientific society in the world, but the concept of peer review seems fundamental if we want to make sure we're making the best decisions possible.
So we're watching this latest experiment closely. Frankly, YouTube hasn't always been known for having the highest-quality responses in the comments on videos hosted there. But there are many web communities, talking about everything from parenting to small business to cooking to design, which have been able to nurture really respectful, productive dialogue. And they've provided a great example, as shown by a few great decisions made for this State of the Union 2.0 effort:
- Extend an existing and popular web platform like YouTube instead of trying to build a new community or network from scratch.
- Have prominent visual branding and design which explains that this web community is a space for important public dialogue, to be treated with respect and appropriate conduct.
- Talk about the initiative as "State of the Union 2.0", using familiar web and government language to make a new idea easily understandable to casual observers.
- Tie the dialogue to the formal State of the Union, which guarantees good reach and attention from traditional offline media.
- Set a clear timeline for responses (next week) so that people involved in the dialogue will know when to look for replies.
Those are some smart choices for starting a useful dialogue. We'll be watching closely to see what lessons this experiment teaches us going forward.