Every day, millions of ordinary people ask questions on social networks like Facebook and Twitter and get back good ideas from their friends and family and coworkers, and all the other experts that surround them. It helps them make better decisions.
But if regular people can tap into the wisdom of a network using these simple, powerful tools, why can't the people who make our laws and government policy do the same thing? We think that they should have that power. And at Expert Labs, that's exactly what we make possible.
How Do We Do It?
At Expert Labs, our process is ambitious, but simple to understand:
- We work with policy makers and lawmakers in government to help identify the questions they need answered.
- We work with technologists and developers to build tools that gather those answers on social networks.
- We encourage the public to share their expertise by answering the questions that government has.
In short, government spends a lot of time talking to people. We give them the tools, and the know-how, to listen to people.
Who's Behind Expert Labs?
Expert Labs is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that's part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. AAAS is the oldest general scientific organization in the world, and you know AAAS for being the organization that publishes the venerable scientific journal Science. Expert Labs is also made possible by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Are you making a new social network?
Our goal isn't to make a new social network, so much as to tap into the largest social network that already exists: The web itself. By using open web technologies, we think we can make it easy for policy makers and scientists to connect with one another using the web sites and programs they're already familiar with. We'll be learning from the best examples from the entrepreneurial world of technology startups as well as successful models in the academic world.
Are you part of the government?
Nope, but we will work closely with government agencies to make sure the tools we create will be useful for them. We've been privileged enough to connect with agencies and departments across the Federal government, from the White House on down, and we'll be using what we've learned to make sure Expert Labs is making practical, useful technologies.
Are you like a VC or an incubator?
In some ways, Expert Labs is modeled after the successful example of venture capitalists, angel investors, or technology incubators, which provide funding and support to nurture new technologies. In our case, while we will likely run grant contests to provide funding for new technology, we're just as focused on advocating for the adoption and success of those new technologies, and in publishing the results of the work we've done.
How is this different than past efforts?
In addition to taking a very entrepreneurial attitude towards creating new technology to meet government needs, there are a few things that are unique about Expert Labs:
- We will be focused on documenting what we've learned in creating our new tools and technologies
- We see our work as experiments, and that means we can try new approaches that might be seen as too risky or ambitious for the standards of projects within the government.
- Our work will be distributed as cloud applications, using new platforms like the Apps.gov app store for Federal employees. This advantage in making our work available removes a lot of the barriers to technology adoption.
Thanks to Samer Farha for our header image.