Rodrigo Davies

Thoughts on Neighborly, civic crowdfunding and the future of community development

Using Wikis to govern

25 Apr 2012

Whether you're a Wikipedia fan or cynic, the model's ability to allow the creation of high quality collaborative work (under the right conditions) is undeniable. So what about that most messy of collaborative processes, governing?

New York City last week released preliminary policies covering open data - to be used under the recently-passed Local Law 11 - in the form of a wiki. When the wiki opens in the next couple of months (according to Next American City), city agencies and (registered members of) the public will be able to comment and make amendments, all in public. As with all wikis, the revision history will be recorded and be visible to the public. For the less technologically-inclined, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications will be holding off-line public comment sessions, including two sessions during Internet Week, in May. Officials at the DOITT will compile the input, review it and issue the final standards in September.

So what's new here? Well, it's thought to be the first large-scale use of a wiki to draft guidelines and policies (NB the update on New Zealand below). It's not only the proactive citizen or activist that is being empowered here - overlooked agencies and stakeholders will also have a chance to voice their opinions. Unlike the usual closed-door process of public consultation, all participants will be able to interact and gauge the reaction to their feedback as the process evolves. That should in theory encourage more vigorous debate. Will we see a public policy equivalent of Wikipedia's notoriously fractious debates over certain pages, revealing hitherto secret disagreements within government?  Unlikely. But it will compel everyone to be open about their views.

Though the NYC initiative is a landmark for open government, Wikis have been tried elsewhere, including in Pune - the city that once hosted India's first CIO, Anupam Saraph. Under his tenure (a three-year trial that was funded by a PPP with the Software Exporters' Association of Pune), a team of volunteers created a governance Wiki (amusingly nicknamed a Giki). The Wiki, some of which is still active, was largely a data collection and information dissemination exercise, although in the case of a development plan for the Baner / Balewadi area, it was used as a means of explaining the planning process and encouraging citizens to voice their concerns. Combined with some vigorous offline opposition from green groups, it has led to the development plan being shelved. The specific policy debate aside, the Giki was an interesting first shot at Wiki-based open governance in India.

You can also see the an archived account of the Pune CIO's information systems initiatives here, including GIS projects to map the city's transport and provide SMS access to locations and timetables.

*Update: *Intellitics has pointed out that New Zealand used a Wiki to review its Police Act in 2007. Thanks for the heads up.