[Video intro ends at 52 seconds; Intro by Dr. Gref ends at 2'18; Speech ends at 11'15; then Q&A]
These remarks have been edited from a 9-minute speech made in Moscow on November 12, 2011 at the 170th anniversary of Sperbank, Russia's largest and oldest financial institution. Speakers at this panel were introduced by Dr. Hermann Gref (CEO and Chairman of the Board, Sperbank, and former Russian Minister of Economic Development and Trade) and included Vladimir Putin, Prof. Jeff Howe (Northeastern), Prof. Tom Malone (MIT) and Dr. Paul Saffo (Managing Director of Foresight, Discern Analytics), Patrick Howard (Vice-President and Global Cloud Leader, IBM Global Business Services) and Klaus Kleinfeld (CEO and Chairman of the Board, Alcoa).
For Prime Minister Putin's presentation, click here.
We’ve heard today that as individuals we are smarter collaborating together than working alone. That is as true for institutions as it is for individuals. We are also smarter working across the boundaries of institutions with groups and individuals outside the walls of a single organization.
Collaboration makes businesses more successful. After all, Sberbank made $30 billion rubles ($1 billion U.S. dollars) as a result of its recent crowdsourcing experiments. But how do we, practically speaking, use technology and these collaborative processes to marry the chaotic success of Wikipedia to the hierarchical institutions of governance and government at the national and local level?
To do so, we have three challenges we must first overcome:
1. Serious Problems: The problems governments face are serious and complex. We live in a world with 7 billion people and soon we’ll live in a world with 10 billion people, 40% of whom will not have access to healthcare, clean water, or basic education. The breakup of the Eurozone is not the same as the Eurovision song contest. Are these kind of contests too frivolous to address the problems we face?
2. Declining Legitimacy: Globally, trust in government institutions is declining. We only need to witness the Arab Spring or the Occupy Wall Street movement. In the United States, by some measures trust in government is at an all time low of 9%. Government has to act with legitimacy. It has to engender trust. It has to have stability in its decision making. Is trying to connect the pulsing, vibrant network to the institution too experimental, too radical for government?
3. Too Costly: Finally, are these techniques too novel for government? It might be nice to have, but is crowdsourcing a must-have that is worth the investment of time and money?
I would argue that collaboration is more important for government than for business in these very tough economic times, because it enables government to deliver better services for less money and more democratically.
First, crowdsourcing is a serious solution to serious problems.
1. Saving Money: Twenty nations, and countless states and local governments, have created and launched national data portals to put out spending data. With information about how government spends money, citizens can crowdsource the development of solutions to spot fraud and waste, such as sophisticated models, visualizations, and predictions. But what they can also do, as in happened in the state of Rajasthan, India, is crowdsource the reading of that data in the town square and the writing of that data on one hundred thousand walls of villages, so people can then identify paychecks that have been written to someone who has died or bridges that were never built when the government claimed that they were.
2. Spotting problems: There are local platforms like See Click Fix, in use now in seventy governments across six continents, that allow for distributed problem spotting. Identifying red lights that are out at intersections or potholes in the street allows government to target the delivery of services more effectively and more cheaply.
3. Innovating Solutions: But crowdsourcing also allows for innovating solutions and not just the spotting of problems. The Department of Defense has used crowdsourcing to design a new combat vehicle. And they got it done not in years, not in months, but with 159 competitive, serious submissions obtained in a matter of weeks. How did this work? The Obama administration’s Open Government Initiative created a single platform called Challenge.gov that makes it simple and easy for every ministry to post a challenge and ask people not simply to suggest ideas but to develop solutions. Our Office initially helped ministries to frame the question, to pick the judges, and to identify their goals. Initially we provided some support centrally to educate the lawyers and the ministries to say “you too can do this,” or “it’s okay to do this.” But very quickly we put ourselves out of business because the ministries began to talk to each other. Now there is an effective community of practice with at least sixty agencies who communicate about the challenges they’ve created, the successes they’ve had, and they have learned from their experience putting these challenges on the web through this single, free platform.
Second, designed right, these are not experimental projects.
Previously, I had some experience creating a platform called Peer to Patent, in which we connected volunteer scientists and technologists to the national patent offices. The program, began in the US, then expanded to the UK, Japan, and Australia. This is is a structured, targeted process that uses rating and ranking - thumbs up and thumbs down - to deliver to the government official not ten thousand suggestions, not one hundred suggestions, but ten pieces of information that will help to inform his or her ultimate decision about the application that deserves a patent. I describe this at length in my book, Wiki Government.
This week, the British Prime Minister announced a new initiative to crowdsource the identification of regulations that are impeding and hindering entrepreneurship of new businesses. But he’s not just asking for those thousand ideas, he’s offering a process to ask the crowd to then help implement those suggestions and gather the data that’s necessary, so that crowdsourcing doesn’t create more work for government officials. It helps them in making their decisions.
Third, innovative solutions such as crowdsourcing are a must have, not just a nice to have. The tools to crowdsource are free or nearly free and the solutions are generated quickly. It makes government cheaper, smarter, and more effective.
In the Department of Veteran Affairs in the United States, the agency asked the nineteen thousand employees for a solution to the problem of how to bring down the wait time for veterans coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq to receive services that are owed to them. The time was reduced from more than a year to now only to a few weeks. It took only one person in the ministry, part time, to run a project that generated involvement from seven thousand employees in the first month alone.
There’s a town in California that just launched an iPhone app that manages a network of trained volunteers who respond when someone has a heart attack but before the ambulance can arrive. This saves lives at no extra cost.
The Latvian Parliament is working with Latvia’s banks to authenticate citizens identities in order to crowdsource the development of new legislation. The legislation is shaped by citizens, who are advised by a network of voluntary experts before the legislation is implemented.
And we’ve heard from the Prime Minister that here members of the public in Russia are helping to rewrite new laws, like a law on fisheries, and working together to supplement official government efforts by providing aid and assistance during the devastating fires that rampaged Moscow last year.
So let me close by saying that we have the means to engage more people in the life of their democracy.
This is not about the technology. That’s free.
It’s about asking questions. It’s about a willingness to ask and to create engaging and accessible opportunities for people to participate. But it’s not the same ad voting. It’s not about creating a single mass process that’s one size fits all. What’s required is crowdsourcing wisely, not crowdsourcing widely: developing many different, small ways for people to lend their expertise, their experience, and their enthusiasm for the public good whether it’s about patents or fish, veterans or potholes.
Churchill said, “democracy is the worst form of government except all others.” But we can do better. And thanks to the techniques that we’ve heard about today, we have the experience to make institutions of our democracy more effective and more participatory. Not just in principle, but in practice. Thomas Jefferson said we can “mak[e] every citizen an acting member of the government in the offices nearest and most interesting to him.” This in turn, Jefferson went on to say, “attaches him by the strongest feelings to the independence of the country and it’s Republican Constitution.”
Thank you and happy birthday.