Involving Citizens in Government Product Development

The election of 2016 will certainly be one for the history books. Regardless of your political leanings, there was one sure thing to celebrate during this election cycle. The Innovate Your State Fix California Challenge—a crowdsourcing campaign aimed at promoting public participation in order to determine ways to improve government—had an initiative on the ballot in California!

The benefits of involving citizens in governmental change are surprisingly very similar to the benefits of involving employees in organizational change (which is incredibly effective, if you hadn’t heard).

For the first time in history, a resolution from a crowdsourced initiative was on a California ballot.

Much like employees in an organizational setting, members of the public are most likely to know what needs to be fixed or what could be more efficient. After all, they are the people who notice most often that a bike lane would make things safer, or that their child’s class sizes are far too big to promote actual learning. It follows then that because citizens are observant of areas for potential improvement, they oftentimes (though not always) have suggestions for how that improvement might be possible. If you encounter an obstacle often enough, chances are you’ve thought about how to surmount it, though you may not have the resources on your own. That’s where crowdsourced initiatives like the Fix California Challenge can come in.

In a similar vein, citizens—like employees—are most impacted by the results of a crowdsourcing initiative, and are thus more invested in the input and the outcome. This not only means that they are more likely to want to participate in the proposing of ideas for improvement, they’re also more likely to be involved in other aspects of the campaign—from voting on ideas to building on them to volunteering to help enact the solution.

Perhaps the most impactful comparison is the opportunity for governmental crowdsourcing initiatives to give an equal voice to often unheard or disenfranchised populations. Often employees do not feel as valued or appreciated as they should, so organizational crowdsourcing allows for them to feel as though their voice has been heard, even if their proposed solution for a problem is not the winning solution. The same is true in government. Unfortunately, we still have segments of the population whose voices are not heard as loudly as others. As much as anything, crowdsourcing campaigns set those disenfranchised groups on an equal footing with lobbying groups and political action committees and wealthy donors.

We already see the results of this citizen involvement with Prop 54, or the California Legislature Transparency Act, the proposition from the Fix California Challenge. As the name might suggest, the proposition specifically aims to increase government transparency by making proposed bills and recordings of legislative meetings more readily available for citizens.

 

For the first time in history, a resolution from a crowdsourced initiative was on a California ballot. Not only was it on the ballot, but it was passed by the electorate! It’s fair to imagine that the accomplishment, a current 100% success rate for crowdsourced initiatives on ballots in California, can be at least partially attributed to the direct involvement of the citizens it would affect.

To read the full story of Proposition 54, download the case study.

By Rob Hoehn

About the author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

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