How many people does it take to…decide Government policy?

Is it just me or is everyone talking about crowdsourcing at the moment? Every meeting or event I go to, it comes up. Crowdsourcing advertising (see T-Mobile, Berocca, Hyundai etc.) has been around for a while, providing ad agencies and brands with a new way of showcasing a brand or product (whilst also helping them save some budget, I’m sure.) More and more companies going down the route of taking product suggestions and improvements from its core audience:  innocent ask customers for new recipe suggestions, PlayStation’s US blog has an ideas section, whilst Dell’s IdeaStorm is the tech poster child for actually implementing people’s ideas.

For brands, it makes perfect sense, and we’ll see more and more companies extend their involvement in crowdsourcing, either by giving trusted advocates a voice on their official social media estates or giving supportive influencers the tools to actually create their own content, not just be one of the stars of an existing idea.

For the public sector, crowdsourcing seems like a perfect fit. Everyone has an opinion on how the country or their local area should be run. Public opinion of politics and politicians is at a low ebb; how better to get the public engaged again than to open the clandestine corridors of power for people to suggest their own ideas?

The problem with any crowdsourcing tactic is that there has to be some guarantee that, if you ask people for their ideas, something is going to happen with them. When the coalition government asked for people’s thoughts on policies, they received 9,500 responses. The only thing was that nothing happened with them.

In modern politics, it seems that only good old-fashioned public outcry gets anything done. Just this weekend, the government was forced into an embarrassing climbdown over cancelling free milk for nurseries after the media took umbrage at the idea. On one hand, this kind of action is great – mass movements still have an effect; a unity of voice gets things done. But, the government is ultimately there to make tough decisions. What would happen if something like Proposition 8 in California was proposed over here? Would the inevitable Daily Mail/Daily Express/Daily Star campaigns influence things so far one way that all rational thought goes out of the window? How do you legislate for personal agendas monopolising the activity?

I guess we just shouldn’t ask for, or expect, too much actual involvement in the way things are done. Just as Dell wouldn’t let an amateur into one of its factories to play around with the expensive equipment, we should hope that the government will keep at least of some its policy making and activity behind closed doors.

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