(Milwaukee, WI) Beth Noveck has been a leader since the 1990s in connecting online, collaborative knowledge-production efforts (tools like Stack Exchange) to government, and vice-versa. She has pursued that cause both as a scholar and as an Obama Administration official. I have not yet read her latest book, Smart Citizens, Smarter State, but Andrew Mayersohn’s review lays out important issues. This is a quote that mentions me, but I recommend Mayersohn’s whole article:
The ultimate goal of Smart Citizens, Smarter State is not simply a more competent regulatory state, but a transformed relationship between government and the governed. To policymakers and bureaucrats, Noveck makes the case that soliciting citizen expertise can make governance more effective; to democratic theorists, Noveck argues that providing expertise is a genuine form of civic engagement, and that it can help remedy the “broken, staccato rhythm of citizen engagement today” with something more substantive and sustained.
Noveck is right to suggest that we should start to think of providing expertise as another form of engagement like protesting or voting. Tufts University’s Peter Levine estimates that at least one million Americans are members of organizations that practice “open-ended discussion, problem-solving, education, and collaboration with diverse peers” such as the Industrial Areas Foundation and the League of Women Voters. Levine argues that such people are an important constituency for a more participatory democracy, since they have already seen it work in practice and developed the skills involved. Noveck’s proposals would greatly increase their numbers and, perhaps, begin to accustom a portion of the public to the idea that governance can and should be collaborative.