public engagement in the stimulus: Virginia’s example

In a comment yesterday, Michael Weiksner argued for more public voice in the allocation of stimulus funds. Experiments from around the world have found that public involvement in public-sector spending decisions improves the quality of those decisions and reduces corruption during the implementation phase. If, for instance, citizens help to decide that a school should be built at a particular location, they are likely to make sure that it is built well, on budget and on schedule.

I’ve argued that the federal government should take the lead in encouraging public voice; that should be a top priority of the new White House office on civic engagement. But it’s also possible to introduce public participation further downstream. Virginia has launched an official website to collect public ideas on how to spend that state’s federal money. Ideally, the site will turn into more than a list of suggestions, with perhaps an opportunity for voting. There should also be ways for people to add value to suggestions, wiki-style.