E-government has been defined in different ways. The United Nations defines it as “utilizing the internet and world wide web for delivenring government information and services to citizens”. Gartner’s Group defines it as “the continuous optimization of service delivery, constituency participation and governance by transforming internal and external relationships through technology, the Internet and new media”. There are many more definitions, but all of them end up agreeing on the same thing: the use of new technologies (especially the Internet) to give better services interacting with citizens, businesses and other government agencies.
From this perspective of e-government, crowdsourcing can be very useful. In fact, some local governments (especially in U.S.) have experimented with crowdsourcing (with public discussions, idea generation and public comment). In fact, this type of initiatives provides transparency, promotes engagement and brings together experts from many different fields, which clearly benefits any existing democratic government.
Crowdsourcing can bring policy closer to citizens, enabling them to participate more in decision making or in the proposition of standards or projects for the common good.
It should be clarified that while any e-government initiative can give rise to citizen participation, it does not happen in reverse. Obviously, when a participation initiative does not come from a government agency, can not be considered e-government. For example, Ziudad or ReparaCiudad: are citizen participation initiatives that governments could use, but those were not proposed by governments.
After this little explanation, lets go to the heart of the matter. Currently, governments have used crowdsourcing for e-government chiefly in 4 ways:
1. Public policies and budgeting
In this case, government provides a document where those public policies or budgets can be found, and invites citizens to comment or propose changes in order to improve them.
While this may seem idyllic at the political level (citizens modifying and building fairer policies, or at least getting involved), the reality is that it is an area that needs to be improved, not because there are not initiatives of this kind, but because the effect they may have. The reality is that the documents provided to citizens to study and propose changes, at the end of the process are hardly affected by the views or comments expressed.
2. Idea generation
In this case, citizen participation is sought to propose ideas that can improve services, save money, etc.. In this type of crowdsourcing initiatives tools like UserVoice or IdeaScale are being used.
A key point to encourage participation in this kind of initiatives is to ensure that, what users propose, is taken into account. For this purpose a moderator is needed, someone who reports because an idea is rejected or accepted, for example. Someone who generates feedback.
Participation can be motivated by prizes for the accepted ideas, or even by the participation of the person who proposed the idea in the project that translated it into reality.
A clear example is SAVE award.
3. Expert contributions
In this case the objective is to create information repositories generated by experts, who will make these repositories of higher quality. These repositories are often generated through Wikis, in which experts can create the content.
OpenEnergyInfo is an example of these kind of initiatives, where experts can write about issues related to energy and about policies that affect the use of it. It also allows and encourages data sharing.
As with any wiki, one of the most important problems is the editing wars, so, again, a moderator is needed to avoid these situations.
4. Work Distribution
In this type of crowdsourcing initiatives applied to e-government, the main objective is to distribute tasks to save time, because the parallel processing of the tasks, and to save money.
One of the most clear and known example of this use of crowdsourcing in e-government is the Peer to Patent project, from the Patent Office of the United States; project that has allowed the participation of many people who has facilitated the revision and approval of many patents, saving time and money to the public administration.
More examples can be found in the web Challenge.gov, which works as a kind of Innocentive but for goverment projects, or for projects from agencies related to it. Through this platform different kind of tasks have been performed; tasks ranging from documentation or creating videos to creating mobile applications, design of algorithms or solve difficult problems. Everything to improve the functioning of government.
- Warner, J. (2011, June). Next steps in e-government crowdsourcing. In Proceedings of the 12th Annual International Digital Government Research Conference: Digital Government Innovation in Challenging Times (pp. 177-181). ACM.
- Palvia, S. C. J., & Sharma, S. S. (2007). E-government and e-governance: definitions/domain framework and status around the world. In International Conference on E-governance.