This week in Open Government and Citizen Engagement: Experts vs. Citizens

 

The title of Anahi Ayla Iacucci’s post “Why citizens’ feedback is a false issue” is deceiving.  This lengthy post covers a number of questions about citizen feedback, and her main argument for why citizen feedback is a false issue is that citizen participation should take place from the beginning when the project is first being planned. This is an important point, but clearly does not make citizen feedback null and void. Rather it highlights its importance from the start of the process, as well as throughout it.

Participant's in Niger's Mobile Survey

Neither do I believe that just because we didn’t start out consulting with our “clients” means that reaching out to them later is a bad idea. Take for example ODTA’s mobile survey project where citizens of Niger provided the Government with their feedback concerning a justice hotline that had been implemented a year prior. The SMS survey sparked the government to do a second round of the survey and ask additional questions on how to improve access to the justice system.
 
 
I look forward to each of the issues brought up in Iacucci’s post being addressed in the near future via the Feedback Labs that is just getting started by a number of organizations looking to bring the loop full circle with conversation between governments, donors, and citizens.
 
As I began reading this recent post by Dan Moulthrop, co-found of The Civic Commons, my first reaction was, “This too? Citizens need to participate in this too? Isn’t this supposed to be someone else’s job?” By the end of the post my thoughts had changed to “Yes, this too should include more citizen participation,” but it got me thinking about where the line is between citizen engagement and crowdsourcing jobs that should be done by experts/specialists/people we voted for because we trusted they could do the job and we didn’t want to do it. 
 
While we may still be far from that line, and our path is necessarily directed towards increasing transparency and open government, there is something to be said about the value and efficiency of an expert. We can’t all do everything, and not everyone’s opinion is right. However, it should not be forgotten that citizens may be the best “expert” on their own lives and what they need.
 
The Open Government Partnership took a moment this week to assess itself by asking what concrete results from the OGP would look like. It listed three: 1.) successful realization of action plan commitments by OGP members, 2.) Progress on the four main eligibility criteria, 3.) What has the impact of openness and transparency been on the lives of ordinary citizen? The third goal being the trickiest to track, but most important to actualize.
 
 
Weekly updates are written by Taryn Davis of Development Gateway; email her your tips for next week's update to get a shout-out in the post.
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