TO: Chris Vein, World Bank
FROM: Liane Tomasetti
DATE: May 15, 2013
Subject: Russia’s Opening Government Plan: Crowdsourcing Creative Capital
Russia’s new commitment to open government is an admirable and noble pursuit and one that citizens are clearly calling for. The current open government plan suggests a more lateral and open approach to government. Some of these provisions include:
No. 10.2: “development (adaptation) of openness standards for government authorities with regard to working with public requests from citizens, including public requests for provision of information, grant support for projects.”
No. 9.2.: “development (creation) of a structured database with a multi-criteria search option (by types, recipients, administrators, constituent entities of the RF, etc.) in the open data format, providing: information about subsidies, grants, subventions and tenders, by stages, with the possibility of keeping track of their status; information about recipients of state subsidies, grants and subventions.”
No. 9.3.: “Establishing of standards for publication of "civilian versions" of budgets (information for taxpayers on budget expenditure items), including in the form of infographics”
And most basically, “No. 2.: Development of a system for expert discussion of effectiveness of development and implementation of socially and economically important decisions, taken by the Government of the Russian Federation, government authorities of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation and local government bodies.”
This more lateral, open approach could allow citizens, policymakers, politicians, and even the prime minister to operate on an even playing field and is clearly an initiative that Russians desire. A recent report on Russia, conducted by the Pew Research Center through the Global Attitudes, revealed that “following a winter of discontent Russians [have] express[ed] an increased appetite for political freedom,” and indicated increased support for “key civic freedoms and institutions.” Unfortunately, “although growing numbers of Russians value civic freedoms and institutions, relatively few see these as a reality in their country.” The report points out that “it is possible to discern a growing gap between democracy’s promise and practice.”
The plan indicates interest in answering many of the aforementioned dissatisfactions, stating:
“Traditional governance model, based on contradistinction of the state and the citizens as “controlling” and “controlled”, is a spent force. To improve communication between power and society it is necessary to have feedback when solving key tasks of socio-economic development of the country.”
But, if the plan genuinely intends to employ this philosophy, it is going to need to be willing to commit to soliciting more than “feedback,” and instead work to “collaborate” with individuals and organizations who are in touch with the needs of communities and their members. “controlling” and “controlled”, is a spent force.
The plan suggests that “to improve communication between power and society it is necessary to have feedback when solving key tasks of socio-economic development,” and goes so far as to open with a quote from the president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, who boldly claiming that “open government is an effective way to get feedback that allows us to assess the efficacy of government policy, to build the work of the government in a fundamentally different way, to make it modern,” as if being modern is simply asking, “what do you think?”
Making Russian Government Modern does not mean asking the question “what do you think?,” but rather “how can you help?” and “how can we help you help?”
Calling for feedback is a definitive stride in the way of transparency, but only one small piece of what having an open government signifies. What is truly needed is not even a shift in power, but a sharing and division. Power needs to be directed to those who have the means to make a difference. The choice of the word “feedback” as well as what is currently laid out in the action plan suggests more interest in presenting ideas for response rather than engaging in collaborative dialogue, design, and exchange.
Looking at U.S. Opening Government Plan: ExpertNet and Challenge.gov
By cultivating the creative and innovative capital inherent in its citizen body, Russia could truly promote civic engagement and in turn amplify citizen satisfaction and remedy the feeling of distrust and dissatisfaction of its constituents. One model Russia might refer to is the United States Open Government Plan, and specifically the ExpertNet and Challenge.gov initiatives which are seeking to mobilize citizen talent.
Allowing for meaningful and accessible participation by all citizens would increase the feelings of freedom, involvement, and investment. In order to facilitate these opportunities, Russia’s Opening Government Plan should look to crowdsource for the creative capital and innovation that is undoubtedly already evident within its borders.
ExpertNet is a citizen engagement platform that is still in its development phase by the U.S. Government as its creation has been a reflection of its core principles: to harness and employ the inherent skill-sets and capacities of the general public. This of course takes time, but it is still a methodology to aspire to. The main idea behind “ExpertNet” is “that everyone has expertise, experience and enthusiasm which, if shared in manageable ways, will help us make smarter decisions together.” Creativity exists in a variety of forms, or more importantly, a variety of faces. Providing access in this way to the Russian people to contribute and help problem-solve will lead them to see their voices valued and give them a direct avenue to address the issues that are most troubling to them. Instead of being indignant, citizens can become industrious.
Challenge.gov (@Challengov) is a similar platform launched by the General Services Administration (GSA) where agencies can solicit responses to specific initiatives and challenges, thus crowdsourcing intellectual and literal resources. It “empowers the U.S. Government and the public to bring the best ideas and top talent to bear on our nation’s most pressing challenges. This platform is the latest milestone in the Administration’s commitment to use prizes and challenges to promote innovation.”
The location of expertise in our society is changing and expanding, and technology has the means to connect the brightest ideas with the resources to make a difference. In our fast-paced society, it is crucial to court talent across across all disciplines, particularly those working in creative ways. To provide one concrete example of this evolution, it is useful to look at the digital platform Neighborland, an online tool for identifying and achieving community goals that evolved out of an artistic project, “I wish this was” by artist Candy Chang. This digital platform provides a free space for community members to have their voices heard and was created through interdisciplinary collaboration between artists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. It’s a creative idea that is now able to “crowdsource better neighborhoods.”
By inviting unconventional contributions from all corners of communities, Russia will be able to mobilize the talent and possibility of its public. The current Russian action plan for Open Government should seek to invite participation by all citizens through direct and easily accessible avenues and particularly strive to appeal to its creative constituents.
As Economist Paul Romer points out, “growth springs from better recipes, not just from more cooking.” We can’t keep “doing more and more of the same kind of cooking.” New recipes will only be found by opening up the opportunities for contribution to new participants, particularly those working in creative and innovative ways.
Currently, “only 31% of Russians are satisfied with the way democracy is working in their country.” Employing technology to open government to the creative capital in Russia will make these new modes of engagement possible.
Download LTomasetti- Opening Government in Russia- Crowdsourcing Creative Capital (May 2013)