Allison Fine throws some common sense on the fire in assessing post-election “crowdsourcing change” efforts. I’m going to shamelessly quote it at length because the message is worth amplifying and repeating.
Oh, the sacrilege of criticizing well meaning crowd sourcing!!
Shouldn’t citizens be allowed, nay encouraged!, to throw do-goody ideas
against the wall so that we can then all vote on them and then . . .
and then . .. well, somebody should do something, right? These
well-meaning, misguided efforts have fallen into two categories:
1. The Confusion of Service Category. The discussion of using a
Craigslist approach to scaling up service, as my friend Nancy Scola outlines
rightly points out is not very helpful if it’s just more of the same.
The notions of increasing voluntary, community service as the solution
to government not working right needs to end. I have written about this
morphing of public and private service before, most recently here
and the basic premise of my argument still holds. Americans have
increasingly been volunteering (particularly young people who are
required to do so in school and are continuing to do so beyond school),
the number of nonprofits has exploded in the past twenty years and yet
problems abound. That is because the size of government far overshadows
the size of volunteer efforts in terms of resources. Peter Levine
compared philanthropic dollars to government dollars for Katrina repair
and you will see the difference, $6.5 billion in private philanthropic
dollars, nothing to sneeze at, but compared to $120.5 billion in
government aid. So, more volunteer databases are not what we need to
strengthen the civic infrastructure of the country and overhaul our
2. The second category are the idea generating sites that are
automatically set up as an “us vs. them” paradigm to help the Obama
administration “set priorities”. Ah, yes, we are going to tell you what
we think you should do — as if we haven’t just had that conversation
over an exhausting marathon of an election — and then we’re going to
hold your feet to the fire by stomping our feet and holding our breath
until you do. Or just as bad, we, the Obama campaign, are going to
“listen” to you as you fill out a survey (oy!) and then we’ll . . . well, we’ll say that we listened to you.
What’s the alternative, then?
This election was about transforming government, not just encouraging
people to volunteer more. (Oh, and btw, I don’t buy the idea that
because Obama has a large mailing list its the same as a constituency,
it’s a mailng list of people who were involved, not a list of people
who have signed up for the next phase of the journey – big, big
difference that campaigns and nonprofits need to understand much
So, here’s my plan of action:
1. The focus has to be on changing government to include citizen participation. […] The advocacy models of the 1960s were created to protests
against government; we need a new model of advocacy that helps us to
participate in government. So, the question changes from, “What do we
want government to do?” to “How are we going to participate in running
2. Continue the training. One of the most successful elements of the
Obama campaign was training local organizers. Now we need to educate
and train people on what government does. […] We should set a date of say, January 3rd and 4th and use Meetup.com
to get everyone go to your local library for a seminar on the
fundamentals of government; local, state and federal. How does it work,
what does it do, how can we participate?
3. Start local today. One of the dangers of the “throw an idea up
against the wall” strategy is that the ideas tend to be too big
(“alleviate global poverty”) and too hard for individuals to
participate in tackling […] Let’s make a national to-do list
for transforming local government, someplace where we really can make a
huge difference right now, today, if we show up and participate. Steve
Clift gets us started here.
Run for office, go to planning board meetings, ask your town supervisor
to start blogging and post the budget online (and keep it updated in
real-time!), promote local businesses, revamp the outdated recycling
Hat tip to Marnie for flagging this.