Comment on “Wanted: consultation platform, £1m reward”

[What follows is a republished comment I made to Simon Dickson’s Puffbox post Wanted: consultation platform, £1m reward about the recently announced competition that the Consrvative Party might run to source a citizen’s platform if they win the forthcoming, and as yet unannounced, election.]

I’d noticed the call when it came out too via some of the press coverage it raised, but being offline over the holiday couldn’t dig much further.

A full copy of the original press release appears to have been posted but a more detailed brief is still lacking (maybe they should have posted a wiki to let the crowds develop the brief? 😉 – it seems like we’ll have to wait till after the election – and presumably a Tory victory? – before that appears, if this quote is anything to go by: “the specifications that we will be publishing alongside the official opening of the competition following the election”

As to the vague mention of “an online platform that enables large scale collaboration”, I’m not sure what that means either, in several different senses?

Technically, would a WordPress extension or WordPress/Mediawiki configuration count, that could be deployed across departments, local councils and/or initiatives, maybe automatically generating related links between then? Or “to win” would a hosted 1-click WPMU installation that could launch a pre-extended/pre-configured site be the sort of submission that’s required?

Benefits wise, what would a successful community collaboration result in? A popular idea floating to the top of a voting pile (but how would that feed into the policy development or consultation process?) A flexible data powered platform (like Geocommons or Many Eyes) that provided people with access to data that could inform, support or deny the ideas that are put forward on a suggestions part of the platform? (An loosely coupled system of independent apps might suit that approach better? In which case, might a particular orchestration of independent systems/APIs qualify as a prizewinning entry, (though it would probably require a shiny interface to win!;-)

One of the things we tried (albeit largely unsuccessfully) around the Digital Britain Interim Report was the Fake Report on a wiki Wikipedia has shown that it is possible to collaboratively author documents, with each wiki content page showing a consensus NPOV view (sometimes!) and the related Talk page capturing elements of the discussion and rationale for why the content page is as it is. It may be that for developing policy documents, this diptych/dual view approach would capture a an argument in a more convenient way than a list of comments?

(One thing I’d like to explore is whether a Commentpress style theme could be used to pull wiki talk elements in to a wiki page as comments/discussion at a section level. As well as working for policy document formulation, a similar approach might also be useful as an authoring tool for closed communities, such as standards authoring (e.g. BSI Drafts ) or drafting Government bills.)

Votes are another way of compressing opinion, as is sentiment analysis, in order to summarise a large body of comment in order for it to be usable by the poor sod charged with the task of taking on board the opinions of the masses!

Or maybe you need a platform that can offer something to, and draw from, a wide range of visitor types: folk who might cast a vote but not comment, or comment but engage in discussion?

PS This reminds me of an essay I never did gt round to writing about the structure and role of state sponsored grand challenges and prize challenges in driving innovation in a particular direction (notes)

PPS in the short term, how about a comment platform for party manifestos as and when they appear, maybe on, I dunno, WriteToReply? 😉