Review: Wiki Government–How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful

4 Star, Best Practices in Management, Change & Innovation, Culture, Research, Democracy, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Information Society, Information Technology, Intelligence (Public), Public Administration, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Almost a Five–Making Wrong Things Righter

February 21, 2010

Beth Simone Noveck

I sat down intending to make this a five, but the two fluff reviews have to be off-set. Robert Ackoff would say this is a spectacular book about making the wrong things righter instead of the right things righter–too many lawyers and focused on improving a patent approval system that probably needs to be eradicated and the buildings and files plowed under with salt. It also lost one star because I was one of the 4,000 that actually participated in the Open Government experiment, where the legalization of marijuana triumphed and every time someone voted for my governance reform idea, a “monitor” from the partisan correctness office came in and voted against it moving it back down to zero. The author is naive to think this initiative is going anywhere without electoral reform that displaces the two-party tyranny and restores the Constitution, the Article 1 independence of an honest Congress, and integrity of the Executive at the political level. [See especially Chapter 21 in my new book that just went to the printer, INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainaabilty and is free online at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, and my earlier wire-bound book, also free online, Election 2008: Lipstick on the Pig (Substance of Governance; Legitimate Grievances; Candidates on the Issues; Balanced Budget 101; Call to Arms: Fund We Not Them; Annotated Bibliography).

Having said that, I found this book to be spectacularly informative, thoughtful, useful, with extraordinary insights and suggestions that were over-shadowed by the focus on the patent system–suggestions about the-redesign of government, for example. I recommend reading my reviews of SMS Uprising: Mobile Activism in Africa and of The Myth of Digital Democracy along with this review, the three books were read together as a set. Below are some quotes and my fly-leaf notes. This book is a foundation stone for righteous change into the future, but only that first stone.

QUOTE (xvi): Done right, it is possible now to achieve greater competence by making good information available for better governance, improve effectiveness by leveraging the available tools to engender new forms of collective action, and strengthen and deepen democracy by creating government by the people, of the people, and *with* the people.

QUOTE (17-18). A handful of employees in an institution–any institution-cannot possess as much information as the many dispersed individuals who make up a field. … in an exploding ecosystem, including government: most knowledge lies outside the boundaries of the institution.”

QUOTE (25): The patent system is just one example of how government institutions create single points of failure by concentrating decision-making power in the hands of the few, whether legislators in Congress, cabinet officials in the executive branch, or bureaucrats in agencies.

QUOTE (27): Or, as Scott Page, the University of Michigan author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies (New Edition) puts it, “Diversity trumps ability”–this is a mathematical truth, not a feel-good mantra.

QUOTE (40): What is lacking, though, are effective ways for government to be responsive to the public, as opposed to corporate interests, large stakeholders, and interest groups.

QUOTE (48): [Patent] Examiners have reason to be unhappy. They have the increasingly difficult job of making legally enforceable decisions in the public interest without the benefit of enough time or adequate informational resources. [Elsewhere the author observes that examiners are explicitly forbidden to use the Internet to search for information.]

QUOTE (57): Many kinds of information are not to be easily found even with the best search tools. Physicists no longer publish in journals when they can publish in Arxiv, the online repository with 500,000 physics preprints. But some fields do not publish in readily searchable sources online or off. For Example, computer science does not have a culture of universal academic publishing. Industry and academic programmers publish their computer code repositories on the web, generally unindexed, unclassified, and undocumented, making that code accessible to other programmers familiar with the subject matter but making it harder for examiners to find and cite. [Elsewhere the author observers that examiners are completely cut off from foreign patent and prior art archives.]

QUOTE (110): When groups interact with information, their members can leverage diverse skills to transform raw data into useful knowledge. [I've been calling this Information Arbitrage for decades, see THE SMART NATION ACT: Public Intelligence in the Public Interest.

QUOTE 111): Bringing diversity to data can have life-saving effects.

QUOTE (190): The official no longer needs to be the sole decision maker. Instead, new technology can help bridge the chasm between public participation and public policy in issues ranging from climate change to patent. Collaborative governance is an idea whose time has come.

QUOTE (197 Note 58): The ideal type of citizens' group is one that is “composed of representatives of all strata of its community; it would be unbiased, courteous, well-organized, adequately financed, articulate.” David Guimary, Citizens Groups and Broadcasting (New York: Praeger, 1975), p. 148 [Not available for linkage within Amazon.]

Fly-leaf notes:\

BIG PLUS: Author states the Internet is not a killer app. Totally agree, see my many reviews on Information Operations, Information Society, and Information Technology (at Phi Beta Iota).

BIG PLUS: The author's agenda includes re-design of government, huge agreement with the need. See my review of The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage Scary part: lawyers in charge of design.

The author distinguishes between deliberative democracy (inputs) and collaborative democracy (full engagement) but neglects participatory democracy (citizen-driven self-governance).

Book does not really address the core obstacle, engaging the 90% of the citizenry that will not demonstrate the passion for participation that accompanies financially-motivated engagement now tied to patent reviews. The author settles for egalitarian self-selection, but toward the end of the book brings up Civic Juries modeled on the Danish method (see the books by Tom Atlee and by Jim Rough as well as Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace.

Collaboration produces new problem solving strategies. I agree with this, but instead of trying to make a broken US system work less badly, I would be thinking about how we create a global system that is multinational, multilingual, multidisciplinary; that serves as a forcing function for not allowing technologies to be “locked up” to protect legacy technologies with huge environmental footprints, and so on.

Interesting nit: key transition team elements were Economy, Education, Energy, Foreign Policy, Health Care, Immigration and the new one, Technology, Innovation & Government Reform [as we now know, lipstick on the pig]. Agriculture, Family, Justice, Security, Society, and Water were ignored {see the Strategic Analytic Model at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, and chapter 1, “The Substance of Governance” in the PIG book cited above.

The author is much taken with information visualization (see my colleague Bob Horn's still helpful Information Mapping via web, not available within Amazon]. HOWEVER, I see no cognition about citation analysis and use of the Social Science Citation Index or the Science Citation Index (see the Graphic on Fragmentation of Knowledge at Phi Beta Iota–all inks live at my copy of the review there. I fear the author lives in a cloistered world that is isolated from the true chaos of knowledge, and particularly distance from the non-elite sources of knowledge, e.g. all my friends in Hackers on Planet Earth (be there in NYC in July, bring your teen-agers).

There is nothing in this book about ecological economics, true cost, or natural capitalism, one of many reasons why I think the US patent system is long over-due for being buried alive with all serving Members of Congress.

From Wikipedia to Wiki Law–a frightening idea if one really understands the corruption inherent in Wikipedia, where editing wars and stakeholders are out of control, see especially the Open Source Intelligence page that has been so totally corrupted by CIA and four specific vendors still in the Stone Age that it is the legal equivalent of the Inquisition.

US Government shortfalls include failure to provide underlying data to the public; failure to provide for effective online search of taxpayer-funded data used by government, and failure to execute proper peer review on all fronts (not just patent).

Author concludes with ideas of policy wikis (see Earth Intelligence Network), civic juries, national online brain trust, and structured notice and comment (the USG cannot even do online hiring competently, I doubt it will get to substance anytime soon).

Ten lessons (pages 171-172):

01 Ask the right questions

02 Ask the right people

03 Design the process for the desired end

04 Design for groups, not individuals

05 Use the screen to show the group back to itself

06 Divide work into roles and tasks

07 Harness the power of reputation

08 Make policies, not websites

09 Pilot new ideas

10 Focus on outcomes, not inputs

I learn from the author of a number of web sites I was *not* aware of, I list these with live links at Phi Beta Iota, where all my reviews lead back to Amazon, but we can do thinks that Amazon has refused for years to implement (see my brief to Amazon developers at

I put this book down with both enormous respect for the author–for a lawyer and an academic this is a “beyond six stars” effort–and enormous mistrust of the continuing US governance system of, by, and for Wall Street. Increasingly I believe we need a populist tax revolt combined with state nullification and if necessary secession from the Union (it's now established that Lincoln violated the Constitution in three big ways, we are the United STATES of America, NOT a union of states subordinate to a federal administrative and political machine that is so corrupt as to beg for defiance).

Two last books to show the path beyond the author's stopping point:
Come Home America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country
Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder

Do not be dissuaded by the books focus on the patent system. This is a useful important first step from a point of view that normally costs $600 an hour to hear from.

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Interesting web sites mentioined:

CarrotMob   …   …   Open Secrets   …   Freebase   …   ManyEyes   …   Snivel   …   Sense.US

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