October 8, 2013 | by

The GovLab Living Labs: Experiments in Smarter Governance

GovLab LogoImproving people’s lives by changing how we govern.

Current societal problems demand radical innovation in how we govern. Policy makers around the world are facing increasingly complex and interconnected societal challenges: How can we provide health care for everyone at lower cost; reduce poverty and economic inequality; reduce and prevent obesity; redesign urban environments; fight global warming; combat the threat of terrorism; increase creative flourishing and human well-being and do more in our communities with scarcer resources? Unfortunately, we are trying to address 21st century problems with outdated institutional designs:

  • Technology has lowered the cost and ease of communication, yet we still have an 18th century model of representative democracy where participation is limited to occasional voting and affords few opportunities for people to participate in governing.
  • Technology is enabling diverse experts with different skills and experience to work together, across a distance, yet we still have a 19th century model of centralized and professional bureaucracy.
  • Research demonstrates that people can and will collaborate in purposeful groups on- and off-line, yet we still have a political culture dominated by entrenched parties and deep pockets that treats a talented public as outsiders and impedes collaboration.

In our current model of government, an elite group of elected and appointed leaders is supposed to solve problems without significantly engaging the insights, experience, and brainpower of the public.

We don’t need collaboration because of a shortage of information. We produce every two days more data than we created between the dawn of humanity and today.[i] Rather, we need to engage outside expertise in order to identify relevant, specific and timely information that aligns to decision-making. But citizen engagement hasn’t led to leaders being able to use collective intelligence to govern better.

At the Governance Lab at the Wagner School of Public Service of New York University, we want to explore whether targeting opportunities to participate based on people’s expertise – not their credentials alone but also their wisdom, know-how and experience – might make it possible for institutions to work with citizens more collaboratively to the end of solving real problems, and improving people’s lives.

We are testing and analyzing how mayors and CEOs alike can leverage new tools and techniques to find those with formal training and informal know how. We want to learn how we can engage citizens and community members better who are more likely to contribute their talents in ways that speak to their passions and abilities. Through experimentation with real world institutions we want to identify when and how crowdsourcing wisely, rather than just widely, works and why.

Tapping Intelligence and Expertise: Active Citizenship

A life-saving app called PulsePoint is demonstrating the power of tapping a community’s unique talents. In 350 communities across 14 states, PulsePoint enables local 911 emergency services to notify registered and trained CPR users, which includes off-duty doctors, nurses, EMTs, police, and others, to come to the aid of their neighbors. When someone is having a cardiac arrest, PulsePoint sends out an alert to qualified people in the area: CPR NEEDED. PulsePoint has enabled 6,000 citizen rescuers to come to the aid of victims in cardiac arrest.

Read the full post by Beth Noveck in the GovLab Blog.