Crowdsourcing has had many successes, from the way that companies and products have been funded through sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, all the way to the Guardian using it to analyze leaked data files.
It is a common practice, but it is being used for something completely different in Long Beach, California - in place of a Chief Data Office.
The thinking behind this is that as a small city, they are sceptical of creating a six figure salary job without knowing if they could make a positive impact. It is a common issue that is especially worrisome in government departments due to the increased pressure that using public money brings.
Long Beach has a population of over 470,000, but is not a tech hub like many cities in the state, but want to investigate the possibilities of the role. The aim of this experiment is three fold:
1. Identifying high-value data that benefits citizens;
2. Supporting the cleaning and formatting of open data; and
3. Presenting open data insights to citizens via mobile and Web apps.
With these three aims in mind, they will open up much of municipal data to allow their engaged, data-driven citizens to try enact some of the main duties of a Chief Data Officer, but without the financial risk that actively hiring one entails. It is at present unclear whether or not this will be a success, but if it is, it could lead to a revolution in the way that governments use their data and also if they appoint a Chief Data Officer.
As this is being done at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated Chief Data Officer, governments can assess whether or not they should employ one full time or even if there are elements of the role that can be outsourced on a more permanent basis. It also gives them the chance to see whether the use of data in their work is useful and if it has resonance with the population.
However, it is not a simple operation to create and effectively implement, and there are likely to be some hurdles to jump before it becomes a success. For instance, there needs to be some kind of reward for the work done by those who are undertaking it, whether this is financial or social. There also needs to be appreciation of the work being done by those in government, if after spending hours analyzing something, the findings are then ignored, the chances are that they will be put off doing further work in the future.
There also needs to be care taken about communicating what information is being given to these people. With the media currently fixated on data privacy issues, many people are rightly worried about their data being used without their knowledge. When it is in a more-or-less open format like this, communicating exactly what data is being used for in this work and why, will be vital to the survival of the programme moving forward.
So can this kind of programme work? In essence it can, but it will need to have significant support from the public and individuals in the government. If people can get it to work it may well be the best possible option for smaller governments in the future and could create a genuine opportunity for the further spread of data in the public sector.