Governments, Crowdsourcing and Innovation


citizensDualRoleThe paper on the role of governments in crowdsourcing I presented at the last ICEGOV 2014 gathering in Guimaraes, Portugal, is now available here – in this blog. The paper was supposed to be published by ACM press as part of the proceedings of ICEGOV.  However, the proceedings are still not available in the ICEGOV web site, nor at the ACM site. In any event, we have chosen a publishing license that allows the authors of the paper to publish it on their own web sites. Note that copyright still applies to this material (please read the license before downloading the paper!).

The paper makes the case for government to harness crowdsourcing as one potential way to improve service delivery and foster people participation in selected public policy making processes. It presents a governance-centered analytical framework and then considers three cases to assess the relevance of crowdsourcing for local governments. The paper concludes by presenting positive recommendations and some ideas for further research in this area, bearing in mind that the ultimate goal of government interventions is to  enhance human development within specific contexts and not to innovate per se.

One issue the paper does not openly address is the role of governments in broader innovation processes and, particularly, in fostering social innovation in developing countries.  While this can certainly be the subject of another paper -or even yet another book, here are a few ideas.

The first one is a challenge. The mainstream view here is that, for a wide variety of reasons,  governments cannot and should not innovate as this is essentially the purview of the private sector. In this perspective the best government can do is to set adequate policy and regulatory environments to foster innovation. Being that as it may, the recent book by Mariana Mazzucato, The Entrepreneurial State, sheds new light here and makes a case for governments supporting innovation – note that the book is focused on industrialized countries.

justiceFrom the perspective of the public sector, innovation has a very different character from that of the private sector.  Part of the reason for this stems from the fact that the public sector has the mandate to provide public goods, understood in a broader sense, to the people, such as health, education, national security and justice to name a few.  In other words, it has to create public value which, by the way, can also be done in conjunction with non-state actors, as is the case of crowdsourcing for example. The same goes for the implementation of policies and programmes aiming at enhancing the supply of public goods.  Note that in poor developing countries the gap in the provision of public goods is still very large so this is a key issue for them.

Government innovation can also play a role where the provision of private goods such as food, banking, etc. falters and do not reach most of the population. Such “market failures” can provide fertile ground for government innovation and seek new ways, again in partnership with non-state actors, to increase the supply of private goods and ensure that in the medium term private actors fully furnish them. Note that the provision of private goods tends to be financially more sustainable than public goods as clients of the former pay for the consumption of such goods, usually at regular market prices, sometime with state subsidies.

At the policy level, governments can also promote innovation and go further than just set the regulatory environment. This point is perhaps best illustrated by the example of the  development of the Internet and Internet related technologies in the US where the government and public financing played a critical role.  One of the key aspects for the success of such public enterprise was the fine distinction between policy prioritization and policy implementation.  The government played a critical role in the former but, at the same, ensured that experts and key academic institutions led on the design and implementation of the network of networks.

This sounds a bit like “industrial policies” which pick key “infant” industries and then provide support to private sector companies to develop them in a given country (South Korea is a good example here). In this light, innovation policies that foster key and strategic areas for countries can provide formidable support to developing countries seeking new ways to be integral part of the global economy, while fostering national innovation capacities that allows them to also be producers on innovation, and not just consumers, and effectively tackle major human development gaps.

Cheers, Raúl