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An Open Source Government

Jun - 1 - 2009
Nicole C. Engard

There was an interesting article on internetnews.com about open sourcing government. At first I read the title as getting government to use open source software – but what it really talks about is opening up government so that they can harness the power of crowdsourcing and the wisdom of crowds!! How awesome is that?

As an example in place well before Obama came to office, [Beth Noveck] cited the Patent and Trademark Office’s Peer-to-Patent project, where members of the scientific community are invited to assist in a patent examiner’s review of an application.

Patent examiners are famously overworked. The backlog of applications is believed to be around 1 million, and examiners have less than 24 hours to determine if an innovation is, in fact, new. Tapping into the community of scientists, engineers and inventors who are experts in the field has proven a practical way of crowd-sourcing patent reviews, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of patents and speeding up the process, Noveck said.

“Within one institution within one firm we don’t always have all the skills necessary to actually do the tasks at hand,” she said. “This is the phenomenon that I like to think of as collaborative governance.”

If the wisdom of the crowds can improve the Patent Office, why not other areas of government?

This will an interesting process to keep an eye on. For now, you can read up on the project at the patent office by reading my summary of a talk at NFAIS earlier this year.


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