How can policy makers find expert advice?

by David Spark on December 2, 2009

At the Supernova conference in San Francisco, Anil Dash, long time blogger and employee #1 at Six Apart, spoke about his new project, Expert Labs, which is an effort to connect policy makers with community expertise.

Anil Dash

Anil Dash

The concept of matching questions with expert answers has already been playing itself out in the social media sphere. Most notable is Twitter which has the ability, in the time of need, to match people with questions with followers who have answers. If you’ve got a critical mass of Twitter followers (>1000), you can often ask a question (e.g. What are the best headphones to buy?) and someone will have an answer (e.g. a sound engineer friend suggests Shure headphones, so given his background his advice is the strongest). Twitter is the connective tissue that allows this question and response mechanism to happen. And when you experience this for the first time, it becomes a significant moment because you got an answer in a way you couldn’t have had in any other way. For more, read Sixteen Great Twitter Moments on Mashable.

Anil Dash and Expert Labs asks why can’t policy makers take advantage of this same type of community interaction? This is not a new question. The problem is the path to the solution must go through a long drawn out process. A government agency puts out an RFP and only approved vendors can respond. They look at the responses, and those within the organization who do and don’t have expertise, make a decision to purchase a solution hoping that a few years from now that the technology doesn’t fall into some government tech ghetto. Or the technology quickly becomes antiquated and employees are obliged to use it since the cost outlay was already made.

Instead of going through the same drawn out government process, Expert Labs has a three point plan. From their site:

  1. We ask policy makers what questions they need answered to make better decisions.
  2. We help the technology community create the tools that will get those answers.
  3. We prompt the scientific & research communities to provide the answers that will make our country run better.

The technology community is being requisitioned to help match buyer and seller just like Craig Newmark did with Craigslist. The answer may just be a single technology (e.g. Craigslist) or it may be a collection (e.g. Twitter, Craigslist, discussion groups, etc.).

Creative Commons photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

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