Landing in the US from Japan, I’ve been welcomed by two very interesting news.
The first one is that the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has just launched a web site called Spending Challenge, which is very similar to what IdeaScale provided to US agencies earlier this year and to what the US President used to arrange question time in March 2009.
This sounds like a great idea, but may fall short of expectations.
The site has already received several thousand ideas: when I checked the counter indicated 187 pages with about 30 ideas each. However, when I asked to list the highest rated ones, it turned out that not a single one had received a rating. How come that so many people submitted ideas and nobody felt like rating any? Definitely not a good start.
Also, where do these idea exactly come from? How can one be sure that ratings are not skewed by organized constituencies? Previous idea contests have shown that those who are most active tend to be the usual suspects (lobbyists, political activists, and so forth), and it is unlikely that the ideas from the man and the woman in the street will ever make the top.
The second news, which I have just read on BBC news, is that “the UK government now says Facebook will be its “primary channel” for communicating with the public about spending cuts, as it seeks to tackle the UK’s record deficit”. Primary channel? Does this mean that the next move is for the UK government to ditch its iconic portal Direct.gov and let Facebook do the trick? Probably not, since also Direct.gov has a prominent link to the Spending Challenge.
According to Silicon Republic, “‘The Spending Challenge’ will initially launch on the Democracy UK Facebook Page by linking Facebook users to microsites specially tailored to focus on key issues open for discussion and debate among the voting public.”
So at the end of the day Facebook will be no more than a channel to point to the Chancellor’s Spending Challenge site. Whoever believes that the sheer presence on Facebook will broaden and rebalance participation of UK citizens in this contest is wrong.
It appears that neither David Cameron, the UK premier, nor Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, really get social media in relation to government. In fact, people who have an interest (and often a vested interest) in participating in the Spending Challenge will do so with or without the Facebook page. On the other hand,I am pretty sure that there are already myriads of conversations and pages in Facebook and other social media where people discuss about where cuts would make most sense. What is Cameron doing to capture those conversations, to tap into the wisdom of the crowd that wants to choose where to debate and does not necessarily want government (inside or outside Facebook) to host such a conversation?
Once again, this is the unavoidable asymmetry of government 2.0 in action: it is easier (and certainly more pressworthy) to call for ideas on channels that government controls, rather than to gather them where they already are.