This week, the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog posted a conversation between Network member Henry Farrell and Network Chair Beth Simone Noveck regarding the arguments in Noveck’s book Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing. The conversation touched on the reasons government does not currently make use of the expertise distributed in society, legal barriers to such engagement, the Obama Administration’s efforts to create a more open U.S. government and more.
The discussion ends with a question about the need for new knowledge about and research into what works in government innovation:
HF: The closing pages of your book point to the enormous challenge of figuring out how to build and maintain the institutions that would support a two-way conversation between the government and citizens. How might we start thinking about addressing this challenge?
“BN: We need to experiment more with new technology. This can provide practical ways to bring in new ideas from outside government, and to push questions and challenges out to a broader public. This will, ideally, help people not only to share information but to distribute responsibility for making decisions and taking action.
Above all, however, these innovations in governing must be accompanied by rigorous yet agile social science research to understand the impact of such open and collaborative practices. Do they lead to more evidence-based and effective policies? Do they produce more efficient services for citizens at lower cost? Do people participate and why and what are the incentives for them to do so? As MIT professor Kurt Lewin wrote in 1945, research that produces nothing but books will not suffice. If we are willing to get our hands dirty studying the nature of work and decision-making in real world institutions, we have the potential to advance research and, at the same time, to design institutions that are better able to identify and implement innovative ways of improving lives.”