As the Obama administration prepares to give way to the Trump administration, one area in which there will hopefully be continuity is the use of crowdsourcing methodologies by federal agencies.
The Obama administration has been a proponent of crowdsourcing through its tenure. In 2010, the Obama administration issued a memorandum outlining how federal agencies could use prize-motivated crowdsourcing models to achieve strategic goals. In 2015, the White House called for increased use of crowdsourcing in federal agencies and non-governmental organizations. In 2016, Kelly Olson, acting director of the GSA Technology Transformation Service's Innovation Portfolio, affirmed the need for continued crowdsourcing in government in a blog post.
And given recent research and development activities initiated by organizations such as DARPAand IARPA– as well as the recent boom in private-sector vendors offering crowdsourced ideation platforms – it is easy to see that crowdsourcing (and especially expert-sourcing) has a bright future ahead of it.
The ecosystem in which government agencies operate (as well as the nature of these agencies) makes crowdsourcing an excellent tool for ideation, research and planning – especially on a strategic level.
Today’s strategic environment is highly complex and changes faster than ever. Traditional models and modes of analysis are often unable to keep up. What the Obama administration has realized is that crowdsourcing is the only way to tap into a broad variety of expertise in a timely enough manner to make a difference in strategic planning.
For those government organizations which remain "siloed" and hierarchical, the result is an artificially narrow perspective on essentially multidisciplinary phenomena. Sadly, many agencies rely on such outmoded ways of thinking – costing decision-makers in terms of access to non-confidential "civilian" information, dependency on the "gut calls" of a few highly experienced (but highly paid) experts, and a culture of compartmentalization rather than collaboration. Such structures exacerbate blind spots and produce narrow analysis suitable for one strategic outcome rather than a wide range of plausible possibilities.
Given the above, it is easy to understand the White House’s hope that its successor administration will continue with the practice of crowdsourcing. But should the Trump administration ignore the Obama administration’s call, it would be missing out on a wide range of benefits associated with crowdsourcing – benefits which are key to conservative objectives of reducing government inefficiency and waste.
Crowdsourcing can help alleviate difficulties in inter-agency collaboration and information sharing. By bringing entire organizations (or multiple organizations) onto crowdsourced ideation and analysis platforms, management can revolutionize strategic planning processes – and even discover knowledge hiding in plain sight.
Crowdsourcing can also capture more ideas, insights and understandings – at a cheaper cost – than traditional models of analysis. These outmoded methods are simply unable to capture the perspectives of dozens or hundreds of experts. This is key: The use of large communities of analysts is key to overcoming common cognitive biases, analytic "tunnel vision" and institutional inflexibility.
Crowdsourcing is also able to bring in, motivate and facilitate analysis from tailored groups from outside an organization, opening up pools of expertise and knowledge far beyond what federal agencies may even think possible today. Engaging the public or experts unfamiliar with federal bureaucracy is key to overcoming reliance on oft-derided "Washington elites" – and it’s cheaper, too.
Under Donald Trump, the federal government has the ability to bring in the public, as well as crowds of experts, into the process of ideation, analysis, research and development, and strategic planning. Or it can remain stuck in the 20
century while the world proceeds on to the 21
Let us hope the Trump administration will respond to Ms. Olson’s call.
Dr. Shay Hershkovitz is Chief Strategy Officer at Wikistrat, Inc. and a political science professor at Tel Aviv University specializing in intelligence studies. I am a former IDF intelligence officer whose book "
Aman Comes To Light"
deals with the history of the Israeli intelligence community.