White House official stresses collaborative approach

Government agencies should adopt the collaborative, open-source software model and recognize they do not necessarily have the best knowledge and expertise for making public policy decisions, Beth Noveck, the White House’s deputy director for open government in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said today.

For example, the Web browser Mozilla is successful because it relies on its own customers to help build the browser, Noveck said at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ Midyear Conference in Baltimore.

“We simply alone do not have all the skills necessary within one institution or within one firm, to actually do the tasks at hand,” she said. “In fact, when we turn to others we can sometimes get the help we need to get the answers necessary to make decisions.”

For example, Chicago is using collaboration technology to farm out solutions to problems related to its transportation system, she said. A network of a 160,000 people who are not in government examine and offer solutions about the transportation system.

Another project named Peer-to-Patent connects volunteer scientist and technologists to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The volunteers help find information needed to determine which applications deserve to be granted patents, Noveck said.

Patent officials have about 20 hours to review each application, not enough time to do all the necessary research, she said. Bad decisions often lead to costly lawsuits, she said.

Other agencies can follow USPTO's model of working with outside sources, Noveck said.

“It is really about this idea of extending our expertise through very structured means of participation,” she said. “These kinds of collaborative approaches like Peer-to-Patent can have the benefit of generating new solutions and new ideas that we otherwise wouldn’t come up with ourselves.”

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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