When faced with a new and complex problem such as the spread of Covid-19, an erupting volcano, or corruption, citizens count on their government to gather top talent that will understand the problem, come up with solutions and make decisions.
To do so, governments traditionally gravitate towards forming “task forces” that bring together stakeholders and local experts. But these task forces often display 3 main flaws: they work too slowly, fail to give concise actionable advice, and don’t exploit the full spectrum of complementary expertise. Even worse, task force appointees are often political allies rather than subject matter experts, or just locally available experts.
Pick the wrong people, and organize their collaboration the wrong way, and you end up with indecisive, opinion based policy that lags behind the science. Hospitals end up with too few beds, evacuations become chaotic scrambles.
To overcome the shortcomings of selection bias and bad process, governments need to rethink who counts as a relevant expert, and cast a wider net to include new and complementary expertise.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the increasingly popular approach of crowdsourcing promises to generate better ideas, faster, by pooling the expertise of many minds. But unsupervised, crowdsourcing can often lead to unstructured output of uneven quality, making it difficult and time consuming to separate the wheat from the chaff.
To outperform traditional task forces, crowdsourcing needs to be wiser when it comes to mobilizing the collective brainpower of the crowd.
To ensure governments quickly produce actionable solutions to public problems, while avoiding the pitfalls of both crowdsourcing and task forces, the GovLab developed a novel approach known as “smarter crowdsourcing”
At its core, smarter crowdsourcing is a tech based consultation, in the form of video call deliberations – that relies on an international, cognitively diverse panel of experts that come together to think up solutions to a handful of prioritized sub problems.
The GovLab developed a 5 step formula to make crowdsourcing smarter:
Identify relevant partner institutions, those with authority and knowledge – and get them to commit in advance to implementing the solutions that will be identified and vetted. Getting these decision makers onboard is critical to attracting experts in later stages.
Prioritize key problems and break them down: compile a list of issues, and prioritize the 5 to 6 most pressing of them. To guide and focus the discussion, the GovLab prepares “problem briefs”: evidence-based, include international examples of how the problem manifests itself, and break down the problem into its root causes
Assemble a curated group of relevant expert participants according to their academic, practical, subject matter, technical or method related track record. To compile a curated list of experts, the GovLab used multiple methods, from a global network analysis, a rapid evidence review, expert referrals and self-selection.
Hold expert deliberation sessions: bring 15 to 20 experts together in a series of 2 hour online discussions, each focused on a specific problem identified in step 2. <br>These expert deliberations offer experts a structured and time bound way to lend their skills to solve urgent and complex public problems, enable experts to speak directly to decision makers (who listen in and make themselves available during the entire process), and help experts refine and enrich their ideas through the exchange of arguments and meeting of diverse perspectives
Implementation plan: expand on the ideas through intensive research and interviews to produce an implementation guide which specifies the actions, their timeframe, costs and examples.
Invented by the American economist Scott Page, the diversity theorem states that collective error equals average individual error minus the diversity of the estimates.
The obvious half of this equation states that smaller individual errors will reduce the collective error. This is the traditional call for subject matter experts. But the second half is less intuitive: the more diverse the individual estimates are, the more accurate the collective estimate will be.
Diversity and expertise are therefore interchangeable and complementary, a phenomenon you can take advantage of when few experts are available: bring in more and different minds for more reliable forecasts.
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