For over a year now I have been working on setting up a project to build a system for the improvement of online community management. I am convinced that this is critical to improve governance, because online communities are the easiest and cheapest way found yet to mobilize collective intelligence –and , especially in times of crisis, collective intelligence itself is the best card government institution can play to improve their abilities to manage large quantities of information and make good decisions. The project is provisionally called Dragon Trainer (I know, it’s nerdy, we will change it): it comes from the fact that getting an online community to perform a specific task (like exploring possible scenarios underpinning a public decision) is a bit like taming a large animal like a dragon: he is just too strong to boss around, so you need to design for the desired behavior to emerge. The main idea is to put at the disposal of public sector online community managers network analysis systems which are sophisticated yet simple to interpret, and that read directly the communities’ databases. This far, only large corporate platform like Facebook have these systems at their disposal: but that information is not shared with users, and then I don’t think these platforms are accountable enough to host public sector projects.
This endeavor was embedded into a broader research project, that I help crafting out under the aegis of a Spanish tech company, 24amp. Fortunately this project was selected for funding by the European Commission; unfortunately, 24amp had to withdraw from the consortium for administrative problems – despite the winning proposal mentions me by name as work package leader.
We are going to fix this. The board of Wikitalia (an Italian nonprofit for open government, inspired by Code for America) has decided to build Dragon Trainer as a new component of its smart governance suite. The project’s goals are fully consistent with those of Wikitalia: increasing the smarts, the openness and the collaborative nature of governance, especially local governance. I joined Wikitalia’s board to help just with that, so I will be following this project myself on behalf of the organization.
In the weeks to come I will explore possible paths for making this happen. My first goal is to build a (small) international partnership and raise the funding to develop both the code and the science underpinning it. What I would like is just a little money – the normal cut of European funded research, in the millions of euros, is way too large for this – but as free as possible from red tape and administrative duties: you give us money, we build the app. If you want to know more or get involved, you can watch the presentation video, join the Dragon Trainer Google Group or just write to me directly: alberto [at] cottica [dot] net.