jueves, 30 de enero de 2014

The crowd and the public budgets

There is great fascination for Kickstarter among some of those who work in the public service. The public service main aim is the identification of the best ideas to be done in order to fulfill the general interest and raising funds for its execution. So there are clear points of contact between the public service lifecycle and the crowdfunding platform.

There are several approaches on how to apply "Kickstarter" dynamics within government.

The first approach is crowdfunding as a substitution for funding traditional public sector grants. In this period of crisis and tight budgets, some could think in using Kickstarter as a complete new source of funding for those activities that the government  (the political party in the government)  does not seen as part of the core of the public sector. It is the case of part of the grants given each year by the public sector. Each ideology have their own vision of which private activities that deserve some kind of public funding and which activities do not deserve it. The alternative of not giving grants could be providing the platform for raising funds. As a matter of fact, it is already happening now. There are some kind of these activities like arts funding that even raises more money through Kickstarter than from the Federal Government in the USA

The approach above is connected more with the conservative ideas, a way of  rolling back the frontiers of the public sector. However, there are times like nowadays, when priorities need to be set and some programs that are important for creating a more inclusive society do not find a place in the public budgets. In this situation, looking for the citizens´ philantropy could be an alternative.  This second approach is taking crowdfunding as the new responsible for part of the social solidarity actions. It is approach already applied in some local councils, as it is the case of NYC that is beginning to use Kickstarter to raise funds for projects in low-income communities.  

Open Government, especially its participation founding principle, is behind a third approach, crowdsourcing of the ideas for government spending. In this case the funding part is leave outside, because it is assume that the money has been previously collected through taxes. Obviously, there is a need of learning in this process. It is needed to find the balance between the part of the government budget spent following the traditional model and the part that is left to the crowdsourcing model. This approach has been applied in several private organisations as IBM, Procter & Gambler or 3M.

There is a last possible approach to crowsourcing in the public sector, the usage of the crowd for developing microtasks through an specialised service provider. There are a lot of microtasks that could be needed to be develop in an administrative unit that could be perform almost by anyone (e.g. transporting a package from one unit to another one). Hiring the people for a couple of hours using Amazon´s Mechanical Turk or other alternatives, could be an efficient alternative (both in time and money) for these needs.

The usage of a kickstarter model in Public Sector could have other advantages. Some times are mentioned innovation and more focused programs as the main advantage, but other benefits can appear with the application of the model. For instance, the crowdsourcing model has as a consequence collecting huge amounts of data, and these data could have a secondary usage for the improvement of the model itself. This should not be seen as science-fiction, some researchers have already found mathematical models for the prediction of success of the initiatives launched in the Kickstarter platform. So it could also introduce in the long term efficiency in government spending.  The only requirement is finding the algorithms for a ex-ante evaluation of the government programs according with the acceptance by the crowd in its early stage. And last but not least, its exists the chance a crowdfunding project creates stronger links with the target community, a rationale that it is not far away from the possible reasons why famous professionals are beginning to use Kickstarter for their projects.

Perhaps is time to give a chance to the crowd ...

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