Man looking at three open doors

Public interest labs to test open governance solutions

The Governance Lab at New York University (GovLab) and the MacArthur Foundation Research Network have formed a new network, Open Governance, to study how to enhance collaboration and decision-making in the public interest.

The MacArthur Foundation provided a three-year grant of $5 million for the project; Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, also contributed. Google.org’s technology will be used to develop platforms to solve problems more openly and to run agile, real-world experiments with governments and NGOs to discover ways to enhance decision-making in the public interest, according to the GovLab announcement.

Network members include 12 experts in computer science, political science, policy informatics, social psychology and philosophy, law, and communications. This group is supported by an advisory network of academics, technologists, and current and former government officials. The network will assess existing government programs and experiment with ways to improve decision-making at the local, national and international government levels.

The Network’s efforts focus on three areas that members say have the potential to make governance more effective and legitimate: getting expertise in, pushing data out and distributing responsibility.

Through smarter governance, they say, institutions can seek input from lay and expert citizens via expert networking, crowdsourcing or challenges.  With open data governance, institutions can publish machine-readable data so that citizens can easily analyze and use this information to detect and solve problems. And by shared governance, institutions can help citizens develop solutions through participatory budgeting, peer production or digital commons.

“Recognizing that we cannot solve today’s challenges with yesterday’s tools, this interdisciplinary group will bring fresh thinking to questions about how our governing institutions operate and how they can develop better ways to help address seemingly intractable social problems for the common good,” said MacArthur Foundation President Robert Gallucci.

GovLab’s mission is to study and launch “experimental, technology-enabled solutions that advance a collaborative, networked approach to re-invent existing institutions and processes of governance to improve people’s lives.” Earlier this year GovLab released a preview of its Open Data 500 study of 500 companies using open government data as a key business resource. 

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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