Our Biggest Challenge Yet

The White House tweeted that they want feedback on the Grand Challenges in science and technology that face our country. That’s not so new. But today, if you reply to the White House’s tweet to share your ideas, the White House will actually see your response.

Wait, what?

These days, I often sound like a skeptic or a curmudgeon when it comes to the technology industry. But ultimately, I’m profoundly optimistic about what the Internet can be, and today is one of those days where I hope we can demonstrate exactly why so many of us love the web.

For the past several months, I’ve been leading an effort at Expert Labs to help policy makers use social networks to collect feedback on policy. Today marks our first experiment. To participate, all we have to do is suggest ideas as ambitious as the moon landing or the human genome sequencing, or like the X Prize or the Netflix prize — ideas so inspiring that they prompt a ton of new innovations.

So do it. Just reply to the White House on Twitter or Facebook, and they’ll hear your suggestions and if you’ve got a good idea, they’ll use the feedback to help shape policy. The President has eight items on his list of Grand Challenges but there’s no reason your idea couldn’t be number nine.

This is just a first step, but it’s a pretty good one.

How’d We Get Here? Where Next?

It’s been a long, interesting road to get to this first tentative experiment in broad-scale policy feedback on social networks. Fundamentally, one of the biggest opportunities has been that the current administration has embraced the President’s Open Government Directive, encouraging public feedback using every avenue possible, with a special focus on new technologies.

But if you dive in to the specifics of some of the plans, it’s even more remarkable what’s going to be possible in the future. For example, the White House’s Office of Science & Technology policy posted its own open government plan, which includes a specific nod towards Expert Labs, acknowledging that we can be a small part of their overall effort to allow for public feedback.

And we’ve been working like crazy to step up to the challenge. Gina has been leading an amazing community that’s built one hell of a little app called ThinkTank. It aggregates all those tweets and Facebook replies and will collect them for sharing back with the White House and with the public. It’s even matured quickly enough that we’re a Google Summer of Code project, with some fantastic proposals coming in from students who want to make ThinkTank even smarter. Gina describes the potential brilliantly in her post on Smarterware, too.

How You Can Help

Here’s the thing: I need your help. This is a complicated, unfamiliar new idea to explain to people. So I need help in telling people a few things:

  1. The White House wants to hear policy feedback through channels like Twitter and Facebook.

  2. Expert Labs has built tools that will let them do this.

  3. The success of this first question about the Grand Challenges in science and technology will do a lot to demonstrate how every part of government could use these tools.

  4. This is just the start; We’re going to be doing this in bigger and better ways in the future.

So, if you’ve got a blog, or a Twitter account (and if you don’t, what the hell are you doing here?!) please share the word with your readers. Reply to the White House’s tweet using hashtag #whgc, and then stay tuned as we start to share our findings with the world.