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Administration Floats Idea of an "ExpertNet"

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, December 8 2010

During this afternoon's White House chat on the one-year anniversary of the Obama administration's Open Government Directive, U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra spoke of a new federal initiative under the banner of "ExpertNet" that will seek to connect people inside government with smart practioners in the outside world. And up has popped on the Federal Register this afternoon a notice for the creation of such a platform, still in "draft concept" form:

With this notice, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) requests input, comment, and ideas from the public on a draft concept for next-generation citizen consultation, namely a government-wide software tool and process to elicit expert public participation (working title "ExpertNet''). ExpertNet would tap the expertise of the public in a manageable and structured format. The goal of ExpertNet is to enable government officials to search for and communicate with citizens who have expertise on a topic, giving them the opportunity to participate in a public consultation relevant to their areas of interest and know-how, and pose questions to and interact with the public to receive useful, relevant, and manageable feedback.

In spirit, ExpertNet seems to share much with Peer-to-Patent, the project once led by U.S. Deputy CTO for open government Beth Noveck back when she was a civilian. Rather than throwing the doors open to public participation, the wisdom here is that crowdsourcing platforms can be targeted and nuanced enough to extract very high quality input from a select group of people. (Even if, as is the case with Peer-to-Patent, those "citizen-experts" are self-selecting.) The feds are asking for comment on how to build an ExpertNet over on ExpertNet.Wikispaces.com.

Also in this space, you might recall, we saw yesterday the House GOP's roll out of a "Citzen Review" of the National Science Foundation's grant-making process. But while the subject matter there is the stuff of expertise, congressional Republicans have chosen a different tack, blasting out an open call for public participation.