Crowd Sourcing in the Classroom - A Lesson for Local Governments
I came across an interesting story the other day about a college professor who is using the idea of crowd sourcing to provide a better educational experience for his students.
Kansas State University professor Brian Lindshield, is using what he calls a "flexbook" to provide a sort of digital textbook for his students in his Human Nutrition course, which you can read about here.
While the idea of digital books is certainly nothing new - Kindle and various other e-Readers have created an entire industry around the idea - what is of particular interest is the fact that Lindshield takes in feedback from his students through Google Docs to help make the flexbook, and consequently his class, better.
In short, he crowd sources his students.
From the article: "There are times students have told me they didn't understand a certain concept in the flexbook," Lindshield said in the prepared statement. "I have been able to make changes and get their feedback so that it's clear to them and future students. As an instructor, making and updating the flexbook continues to make me reflect on everything that I include in the course."
So how does this relate back to local government websites?
Crowd sourcing - which we appropriately term citizen sourcing in the government realm - is often a point of major contention and worry for local government officials.
What if a citizen says something negative? What if a decision is questioned? What if citizens disagree with some action we've taken? What if, what if, what if?
But notice Lindshield's approach to his flexbook. It's positive. He invites the feedback in an effort to improve the learning environment of his students. He takes their feedback and uses it to make something better.
Likewise, in the government space, the most successful citizen sourcing initiatives first and foremost frame the conversation and the topic in a positive light rather than opening it up for a random citizen free-for-all. Allow citizens to be part of constructive conversation, and invite them into the process from the beginning, and the results will serve you well.
Passive citizen engagement leads to a realization of fears…because the only citizens speaking up are the ones that are upset to the point that they find an avenue to release their anger and frustration. And if you offer citizen sourcing functionality on your website, you bet these upset citizens will find it, and use it. If you don't offer this functionality, they'll find other ways (see newspaper websites, personal blogs, angry emails, etc.).
Active citizen engagement encourages positive interaction, giving citizens a voice to drive innovation and change for the better.