Administration Looks to Build New Participation Website

A government proposal would develop a new public participation website, with the working title "ExpertNet." OMB Watch filed comments responding to a request for information on the proposal from the General Services Administration, the White House Open Government Initiative and the Office of Management and Budget.

The ExpertNet concept envisions a website where government officials can solicit ideas and expertise from the public, alongside the established tools of Federal Register notices and federal advisory committees. As the notice described it,

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.

There's a lot to like in the way the administration has gone about this. Before building (or buying) the site, they had the good sense to first ask the public: "Is this a good idea? And if it is, what's the best way to do it?"

In addition, the design concept anticipates that if ExpertNet moves ahead, it would "adopt the simplest solution possible, try it, learn from experience, and iterate." That's a lot better than the alternative approach which is all too common in government IT: "design the perfect system, run over-budget and -schedule trying to build it, eventually release something outdated and disappointing, and never update it."

The consultation even asked the public to suggest a name for the new system. The ideas submitted range from the catchy "AmericaKnows" to the more tongue-in-cheek "Wonks for America."

Of course, there's lots left to work out; our comments highlight some concerns, such as lobbyist disclosure. But overall, GSA and team have taken a very thoughtful approach. If well-implemented, ExpertNet could be a valuable tool for expanding participation and collaboration.

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