Crowdsourcing found its way into federal policy development last week with the launch of an IdeaScale page. The page aims to collect crowdsourced ideas for making government information technology more accessible to Americans with disabilities, both in the general public and in the federal employment system, and is open for suggestions until April 9.
Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act mandates that all electronic and information technology stay accessible to federal employees and to everyday Americans with disabilities. Taken up in 2000, Section 508 has made some progress, but barriers persist both within federal employment opportunities and to the disabled public’s access to websites, forms, applications and other IT from various government agencies. This policy aims to allow disabled individuals equal access to aid during disasters, to improvements in transportation services and to employment with accessible technology to perform work duties, such as computers, websites, faxes, phones and much more.
The crowdsourcing initiative for ideas to improve access is part of an overall effort to modernize this policy with a strategic plan under a July 2011 directive from President Obama and was preceded by formalized public-listening sessions. After about one week, the IdeaScale page has over 60 responses that propose ideas, discuss solutions and pinpoint weaknesses of the current policy while providing the ability for users to vote on suggestions and ideas.
Many of the comments focus on agency-wide standards within the federal government’s ecosystem and on more frequent updates to Section 508 to stay in stride with ever-changing technology.
Crowdsourcing is not new to the federal government. The White House, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other agencies utilize IdeaScale, a crowdsourcing platform that gives customers, stakeholders and others a place to share, vote and have discussion, for public input. Likewise, Challenge.gov is managed by the government and challenges the general public to attack problems ranging from simple idea suggestions, videos or mobile apps to concepts, designs and products that tackle the complex challenges faced in areas such as national defense, energy policy and education.
Like the government, businesses across the globe continue to embrace crowdsourcing to solve both simple and complex problems. The ability to tap into the collective conscious and skills of a large group of individuals, whether it is to create web content, to access perceptions or ideas over a product or policy or to determine search relevancy, puts a business or the government in a position to stay more in touch with its customers or constituents.
The government’s utilization of crowdsourcing strengthens the idea that technology makes it possible to tackle any problem with innovation fueled by collective thought and effort, including a problem created by technology. Perhaps the government could take its efforts a step further by taking the crowdsourcing platforms it already utilizes and making it more widespread – truly putting the shaping of public policy into the hands of the people such policies are meant to serve.
Ultimately, crowdsourcing has the potential to put an out-of-touch business or government into a realm where knowledge of wants, needs and desires of the public or of consumers permeates business practices or governmental policies. This maximizes sales and customer satisfaction and creates effective and well-received policies respectively.
One thing is certain; crowdsourcing saves times, increases efficiency and promotes innovation.