blowing still apply. Accountable anonymity, perhaps
via persistent anonymous identifiers endorsed by
respected community members, might bridge the
gap, helping contributors build credibility without
revealing sensitive details.
Social participation may mean decision making.
Robust tools for building consensus, canvassing
opinion, and voting will help communities move
from discussion to action and resolution. Lessons
from existing sites like Wikipedia may help inform
designs that encourage constructive agreement,
instead of flame wars. Flexible tools with customiz-able options will allow each community to decide
how it wants to make decisions.
March + April 2010
Open Government, Participation, and Collaboration
Access to relevant information is often a prerequisite for constructive and informed participation
in public-policy debates. Recent trends toward
increased transparency present some promising
possibilities in this regard. The Obama administration’s pledges for greater transparency may lead to
greater availability of federal government information in the U.S., but merely posting information
in HTML or PDF files is likely to be insufficient.
Non-governmental websites such as Govtrack.us,
Opencongress.org, Maplight.org, and Mysociety.org
are leading the way in this regard, combining data
sets describing legislators and legislative actions
with tools that invite citizen participation and
open APIs for retrieving data in easily processed
XML formats. Customized integration of data
sources within the context of full-featured social-participation tools will present some truly intriguing possibilities.
Maintaining the quality of content and deliberation will likely be a challenge, as dedicated participants and system administrators may be forced to
walk a fine line between supporting open expression and having discussions captured by minority
or malicious viewpoints. The concerted efforts of a
relatively small but vocal group pushed marijuana
legalization to the top of the Change.gov list. Can
designers build interfaces that inform discussion of
such proposals with some indication of the breadth
and depth of support they enjoy? Tools such as
these might help guide debate without stifling the
supporters of more marginal causes. How do we
understand, and convey, the difference between
participants in these technologically mediated discussions and the broader population at large?
Growing these systems to larger communities
with more active participants will be challenging.
How can discussions of policy proposals scale to
hundreds or thousands of contributors debating
dozens of differing proposals? How do community-support tools that work well at a local level scale to
state, national, or international contexts? Interfaces
will be needed to help users navigate histories of
detailed discussions, interpret complex discussions,
evaluate the credibility of claims and arguments,
and to support the transition from discussion to
decision and finally action.
Successful implementation of these tools will
require attention to social, motivational, contextual,
and technical challenges. Credibility of these tools
will require open and accountable administration
and moderation: Manipulation of content or discussions for partisan or commercial goals may bring
efforts into question. Privacy and security protections will be crucial, particularly when anonymity
or pseudonymity are concerned. Clear and appropriate policies must respect both participant dignity
and free speech. Particularly in controversial cases,
system managers and moderators must be committed to the process and willing to accept the very real
possibility that they may not like where it leads.
Designing interaction models and interfaces to
meet these goals will be a challenge. Given the multiplicity of forms of social participation, a diversity
of approaches may be needed. As researchers and
practitioners experiment with proposed designs,
growing consensus regarding successful approaches
may lead to the development of tool kits that might
be customized for specific projects.
Measuring Success, Facing Challenges,
New metrics of success may also be necessary. As
many Facebook users (including more than a few
HCI professionals) can attest, the premier social-networking site often succeeds in spite of an interface that may not always adhere to accepted guidelines for interface design. Participation will likely be
the important metric: How well does a tool attract
and retain active participants? How much data is
shared? Are problems resolved? Appropriate definitions of these measures will be needed before any
rigorous comparisons can be attempted.
Societal and contextual trends may both motivate and constrain participation. Particularly
during economic downturns, people may feel too