But Jed Sundwall, president of Measured Voice, and a social media consultant for several federal agencies, believes the problem facing ThinkUp and its successful deployment and use among those agencies boils down to a combination of the mundane and philosophical. Sundwall has downloaded and experimented with ThinkUp himself.
On the mundane logistical side, federal IT departments are risk averse and don’t want to install anything that might pose a potential security risk on their web servers, he said.
"For most agencies, IT staff exist to make sure the department’s e-mail system works," he said. "Few agencies have the resources to work with something like ThinkUp."
Then there’s the broader issue of the assumptions behind ThinkUp’s approach to citizen engagement and crowd-sourcing policy.
"Gathering useful input is a massive design challenge," Sundwall notes. "Agencies can’t just ask on Twitter: ‘Hey what do you guys think about fracking?’"
Instead, getting useful public feedback involves a lot of strategic planning and reaching out to specific audiences, involving “a lot of hard work that software can’t solve,” he said.
Some of that work involves posing the right questions, figuring out what the agency is really asking of the public, and making sure they’re reaching out to the right pool of people who would be interested in providing feedback on a specific policy issue.
"Mostly, people just want government to work, and the only time they want to get involved is when it’s not working," he asserts. "I disagree with the idea that people want to chat with the government: If government agencies do engage, they shouldn’t waste people’s time, and it should be purposeful."
—It’s worth noting that Beth Noveck proposes some very sensible solutions to the challenges related to citizen engagement in Wiki Government – at least she does in the final chapter, which is the only part of the book I actually read. Also, please support our favorite “famous hipster technologists and personalities” as they turn ThinkUp into a company!