Obama and the wisdom of the Federal crowd

President Obama and OMB director Peter Orzag launch the SAVE Award idea competition

President Obama and OMB director Peter Orzag launch the SAVE Award idea competition

Americans across the country know that the best ideas often come from workers – not just management. — Barack Obama

Given that “the Crowd” in its infinite wisdom elected him to the coolest job in the World, it’s no surprise that POTUS believes in the wisdom of crowds. But seriously, the White House is putting it’s money where the President’s mouth is by kicking off today the “SAVE Award“, a competition among all Federal workers to produce the best idea for saving Government money and improving bureaucratic efficiency.

While the intention is wonderful – it echoes the wishes of more and more chief executives in the Private Sector to “hear the voices of those on the front lines” – the implementation is, in our view, overly simplistic. Here’s how it works: Everyone submits their ideas through a secure website, then a special committee of high-ranking OMB officials reviews them and submits a short list to the President who handpicks the winning idea.

What’s wrong with this process?

There is no aggregation of the collective wisdom. The crowd is called on only to submit ideas, not to help evaluate them, which is the critical step in the delicate wisdom of crowd recipe. Instead, a bunch of political appointees in the OMB will review all the ideas and decide which will go on the short list that the President will see. Needless to say, we would not dare propose such a simplistic and cumbersome process to our enterprise clients looking to harvest and select innovative ideas from their employees.

Here’s how it should be done: After everyone has proposed their ideas, ask everyone to bet (not vote) on which idea the President will ultimately select – or alternatively, on which ideas will be short-listed by the OMB officials. The crowd’s betting will quickly and efficiently produce a ranking of the best-to-worst ideas, and the result will be less arbitrary than what you can expect from a close-knit group of bureaucrats. Now, it doesn’t mean that the OMB officials cannot have the ultimate say on what ends up on the short list that goes to the Oval Office, but their choice is at least informed by the crowd’s aggregate selection.

We’re glad to see that the Government is looking for ways to save money, but the next time the Administration tries to leverage the wisdom of crowds, it should not be afraid to consult with some collective intelligence specialists first. So as not to add to the Federal Deficit, some of us might even help out for free.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Obama and the wisdom of the Federal crowd

  1. Betting on a president’s selections still seems like “talking to the hand”, at least when it comes to competitive policies (and more importantly, policy outcomes).

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