Noveck began with the example of patents, first devised in Renaissance Florence and Venice to protect techniques such as glass manufacture. In England, conferring a monopoly on a tool or technique became a prerogative of the king. In contemporary America, the process of getting a 20-year monopoly on your invention from the US Patent Office is mired in a morass of litigation costs, a huge backlog, insufficient reviewers with insufficient science education, and what Noveck calls "an outmoded conception of expertise."
Her revolutionary approach is to "reengineer institutions to bring in expertise from outside." Thus she developed Peer-to-Patent, which publishes patent applications to the Internet. The online community researches prior art, organizes the most excellent reviewers that emerge, and greatly accelerates and refines the patent review process. A pilot program proved the concept, and it is now being institutionalized at the Patent Office. Noveck describes the methodology as "focussed collaboration" and as a way to move power "downwards and outwards."
On President Obama's first day in office he signed a memorandum on Open Government, committing all the departments and agencies to "transparency, participation, and collaboration." They were asked to begin by identifying high-value datasets that could be put online in downloadable form immediately. The result was Data.gov, which went public in May 2009 and quickly had 64 million hits for its raw data files. An IT Dashboard of the government's information technology spending got 86 million hits. The White House made its visitor logs public.
Noveck said the government is replacing its reflex "there's a form for that" habits with "there's an app for that," and a panoply of cloud-based apps, including 165 social media platforms, are on offer at Apps.gov. Just within the Department of Defense, the entire department has adopted (Long Now co-founder) Danny Hillis's Aristotle software to link all military expertise; the Army field manuals are being wikified---collaboratively updated by soldiers in the field; and troops are encouraged to learn and use social media.
The formidable Code of Federal Regulations used to cost $17,000. Now the price is zero for the "e-CFR."
"Loved data lives longer," Noveck declared. She encourages citizens to "adopt a dataset," and to demand ever wider release of government data troves. (One audience member requested that all the aerial photographs ever made by the US Geological Survey be digitized and published.) The Obama administration is finding that the whole process of opening up government digitally doesn't have to wait for perfection. It can move ahead swiftly on the Internet standard of "rough consensus and running code."
PS. As a government employee, Noveck is not allowed to plug her book, Wiki Government. But I can.-- by Stewart Brand