This is not an attempt to malign the use of crowdsourcing as a valuable technique, it is simply a way of pointing out that it is not a ‘cure for all ills’ as some people seem to think. Any technique used incorrectly or inappropriately can be at best ineffective and at worst damaging or disruptive (in terms of both cost and reputation).

Following the recent election and subsequent formation of a coalition government here in the UK, much was made of the need to consult widely and get the input of real people to help in the formation of government policy. Ignoring the fact that this was probably a political ploy and that nearly all of the suggestions collected have been ignored completely, this was never going to work. But why?

The first (and possibly least important) reason was the method of idea collection. Simply gathering ideas electronically via bulletin boards or email is a very blunt instrument and places limits on how much people can say. Neither does it allow other contributors to build or add to the contributions of others. This would be a very good time to build a huge virtual nominal group!

Secondly, the biggest error when attempting to make radical (or progressive as the government labelled them) changes is to consult those at the sharp end, the people who are involved in day to day delivery. This seems harsh at first, but if you think about it the resulting ideas are not likely to be radical, just ways of trimming costs or reducing waiting times. The question for this group of people is ’what should the service look like?’ not ‘how should the service be delivered?’. These people can still participate in consultation but with a different label. They need to take a step backwards and see the bigger picture.

Rather than try to trim money from everyone’s budget, a holistic view is needed. Just as in a business when Marketing and Finance are no longer contained entirely within their respective departments, our new government should take a wider view. The questions should be ‘what is the best way to provide relevant education for our children?’ rather than ‘how can we keep exam grades up and chop 40% from the budget?’ To answer these types of questions simply asking people their opinion will not do. Maybe this is not coalition thinking and radical and progressive politics really are not on the agenda.

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