This is my first post to the p2p blog (though I’ve wanted to for some time). Michel has asked me to discuss my experiences with the Future Melbourne project – the transformation of a traditional city planning exercise governed by a few, to a global, wiki-based collaboration on the future of Melbourne, Australia.
First, here’s some background:
A month before I graduated with my PhD that proposed a theoretical framework for mass collaboration (Nov ’07) I was contacted by the manager of the City of Melbourne’s Strategic Planning and Sustainability Branch – David Mayes. David had a vision for reengineering the City of Melbourne’s process for generating its next 2020 ten year strategic plan. Previously, such plans were produced using cooperative participation (contribution of discrete elements that are synthesised by someone other than the contributors). However a requirement of this project was that the new plan be produced by collaborative participation (contribution with the capacity to add/edit/delete by all in order to inclusively represent the perspectives of all involved through collective contribution and synthesis).
What followed was several months of meetings in order to map the existing process and redevelop it with the aim of leveraging the potential of collaboration while taking advantage of ‘Web2.0’ opportunities and the emergent capacities of mass collaboration. I, along with my business partner, Marcus Leonard, also created a company CollabForge in response to this job as well as others coming through now.
Fast forward five months:
The city’s ten year plan has been migrated to a wiki-based collaborative environment for both internal collaboration, and public consultation.
- Facilitated by the wiki, the plan has undergone internal collaborative development by the City’s special team in charge of the plan’s creation, Future Melbourne, City officers, Councilors, and hundreds of stakeholders (in contrast to Sydney’s recently released plan which was put together in the traditional mode by more or less a handful of people).
- The project launched its public consultation on the plan May 17th, 2008, and so far around 100 public participants have registered (529 in total registered to the wiki) and there have been approximately 70 high quality public contributions to the either the plan directly, or one of the many ‘discussion pages’ associated with the plan’s content. And interestingly, while editing the wiki is open to anyone in the world upon registration, to date, there has not been a single instance of vandalism or off-topic content – and to think that this was one of the primary concerns before launching the wiki for consultation!
While this isn’t the first project to use a wiki for public consultation, it is (as far as I know) the first in Australia. It is also the first (in the world as far as i know) to use a wiki so extensively in a city planning process. It is also possible the wiki may play some role in the life of the plan post Council adoption in October. But one step at a time :-)…
Yet more interesting are the implications: could this be the beginning of participatory governance, p2p governance or WikiGovernance where the public relies less on the elected representatives and is more able to directly engage in the creation and implementation of policy? I don’t know the answer to this (I suspect so) but one thing is for sure, this project is raising all kinds of other interesting questions. Here’s a few:
Where exactly are the boundaries between the government and the public (in terms of authority, liability etc)? As the plan is edited by the public, their contributions are incorporated in real time becoming a part of the plan’s fabric. This creates a very fuzzy boundary indeed between ‘official’ or ‘certified’ contributions and those by any old John or Jane with an interesting idea.
Melbourne has traditionally generated 10 year plans. With an online collaborative environment supported by a wiki, could/should the model move towards a living plan that responds in a day-to-day fashion? If so, how would Council go about ‘signing-off’ for each change?
Will everyone be a lobbyist in the future? Participating in the writing of the City’s plan puts one in direct contact with the highest echelons of the City’s officers. If one is persistent and comes back over the course of a month, relationships are developed and pressure can be applied – in a full public view. If wiki consultation becomes popular in more sectors of governance (and business etc) you can bet that it will be leveraged by the public. In addition, we are also supporting group forming with the capacity to create your own special interest group in order to leverage the collective intelligence of others with similar interests.
As a point of interest, here’s few examples of the quality/content of participation thus far:
- Healthy Water Efficient Catchment – the contributions on the left are from a public participant, the text on the right is the older version.
- Affordable for New Business Discussion
- Zero Carbon City Discussion
And of course I’d like to extend an open invitation to anyone reading to get involved in the action – give us your thoughts on this new potential, share your knowledge with us from your own perspective/field/interests – promote your initiatives that might help us as we do our best to develop a well informed and inclusive plan for our city.
You can also follow my updates at http://mark-elliott.net