New GSA leader sees collective intelligence as a frontier

The wisdom of the crowds needs governance to be useful, administrator Martha Johnson says

The General Services Administration has the tools it needs to tap into the collective knowledge of its employees, but it needs governance and policy to make them useful, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson said today. 

“We now need to develop, if you will, the executive functions around" the capabilities, she told reporters after her keynote address at FOSE 2010 conference, an 1105 Media event.

“I think we are recognizing that there are issues of governance, issues of skill. There are issues of how you can communicate ideas and how you put together those ideas to converge on a solution,” said Johnson, who worked on projects that used crowdsourcing while she was employed by Computer Sciences Corp.


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One issue is intellectual property, she said. People give up the right to their ideas when they put them out for the public to consume and change.

“People have to understand that, and have the skill and interpersonal skills to share ideas knowing that others will pick up on them, refine them, make them better, and not start clutching at them,” she said.

To gather knowledge from everyone, GSA today released a request for information for a procurement to host the Data.gov Web site and its related sets of data. GSA is looking for comments on the draft solicitation in a wiki format, which allows users to post ideas that others can build on or dispute. Officials want comments on where GSA can improve the proposal, and they want debates on the technical aspects of it.

“The entire point of this exercise is to test out how we [can] use collaboration and social media to make the federal acquisition process more efficient and effective,” GSA wrote on its BetterBuy Pilots Wiki Home Page.

As the debate begins and suggestions arrive, the wiki will send updates through a new Twitter account.

Johnson said collective intelligence techniques are the next generation, for the use of social media and new media tools.

“I think that’s just a frontier for us, that’s going to be very exciting,” she said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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