Wednesday, September 12, 2007

After Action Review of Crowdsourced Questionnaire

WARNING!!! Shameless Self-Promotion! WARNING!!!

David S. Bernstein of The Boston Phoenix's "Talking Politics" has very nice words about the crowdsourced questionnaire for candidates to the A-B City Council seat that was put together here over the last month. Bernstein then lost all credibility by referring to Brighton Centered as "one of the best blogs in town."

For those who weren't following the process early-on, I picked up the idea for submitting questions and running a poll from Adam Gaffin of UniversalHub -- who pulled it off successfully with a questionnaire that Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley then answered. The term "crowdsourcing" was suggested by Dan Kennedy to describe Gaffin's process, based on a term that seems to have first appeared only in 2006. The concept of crowdsourcing has been applied retroactively to describe processes that have occurred centuries ago, such as the Longitude Prize.

I believe the crowdsourcing process worked well here in Allston-Brighton for a series of reasons. First, while daily readership of the Brighton Centered Blog may not be astronomical -- it is, after all, a blog mostly about local politics and neighborhood issues -- there are several active Google Groups full of members with similar interests that supplemented the daily readers. They sprouted up in response to Harvard's Allston expansion ("AllstonBrighton2006" and "Harvard Neighbors Forum") and Boston College's expansion into the former St. John's Seminary ("BC_Neighbors_Forum"). Yes, we can thank Harvard and BC for something. Second, another blogger in Allston who predates me, Harry Mattison, prepared the activist neighborhood at large on the concept of reading blogs and groups. Third, I got an advance agreement from most of the candidates that they would participate. Fourth, I reminded most of them about the questionnaire when the date approached. Fifth, as the deadline loomed I chased down the last candidate's questionnaire by contacting every phone, answering machine, pager, and email address I had for him/her. Sixth, the candidates seemed to realize that the questions were directly from the voters. It is far more difficult for a candidate to blow off the voters themselves than a two-bit blogger. And finally, I was asked to moderate the City Council candidates forum next week -- the last one before the preliminary election -- so the candidates probably all felt they had to be nice to me in the hopes of getting a softball question in return.

In response to Bernstein's concerns about not fact-checking the candidates' responses (which I originally noted on the final blog posting): I think the process followed here is parallel to the idea of having a voter information guide that many states publish in hardcopy and mail to all registered voters (Massachusetts does not), although the hardcopy aspect of the guide is probably becoming rare these days. Some states (or municipalities) have the candidates each give a brief biography and/or answer one general, but topical, question. I don't think the Secretaries of State fact-check those candidate answers or biographies; instead, they let the candidates deceive, mislead, or lie at their own risk. That's the same idea I adopted here by publishing their responses unedited.

Anyway, I hope it was an educational experience for everyone who watched and/or participated in the process!

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