February 13, 2009

The Wisdom of Crowds

GOVERNMENTS CAN'T think of everything. That's why Vivek Kundra, the chief technology officer of Washington, D.C., went to "outsiders," asking for ideas on how to enhance D.C. services through cool computer applications. He announced the "Apps for Democracy" contest in October. The general public was invited to take data — yes, dry digital data, from D.C. files — and turn them into useful and absorbing information for residents, visitors and government employees.

When the closing bell rang on the 30-day contest in mid-November, Kundra's office had received 47 submissions. Government's cost: $50,000 — nearly half of it for prize money. That's cheap for dozens of new and usable applications. If the government had had to develop all of them on its own, it would have taken more than a year and, Kundra estimates, $2.6 million.

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