Future Melbourne

Note: this is a revised reblog from my personal blog (29 May 2008 ) as a means of providing some background info on the projects that Collabforge has undertaken in the past. I’ll be aiming over the next month or so to provide some insight into our past work, as well as some pretty exciting directions we are planning.

This post focuses on CollabForge’s work with the City of Melbourne in reengineering it’s city planning process towards a collaborative outcome. Specifically, CollabForge’s development of the Future Melbourne wiki – an online environment for internal collaboration and public consultation.

Here’s some background:

A month before I graduated with my PhD (Nov ’07) I was contacted by the manager of the City of Melbourne’s Strategic Planning & 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, plans were produced using co-operative participation. A requirement of this project was that the new plan be produced by collaborative participation.

What followed was several months of meetings in order to map the existing planning process and redevelop it with the aim of taking advantage of ‘Web 2.0’ opportunities and the emergent capacities of mass collaboration.

Fast forward five months: the city’s ten year plan has been moved 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 (compared to Sydney’s recently released plan which was put together by more or less a handful of people).
  • The project launched its public consultation on May 17th, 2008, and around 150 public participants registered and contributed several hundred edits to either the plan directly, or one of the many ‘discussion pages’ associated with the plan’s content. While this wasn’t the first project to use a wiki for public consultation, it was (as far as I know) the first in Australia. It was also the first (in the world as far as I know) to use a wiki so extensively in a city planning process.

Yet more interesting are the implications: could this be the beginning of participatory governance, where the public relies less on the elected representatives and is more able to directly engage in the creation and implementation of policy?

While it’s true that an edit to the city plan wiki does not guarantee that a public participant’s contribution will still be there when Council signs off on it, there can be no doubt that a well considered opinion demonstrated in the context of the document (not just as a comment in the margins) will not only be more persuasive, but will influence the downstream development of the plan.

In other words, the wiki was the plan’s content, even post consultation, and whatever form it took in the end, the publicly edited version was a step on that path.

(Imagine sending a story you wrote to a team of editors and having them not only reply with meta-level commentary, but also edits directly to your story. If this went back and forth enough times, you’d probably lose track of whose words were whose, and in the end, really only be focused on the merit of the content.)

Well this is exactly the idea and potential behind mass collaboration, ‘the power of the many’ by putting primacy on the merit of the content instead of the reputation of the author, bigger and more complex results can be achieved (Wikipedia has done in around 7 years what it Britannica took 240 to do).

CollabForge is currently developing post implementation review of the project which will soon be available on the Future Melbourne wiki. Please post a comment here if you would like to be notified when it is released.

And please share any experiences and or thoughts you may have surrounding collaborative consultation and participatory democracy – the implications are big, so it’s worth discussing…

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