Monday, November 24, 2008

How much would your department pay for a 10% improvement in customer satisfaction?

I've been reading an article in the New York Times regarding the public competition Netflix has been holding.

The competition, named the Netflix Prize, has a prize of US$1 million for the individual or group who can improve their movie/TV recommendations engine by 10%.

The article, If you liked this, sure to like that, discusses how Netflix's programmers had gone as far as they could with their available resources and skills, so the company decided to make a large slice of their information available publicly (anonymised to protect privacy) and see where others could take it.

There are now over 33,000 teams around the world competing to come up with insights and algorithms to improve Netflix's recommendations, with a public leaderboard tracking the top forty (the best is currently at 9.44%) and a forum where the teams collaborate on improving results, sharing tips and code.

I can't help but think about this in the context of government.

Every agency struggles to provide the best possible outcomes and customer service with the resources they are given. However few departments or agencies look outside for help - even to other government bodies.

I'm sure there are many complex problems in government that could be looked at in a similar context to the issue Netflix is facing - ranging from simple IT programming issues, to customer service maximisation (such as the most effective placement of face-to-face locations to cover audience needs) and those huge thorny issues, such as devising fair policies or reforming tax regimes.

I wonder if government would be more effective if it allowed talented people to devise potential solutions (for kudos or prize money), which could then be tested, reviewed and the best solutions potentially adopted.

This isn't just a pipe dream. The UK government is running a competition at the moment, asking the public to come up with innovative ways to use government data to add value. The US and Japanese Patent Boards are piloting having the public examine patents and provide views before they are granted and New Zealand had the public write the Police Wiki Act 2007 (on how the police are to act towards the public).

I cannot think of any Australian examples - if anyone know of some let me know.

Clearly there's all kinds of guidelines and governance required for Australian governments to feel 'safe' in inviting outsiders to assist us in improving governance in Australia - but what do we really have to lose?

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