My argument: When online collaboration is a good way to gather information and inspire thoughts, is it not a practical tool to fulfill the function of political deliberation and policy making in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, and feasibility.
Nielsen (2010) argued in his article that when a rating system is incorporated, open editing mechanism may be a practical way to achieve satisfying policies because it allows publics to participate in the policy-making process. He explained that
“the idea is to allow open editing of policy documents, in much the same way the Mathworks competition allows open editing of computer programs.”(link)
The basis for Nielsen’s suggestion lies in the idea of commonplace book. Johnson (2010) explained how a commonplace book worked in the early year by quoting the historian Robert Darnton that
“you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.”(link)
A Policy document requires clear logic and precise wording. The descriptions in such document need to back-to-back rather than jumping. Based on Johnson’s quotation, although key words are provided in a commonplace book, the combinations of them are random and infinite. Each person can read the exact same context but come up with totally different schemes and understandings.
It is not always true that “more is better”. The process of policy making is most efficient when a limited number of people are engaged. Berger and Nitsch (2008) discussed the optimized number of people in deciding about monetary policy,
“the benefits of committee size are likely to become smaller as more and more people sit around the table. When individual members have fewer chances to influence a decision, they may have a larger incentive to free ride on the information-processing efforts of others.”(link)
Also, the open-editing mechanism adds great difficulty in making policies timely.
“The biggest barrier in distributed collaboration is the unreachability of distant partners. Normally partners make schedules and meet regularly to coordinate tasks and make new schedules. However, when unscheduled and exigent problems arise, they usually feel helpless either because of the unawareness of their partner’s phone number, or as a result of the unwillingness to get in touch with their partners at the cost of expensive international calls, which largely decrease the effectiveness in distributed collaboration.” (link)
Thus, the efficiency is not guaranteed in the open-editing process.
Furthermore, there exists the problem of feasibility. When open editing allows people with conflicting interests to make a policy together, the chance that a mutual satisfying policy can be made is tiny. A good example is the great discussions among major research universities about the issue of researchers’ contact with pharmaceutical representatives. It was reported that
“despite the new ideas and years of discussions that preceded them, American universities are nowhere close to fixing their conflict-of-interest problems.” (link)
Consensus is hard to reach. At the end, some authorities need to step up to balance the interests and make a final decision, just like what we have been doing for a long time.