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Title: Beyond Bureaucracy: The Potential for Crowds to Drive Innovation In American Public Education
Authors: Bellinger, Catharine
Advisors: Lane, Melissa
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2015
Abstract: In the past decade, technological progress has generated a new enthusiasm among political theorists and policymakers for reviving the values and models of Athenian democracy. The Obama administration, in particular, launched several initiatives in the first term reminiscent of Athens, ranging from Twitter town halls to a “We the People” site to elicit policy ideas directly from American citizens. Americans are a diverse, talented group; why not “crowdsource” solutions to the country’s toughest policy problems from the people who face these challenges day to day? “Civic crowdsourcing,” or civic-sourcing, has become particularly popular in public education. Teachers, for example, can download lesson plans from the crowdsourced lesson database BetterLesson. Parents can access a “Yelp for schools” website called GreatSchools. Even policymakers are looking to tap into the wisdom of the crowd: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has championed two crowdsourcing-style competitions: Investing in Innovation (i3), open to all education nonprofits and school systems, and Race to the Top, open to state education departments. The efficacy of this new style of policy problem-solving, though, has yet to be tested. Although data is limited comparing traditional policy-making to crowdsourced problem solving, specific cases can be analyzed with a critical eye. These cases shed light on the question of whether and how civic-sourcing can be applied to engage and empower citizens. This thesis hypothesizes that there is a set of underlying democratic values—transparency, accountability, flexibility, and participation—that strengthen successful for-profit and nonprofit initiatives that leverage crowdsourcing to solve public sector problems. These common values, if upheld, enable success in the same way that civic participation, innovation, open debate, and accountable government enabled Athens to dominate the Hellenistic age—and even after its fall, to dominate our collective memories. In addition, this thesis proposes a new typology of four approaches to civic-sourcing: the extractive type, which employ contests to identify the best idea within a crowd; the aggregative type, which, like Yelp, average the individual opinions of a large group; the deliberative type, which pose a challenge to a group of citizens to debate and solve; and finally, the deregulative type, like Uber, which act as new, open marketplaces to match service providers and recipients. The three policy case studies in this thesis—the contest-style Race to the Top initiative, the open marketplace of New Orleans public schools, and the burgeoning ed tech sector that relies on crowdsourcing—deepen our understanding of the four approaches to civicsourcing public sector problems. Despite the challenges of civic-sourcing, tapping the wisdom of the crowd presents an important possibility for policymakers, particularly in the education sector.
Extent: 92 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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