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A lot of sites like this already exist[edit]

While I'm not aware of a site that does this for lots of countries, there are lots of sites that do it for individual countries. For example, in the UK we have the government-run site, Directgov, as well as private sites such as They Work For You and The Citizen's Advice Bureau. I expect that other countries have similar sites. There are certainly ways that a site like the one you propose could be better than those sites, but the problem you'll have to getting users at the beginning. If will take a long time before your site is better than those that already exist and during that time people are going to use the existing sites rather than yours. If no-one is using the site, it will be difficult to find people to contribute to it.

There is one exception I can think of - there probably aren't many such sites in the developing world. That could be your niche. If you want to go down that route, make sure the sites are designed with mobile use in mind (both for readers and contributors), since that is how a large proportion of internet users in the developing world access the internet.

--Tango 19:14, 16 July 2011 (UTC)

It would help to describe in more detail how this would be different from the wikipedia coverage of countries today. 06:35, 18 July 2011 (UTC)
Tango and Sj, thanks for getting back to me. -- RA (talk) 11:19, 18 July 2011 (UTC)
@Tango -
Certainly, this is not a new idea. By the same token, Wikipedia was not the first encyclopedia and Wikitionary was not the first dictionary. They were not even the first free-to-read encyclopedia or dictionary. What was different about them was how they were written and a spirit they brought to knowledge sharing (i.e. that knowledge should be "free" in a sense that is greater than merely free of monetary cost to the consumer). That is what is different here also. A citizen-information portal is not not a new idea. Neither is a free to use one. What would be new is citizen-information written by citizens for citizens (at least to my knowledge). That brings in concepts not only of transparency and trustworthiness. It also carries important principles with respect to information of this kind: Who should "own" it? Citizens (directly)? Or the State (as a mediator for citizens)?
The developing world, where the is an absence of information of this kind, is a definite "target market". So too is the "not-so-under-developed world" - but where there are issues of trust between citizens and the State for various reasons. However, even in the highly-developed West, I think there is a "market" for a project of this kind owing to the "free" principles that would found the project as well as the responsiveness with which it could respond to changing needs of citizens (e.g. information on banking, pensions and finance issues could have been developed specifically in response to the current economic crisis and pushed to the fore).
With regard to getting a critical mass of initial content (and thus readers who will become contributors): yes that is a question. Wikipedia already has some basic content (e.g. lists of parliamentarians, local governments, etc.) that could be adapted and combined with other sources to form a starting point. Building a corpus of information of that kind would not be a hugely difficult task and would quickly provide an initial base of basic content.
However, that will not be enough. After that, a skeleton table of contents of "advice" pages, could form the basis of the project over the long term (all red links to start with), could be written. The table of contents could be put together by a small number of editors and the content could be built up by actively inviting contributors. At least two groups of potential contributors could be explicitly invited to fill in these areas: (a) existing contributors to other Wikimedia projects (e.g. WikiProject contributors on Wikipedia) and (b) "off-line" civic groups (e.g. tenant-rights organizations could be invited off-wiki to contribute content to advice pages on tenant rights). The latter group of civic groups could potentially be useful too in attracting further readership (and thus contributors). They could also be useful in giving an initial legitimacy and trustworthiness to the content. -- RA (talk) 11:19, 18 July 2011 (UTC)
@Sj - The type of information in a citizens' information portal is very different from the type of information in an encyclopedia. For example, an encyclopedia might have articles on employment, workers right, mortgages, etc.. There may be some specific details contrasting different conditions of work, for example, or different types of mortgage offered in different countries. But, on the whole, an encyclopedia discusses topics in a general sense and in great detail (giving the history, context, etc. of the subject).
A citizens' information portal doesn't discuss these kinds of topics in a general sense or in any great detail. It provides clear-cut information in the specific sense: What are employees rights and obligations in Ireland? How do I apply for a passport in Belgium? How do I buy a house in Sweden? What do I need to start a business in Italy? Who is responsible for complaints against he police in Portugal? Who do I call if I smell a gas leak in Germany? What do I need to open a bank account in Austria? Must I have health insurance if I live in Croatia? How do I go about standing for election in the United Kingdom?
Typically, entries on a citizens' information portal are brief, factual and very specific. They do not discuss the topics in the same way as entries in an encyclopedia do. They gives the bare bones and often link out to other resources (e.g. written legislation or application forms) for more information. In some ways, this would make writing a citizens' information portal relatively easier compared to an encyclopedia: they only contain indisputable information and entries are relatively short. Conversely, this also presents unique challenges: specific entries require specific knowledge. -- RA (talk) 11:19, 18 July 2011 (UTC)
WikifyIndia just started in India - along somewhat similar lines. Bishdatta 18:43, 18 July 2011 (UTC)
Excellent. Thank you very much. -- RA (talk) 07:39, 19 July 2011 (UTC)
Another example of an existing country level government services portal (in this case for the US) is, for which we have an en:WP article. -- 22:12, 25 July 2011 (UTC)

Possible Problems[edit]

Maybe its a bit too soon for this, and I might sound like a pessimist, but such a project is bound to face the following problems.

  • Details on members of parliament (e.g. email address, postal addresses, statistical information, etc.) - These will be hard to find correctly, and still harder to verify. Also, many people might object to these details being published, as a violation of their privacy.
  • Background information on political parties - Opposing parties are bound to try to distort this information. Also, it will be difficult keeping a neutral point of view, considering that contributors will be from the concerned country, and will have political views
  • Lists of local authorities, details of local councillors and information on local authority departments - Again, privacy concerns may be expressed by the people concerned.

Other problems would be the legal status of such information. Since it will be built by contributors, the information might be incorrect. What happens if someone decides that the wrong information about them is defamatory and decides to pursue legal action? The foundation could face a lot of this if such a precedent was set.

Apart from the personal information, I dont think there would be many problems with putting information regarding procedures, rights, duties etc. There might be some copyright problems since some governments keep their works copyright-protected. Other than that, it can work.--Siddhartha Ghai 20:00, 31 August 2011 (UTC)

Privacy issues are certainly a good point.
Here in Ireland, it is quite common for MPs' and local councillors' home addresses to be public knowledge and are considered appropriate information for the public domain. On the other hand, personal telephone numbers and email addresses are considered private and inappropriate for the public domain. Instead, specifically work email addresses and telephone numbers are the norm for public contact.
I give this as an example not to suggest it as a way forward but to illustrate that what is appropriate public knowledge is complex and culturally dependent. So, yes, finding a way through that question is certainly not simple. Similar with the details of local authority and government departments, in particular if identifying individual (private) people working in those departments (if there is every a case when that might be appropriate).
On the question of background information on political parties, I would not consider any discursive material on a political party to be appropriate for this project. Wikipedia can do that job already. Rather, I would only foresee purely factual information: number of MPs, address of head office, links to official policy documents, etc.
In general, I would not consider any material that can be challenged (or is a subject of opinion) as being suitable for this project. IMO, this would not merely be in the Wikipedia sense of "verifiability" but also that all material be simple, objective and indisputable fact. For the most part, I would expect that Wikipedia would be the place for "discussion" of a topic or subject. -- RA (talk) 22:19, 31 August 2011 (UTC)
The page mentioned "How the political system works" - that's precisely the stuff that "can be challenged". Even in most transparent democracies, details on political gears can be quite embarrassing - like en:Rod Blagojevich. Perhaps, if this project takes off, you should limit the pilot run to just a few transparent and democratic countries. NVO 02:55, 2 September 2011 (UTC)
"How the political system works" is a poor example of an entry in the proposed wiki but your point is a very good one. It brings up the question of what are "facts". In the early days of Wikipedia much of the current policies were written by Larry Sanger. The crafting of similarly well-thoughtout and understandable policies would be crucial to the good functioning of this proposed wiki. Piloting it on a few transparent democracies, and developing sound policies there, would be an excellent way of thrashing out those policies. -- RA (talk) 21:27, 5 September 2011 (UTC)

A similar but distinct vision I had for a Wiki[edit]

I started off with a facebook group for the same and discussed it with some friends. I'd rather post the discussion with annotations here rather than pitch the idea.

What is it supposed to be?

The group is supposed to be a starting point to conceptualize a Wiki that can be made for accessing information on Governance in India. Exactly what kind of information will go here? Anything that allows a vigilant citizen to take action. Why only action? Information on Government schemes that can benefit people will also make for a good addition.

What gap are you trying to fill and who will be able to benefit from it?

The gap is the lack of easily accessible information on Indian Politics and more importantly, Governance and accountability.

Exactly how will a student, a teacher, a public servant, a business man, a shop owner will benefit from it - I have no clue as of now. But most of us are helpless in a lot of situations. This could be a start.

What are we supposed to do?

If you are interested, just spare some time in coming here and trying to come up with the first few usable article names (you don't necessarily have to finish the whole article, or even start it. It's a Wiki.) or even content guidelines, possible uses.

So what are we?

We are trying to give some direction to the Wiki before it can actually be launched with the Media Wiki software. There's no place other than FB where you can directly find people and update information.

Remember, it is not Us trying to solve all the problems of the world. We are merely setting a platform for a good Wiki, which can then be adopted by people. Seriously, there are millions of Indians who are serious Social Media Junkies. It doesn't take much.

How will you promote it?

Whenever there is a political issue hot, it will also be hot on Twitter. Just use that Hashtag. Seriously, Politics in India is a subject which a lot of Indians want to do something about. They just don't have any platform to make a contribution.

Are you sure Indians will contribute to the Wiki format?

It's popular, it's a trend, but it's not observable mainstream. It's almost like a cult.

A possible scenario and the question of expertise

I am on the bill track page of the PRS site. Pheeewww. I do have one thought. These bills are merely electronic documents. I have a vague idea about the usefulness of a platform that allows the implications of bills to trickle down into simple governance issues. Perhaps, an article on each entity in governance followed by the issues raised by journalistic entities, cross referenced with powers and responsibilities due to a particular bill passed by the parliament.

This was in reference to the question raised on the point of expertise. An analysis of the situation is the least that we can do!

Minimum Viable Product

A friend told me about the concept of a Minimum Viable Product. In our context, and what I thought of was, where is it that a few people, or a single person can start?

The expertise question is always going to loom over you - the solution is to have this tool adopted by experts. Much like Scholarpedia. What I'm confused about is - what's the first step?

--Thewinster 16:23, 23 September 2011 (UTC)

Unifying the above ideas?[edit]

Could the proposers unify the ideas noted above, and indicate who they feel the initial users and audience and materials would be?

A pointer to a specific demo, and comparison of how it works with how other sites noted above work today would be helpful.

I find it hard to evaluate or really understand the idea proposed as it would work in practice, without that sort of side-by-side comparison or a functional demo. 17:39, 3 June 2012 (UTC)