The pandemic has revealed a market failure in the UK‚’s ability to harness its own collective intelligence:
1. There has been a great need for accurate decision-making by our institutions: tens of thousands of lives depended on it.
2. This need exceeded the capacity of those institutions. Suboptimal choices meant outcomes that were worse than they could have been.
3. Many outsiders were keen to help meet this need, and with hindsight we can identify many cases where their advice would have added value.
4. But that help was not systematically taken up.
There are structural reasons for this. On the supply side, ‚’reality has a surprising amount of detail‚’, as John Salvatier has put it. There’s a lot about distributing a vaccine, for example, which has these fractal levels of complexity where the real bottleneck doesn‚’t appear until you‚’re deep in the detail. Without access to this detail, it can be hard for outsiders to get to grips with the real issues, or sound credible when they do.
On the demand side, productively making use of lots of extra help is administratively difficult and psychologically uncomfortable. In a crisis, decision makers don‚’t necessarily have the time to sift through the noise of dissenting opinions, or spin up the management infrastructure for thousands of volunteers from scratch. A Minister or senior official can only speak to so many people in a day: advice from three experts is helpful; advice from three thousand is noise.
We can do better. We need new tools to sift and aggregate volunteers‚’ input, turning noise into signal. Using them to tap British citizens‚’ reserves of common sense, civic-mindedness and analytical ability is a huge opportunity.