I have always been a big believer in fairness. It bothers me when I see rules or behaviors that unfairly and unjustifiably affect someone.

An evolving demonstration of fairness resulting from the Internet is a subset of what is called user-generated content. In 2004, author James Surowiecki wrote the book “The Wisdom of Crowds.” Its premise is that that collection of ideas from many can result in superior decisions over those determined by just one or a few people. UGC can harness and deploy that wisdom.

Most of us have lived in the hierarchical worlds with a pyramid organizational chart. The power is at the top, and pressure is forced downward. UGC can invert the pyramid, thus shifting power and influence. A group of individuals with common interests can be located at the top, and their weight via technologies (e.g., websites, cell phones, etc.) can be felt by those who traditionally hold power. The weight from UGC can increase when those in power fail to deliver on expectations that got them into authority in the first place.

Shifting Power to Citizens

Some great examples of how citizens in a village or city can actively bring balance to fairness through UGC were recently presented by Dr. Lyle Wray at a government performance management conference in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Wray and I both presented. Wray is the executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments and is the co-author of the book “Results That Matter: Improving Communities by Engaging Citizens, Measuring Performance and Getting Things Done.”

One example Wray described was of a large U.S. city in which the police department resisted publishing crime statistics and locations, which allowed real estate developers to hide the information from potential homebuyers. A citizen group took the initiative to extract the crime data from accessible sources and to publish them on a public website that is visual and easily understood by home shoppers.

A similar example Wray described is SeeClickFix.com, a website that encourages residents to become active citizens by helping take care of and improve their neighborhoods. This website allows anyone to notice a nonemergency issue in their neighborhood (see), open a work order ticket describing the issue and what can be done to resolve it (click) and publicly report the issue for resolution (fix).

Once a resident reports an issue, the site automatically notifies the maintenance department of a village, town or city of the problem. Any citizen can post a problem such as a fallen tree, downed power line or pothole to the site so that it effectively becomes a ticket or work order. However, it is a closed-loop system. The posting is transmitted to the village government with tangible evidence that it was received, the citizen is notified, and for several days the citizen is continually further notified until the problem is satisfactorily resolved – as judged by the citizen who submitted the work order. This accelerates responsiveness with a heavy dose of visible accountability.

This is user-generated content.

Shifting Power to Employees

Examples such as these for government got me thinking about how UGC might be applied to my field of enterprise performance management. It did not take me long to realize that I am already involved with a UGC website: kpilibrary.com. This may be the fastest-growing and largest registration membership website related to key performance indicators, and I am honored to be one of the five KPI experts selected by its executives. Their idea is straightforward: Have users submit the types of performance measures their organizations are monitoring, organize it in ways that can be quickly understood (e.g., by type of industry or process), and allow discussion groups to communicate about them. And that is just the start, because users can then also add benchmark quantities for each measure.     

Could UGC enable employees to submit their personal feelings, ideas or requests to executives, similar to citizens and their government? Maybe there are ways. The good old paper-based “suggestion box” of my earlier career days never seemed to work. The “suggestions” were typically not shared with employees. Internet systems can change that.

One of the more creative uses of UGC is at Motorola, for prioritizing R&D projects. In the past, Motorola had a slow and cumbersome process of screening suggested ideas to the executive R&D review board, which ultimately selected the few green-light projects and approved their funding. Competitors were bringing to market ideas that Motorola employees had already thought of but were clogged in the decision process. Their solution? They created a “bid-sell” marketplace where employees use “funny money” to place bets of various levels on submitted R&D ideas. This way the more technical (and possibly better-informed) engineers and scientists could vote on the ideas most likely to make Motorola higher profits. Discussions are posted for debating each idea. Time limits force the final vote, and then these UGC R&D ideas are submitted to the executive R&D review board.

A Bright Light for Accountability and Ideas

User-generated content is a way to ensure that the ordinary worker or citizen can get a fair hearing for their ideas and concerns. It also speeds up responsiveness and makes accountability much more visible. Innovation is not about getting better results from existing practices but rather achieving improvements from new practices. UGC shifts power and influence in ways that contribute to the benefit of organizations and their stakeholders.