Winner Spotlight: Insights Uses the Crowd to Improve Government Decision Making
It’s becoming common practice for government agencies to ask for public input in making decisions about programs and policies that affect citizens. Often though, what comes out of that ask is a long list of suggestions that leaders aren’t able to make sense of.
That’s where Insights comes in. The Tel Aviv-based startup is a crowd-consulting platform that sorts through citizens’ feedback data and provides meaningful, actionable insights that leaders can use to be more inclusive and responsive.
Insights won the smart cities category of the Tel Aviv Challenge Cup and will go on to compete in the Challenge Festival in D.C. in May. After the event, Founder and CEO Gal Alon gave some examples of the work his company is doing and how he plans to make an impact longterm.
You want to help government agencies make better decisions. What does that mean, and what’s the importance of doing that?
We believe that stakeholders hold a lot of knowledge that can help decision makers improve their decisions. They know better what works and they can help cities and government agencies to deliver change. We provide decision makers with a crowd consulting platform that helps them get this advice, in a very smooth, easy and effective process. Based on their decisions, they can also send personal impact updates to each and every participant, so we actually close the feedback loop.
What are some potential use cases for the platform?
For instance, the city of Tel Aviv consulted its young citizens on what should be done on its new youth center. They gave brilliant insights on what will make this place build a community. The government of Israel has just, these days, run a national consultation process on a new social inclusion policy for the Ethiopian community. So instead of just the government making decisions alone, they consulted thousands of Ethiopians on what will make them better integrated or better included in Israeli society. And they actually know. We can just ask them and they give really good advice to the government about what to do.
You mentioned in your pitch that you’re working with one-third of the Israeli government. Who is this one-third and who’s the next target?
We actually provide our crowd consulting platform to a third of the Israeli ministries. For instance, with the Ethiopian project, the Ministry of Education ran a consulting project with the Ethiopian community and the nonprofits in the area around what they should do in the field of education.
In the United States we have thousands of cities and we have hundreds of government agencies, and we truly believe that we can help them do better to deliver change. We know, from our own experience, that if you design well the process of decision making, if you make this process inclusive, you can actually deliver the outcomes you want to deliver.
Along with this being a crowd consulting platform, you’re also using the crowd to analyze the insights that you get. How does this work?
Basically …decision makers cannot just read all of these replies. They need something concise, they need the collective insights and insights they can actually use. So we actually use the crowd, the stakeholders that participate in the process, to do the analytical tasks that provide the insights.
So, for example, when someone answers a consulting question, he’s asked to highlight sentences in his answer, and it actually helps the system categorize and analyze information. It synthesizes the key insights that are then presented to decision makers.
Tell me about your background and how this solution arose out of it.
I did my Ph.D. in social policy at the London School of Economics. The whole field of behavioral economics and policymaking really attracted me, and I learned a lot about the way the British government does policy. Working in the fields of governance and social policy at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, we found that the way we design the process of policymaking had a dramatic impact on its success. Every change we pursued — rights for Holocaust survivors, preparing for emergency situations—our decisions on the way we created policy defined its effectiveness. When you design an inclusive process of decision making, asking the right questions to the right people, you understand much better what works. Once you make decisions, you can more easily deliver the change you want. We realized we could do a roundtable of 30 people—but if you want to make real change, big change, you need thousands of people on board with you. And that’s what our crowd-consulting process does.
Between now and the Challenge Festival in May, you’ll be moving to D.C. Why leave Israel?
We have 12 employees here in Israel that actually help organizations lead inclusive decision making. So Insights is already in the field. We have here an R&D team and a consulting team, so we do a lot of work to make real change happen. But as our team invests time in that, I will be shifting my focus to the United States.
Being based here in Tel Aviv as a startup, what’s been your experience? What are the unique traits that the city has going for it?
I think [there is] the idea in Israel of making change happen—you cannot replace that with any other resource. I got myself into a very difficult field because we work with government. People don’t think government can innovate or take innovations. We actually find here—and we hope to find this in the United States as well—a lot of people in government are waiting for something to help them to do just that. So here in Israel we’ve worked on more than 100 crowd consulting projects. We see it works, so the atmosphere is a very valuable resource for us.