Garbage in, garbage out.

That old programming aphorism from mainframe days frequently comes to mind when we look at so much of the public policy produced by state and local government.

How could the output of government so frequently seem so out of touch? Many folks in the Gov 2.0 movement think part of the answer lies with the input, which is often made buggy by the narrow demands of a few special interests dominating the debate in Sacramento (and frequently at our own San Francisco City Hall).

At Reset San Francisco, we have been exploring this question and looking for ways to improve the input into city government – from our Reset Poll to our push for YouTube Testimony, we are looking for more and better ways for San Franciscans to be heard. We’ve been taking inspiration from Participatory Budgeting efforts, which are fundamentally experiments in empowering panels of informed residents to make important budgeting decisions free of political pressures.

Now California Is Trying Deliberative Polling

On a statewide level we are also watching and learning from the work of What’s Next California – a newer statewide organization dedicated to improving citizen participation in government.

At they are getting ready for a Deliberative Polling panel next month to take a “deep dive” into thorny state issues like taxation, the initiative process and the quality of state and local representation.

Deliberative Polling is being tested around the country and around the world as a way to essentially crowdsource better decision making. But in the Deliberative Polling methodology, the crowd is chosen based on a rigorous statistical profile of the community and the crowd is given in-depth briefings on the issues to help drive more representative decision making.

We don’t think Participatory Budgeting or Deliberative Polling are a cure-all in California or in San Francisco. They won’t make the 38 Geary come on time, or the J-Church finally come at any time, all by themselves. These reforms alone can’t fix the Clipper Card disaster or clean up the San Francisco parking ticket mess. But government does work better when more people are heard. And there are both Gov. 2.0 tools to give more people a chance to shape policy.

It’s a bold experiment. And we are watching it closely. The What’s Next California team is soliciting input. Take a look and tell us what you think.

Screen shot 2011-05-31 at 9.38.47 AM_1