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I founded and co-founded a couple of companies: Redington and mallowstreet; I write about issues of the day that touch me and make me think. Mostly about how to make things better.

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Ask the crowd – it might not work

Flying Machine – A sketch by Leonardo Da Vinci

Whenever I can, I try something that might not work. The tantalising thing is that it might. I’m guessing JobsEdisonDysonBransonZuckerbergDa Vinci et al, tried a lot of things that didn’t work. But some did, and they changed the human experience fundamentally and profoundly.

So, in fulsome homage to things that might not work (but might), I present our attempt at crowd sourced wisdom. It’s straightforward; we put a hard question to a wise, independent, diverse and experienced crowd. Then we wait for six weeks or so, and hey presto, the question gets answered. Or not – we’ll find out in a few weeks.

If you’re going to road test your thing, you might as well really hammer it hard. In this case, ask people to answer a very difficult question – one that has troubled experts, regulators, accountants – even the government – for the last fifteen years. If you don’t even understand the question, that’s OK. It’s a micro-niche question aimed at a tiny minority of Deep Blue experts and it may not even have a “right” answer.

Deep Blue


We’re trying to find out whether, (no matter how complex and Deep Blue the question), if you ask the right mix of people to work together, the best answer can be found.


So here’s the hard question – the Big Thing the government really wants to know:

  • whether the smoothing of assets and liabilities would be appropriate in schemes undertaking technical provisions (part 3) valuations, considering impacts on members, sponsoring employers and the Pension Protection Fund;
  • how smoothing might be applied;
  • whether a new statutory objective for the Regulator is necessary, or whether the appropriate considerations can be delivered under existing objectives, or alternatively whether other changes to the legislation are required.

I’m not even going to bother to explain the question. You either get it or you don’t. The mind blowing fact is that the crowd is answering the question – right now! That’s never been tried before.

You see, the government is running it’s own consultation  process – which is standard stuff when it wants to test a controversial proposal: “Is this a dumb idea or a smart one?” The problem with that approach is you don’t know what the entire wise crowd really thinks. You just get individual responses that you have to sift through and try to make sense of. Which is better than nothing, but not as good as actually asking the people to work together as a team.

Check it out. Get involved if you have a view. At the moment, the proposition with most votes is Jeroen Wilbrink‘s provocatively titled: “Pensions should not be Ponzi Schemes” which is Jeroen’s subtle way of saying he thinks smoothing is a dumb idea. Now you wouldn’t see that in a formal consultation document. But guess what? It leads a distinguished field with a cool 95 votes. You gotta love it! For now, the voting crowd agrees with Jeroen, but things can change. Smoothing has a lot of supporters and the clock is still ticking.

In a few weeks, I’ll send all the proposals and their vote scores to the government. Who knows what the government will make of expert crowd sourced wisdom? I’ve no idea. Maybe they’ll just ignore it; but that’s usually dangerous. First, the crowd might be right, and, second, the crowd doesn’t like being ignored.

By the way, we’ve just launched a second hot question – easy to understand, this one – but still hard to answer:

What is your blueprint for a workable pensions system?

Answer in no more than 500 words and, if your blueprint gets the most votes, you also get an iPad Mini and mentioned in Despatches.



Anyway, like I said, maybe this whole thing won’t work. But maybe, just maybe, it will. It’s a Jobs / Edison / Dyson / Branson-esque experiment and, if you get involved, it will be that much more likely to succeed, and you’ll be part of the story. What’s not to like?


Here’s where it’s all kicking off. Vote, make a comment or post your own idea.


The government (I bet) is watching.


2 comment on “Ask the crowd – it might not work

  • Simon Carne
    February 24, 2013 | 7:51 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Simon Carne
    February 24, 2013 | 7:52 pm

    I've been following the smoothing debate (and making a small contribution or two to the discussion).

    I've also been following the debate over jury trials (eg triggered by the questions posed by the (first) jury in the Vicky Pryce trial. It makes me wonder whether 12 is a large enough crowd to have the necessary wisdom.

Love to get your thoughts

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