Written byCraig Newmark
There are a lot of people around who are beginning to transform government into something new that realizes the vision of the Founders. I’m trying to focus on the gist of what’s happening, bearing witness to their efforts, on their requests. While these conversations have involved multiple levels of government in the US, UK, and other, the orientation here will be Washington. My focus will result in a little oversimplification, just to get the word out.
Overall, what we’re talking about is reinventing government from the bottom up, where web workers and ordinary citizens engage via the Net in large scale online grassroots democracy.
Note that these are organizational matters; the technology is secondary, and comparatively easy.
Our Founders created a flawed representative democracy, but with improvements it serves us well. However, we’re complementing that system via the Net with grassroots efforts which will create new checks and balances and accountability.
We’re seeing movement from mere words to reality, and by bearing witness to that progress, I hope to help accelerate that progress, with actual results.
Our goal involves:
- Increasing government accountability
- Everyday engagement between government workers and the public for customer service
- Everyday engagement between the public and their representatives regarding ongoing government policy
This has to be manageable, particularly when considering that millions of citizens will be clamoring for the attention of hundreds or thousands of representatives and workers.
We’re talking about three general groups of participants.
Realistically, very few people are interested in governance. Most of us are just happy to get through the day, and like myself, prefer to enter couch potato mode. However, there are people who have a real sense of public duty and engagement, and some, like myself, feel a need to stand up. There’s also the millennial generation, which seems to be committed to civic engagement, much like the Depression/WW II generation.
On the government worker side, I’ve directly observed a lot of people who are committed to superior public service, who believe in its nobility. These are folks who not only want to do their job, but feel they’re part of something much bigger. They’re starting to transform their teams, from the bottom up and inside.
Finally, the leadership of our country includes elected officials and people who run major agencies and departments. Many of our leaders understand that something new is happening; it’s the future reality, the arc of the moral universe. I’ve chatted with many who understand and are committed. Some have seen that the way they do business will change, and will go with that flow.
A lot of managers will fear these trends, particularly transparency, will expose problems in their departments that have been long in developing, warts and all. This actually provides the opportunities to repair their areas in a fairly no-lose manner, since everyone expects a lot of problems to surface. As citizens, we need to be prepared to give such managers a break.
As a nation, we’re already heading to our shared goals, mostly via many grassroots, spontaneous efforts, often involving informal collaborations between the citizens and government workers.
Toward increasing real progress, some specifics:
Elected and appointed leaders in government need to commit to helping these efforts, specifically:
- Committing to hearing what they hear from their workers and from the public, and then acting. That is, feedback needs to get actual results, involving changes to policy and government operations.
- Changing regulations and guidelines that might have made sense in the past, but now need revision. Specifically, government workers need to be able to use the same Net-based tools that consumers use.
- A methodology where experiments in service are performed with the acceptance of failure; in new areas, there will be attempts to provide superior service, and the first attempts will fail.
- Training government workers to provide customer service via direct engagement with citizens.
- Preparation for and acceptance of failure for unintended consequences.
- Transparency of government data, wherein all will be made available to the public, online, in standard format and searchable.
- Transparency of campaign financing data, all online and searchable
- Working with the providers of Net based tools to modify Terms of Service as needed
This is what the new democracy is about- building upon existing structures with serious engagement from the public, and from genuinely dedicated public servants.