Hacking emergent democracy

I have just read Civic hacking: a new agenda for e-democracyby James Crabtree. He writes:

The current British government has got the right question, but the wrong answer. Its question is: how can we use the internet to help people get the most out of civic life, politics, and the way in which they are governed? This is based on a fairly sound analysis of the current problems of democracy. Steven Coleman and John Gotze, in their pamphlet Bowling Together, put this analysis rather well:

“There is a pervasive contemporary estrangement between representative and those they represent, manifested in almost every western country by falling voter turnout; lower levels of public participation in civic life; public cynicism towards political institutions and parties; and a collapse in once-strong political loyalties.”

So far so good. But Coleman and Gotze, and by extension the British government, come up with the wrong conclusion. They seem to think that people are in some way held back from participation. If we made it easier – step forward ‘the internet’ – they might decide to get involved. […]

Whatever the British government concludes is their business. Stephen (not Steven!) and I concluded:

The alternative to engaging the public will not be an unengaged public, but a public with its own agenda and an understandable hostility to decision-making processes which appear to ignore them. By bringing citizens into the loop of governance, opportunities for mutual learning occur: representatives can tap into the experiences and expertise of the public and citizens can come to understand the complexities and dilemmas of policy-making.

I wouldn’t change a word, if I were to rewrite it today. I might want to add a few new chapters that would investigate these issues in more detail, because there is obviously much more to say about these issues.

James concludes:

This should become the ethic of e-democracy: mutual-aid and self-help among citizens, helping to overcome civic problems. It would encourage a market in application development. It would encourage self-reliance, or community-reliance, rather than reliance on the state.

Ethos, pathos, whatever, I can’t disagree on the importance of these values and concerns. But isn’t there more to civic hacking than that?

Is blogging civic hacking? Well, not necessarily, for sure. Is blogging changing our democracy? I think so.

I previously mentioned Joi Ito’s great essay Emergent Democracy. In the final (?) version, Ito writes:

The world needs emergent democracy more than ever. Traditional forms of representative democracy are barely able to manage the scale, complexity and speed of the issues in the world today. Representatives of sovereign nations negotiating with each other in global dialog are very limited in their ability to solve global issues. The monolithic media and its increasingly simplistic representation of the world cannot provide the competition of ideas necessary to reach consensus. Emergent democracy has the potential to solve many of the problems we face in the exceedingly complex world at both the national and global scale. The community of toolmakers should be encouraged to consider their possible positive effect on the democratic process as well as the risk of enabling emergent terrorism, mob rule and a surveillance society.

We must protect the ability of these tools to be available to the public by protecting the commons. We must open the spectrum and make it available to the people, while resisting increased control of intellectual property, and the implementation of architectures that are not inclusive and open. We must work to provide access to the Net for more people by making the tools and infrastructure cheaper and easier to use.

I very much agree with Ito-san. I’m not so much into all the mobloggfing stuff (mainly because I am gadgetless …), but I like the emergent thinking related to it. Calling it the next social revolution is not how I would put it, however. In my view, it’s a long revolution. And it’s an ongoing thing. I, I’ll be blogging the revolution.

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