Me, Obama and Government 2.0

government20.gifA while back, I came upon Beth Noveck who is doing some interesting things in trying to bring the techniques and possibilities of Web 2.0 to government. For instance in addition to theorising at American law journal article length about ways of moving governments into the Web 2.0 era, she’s involved in an excellent endeavour to bring Web 2.0 resources to patent administration.

She runs the Cairns Blog. Why is it called this? She explains thus:

In the Sedona, Arizona Red Rocks, the dry, dusty, red, rocky terrain can be confusingly similar. I hiked up a mesa, forgetting to pay attention to where I ascended and my position relative to the horizon. An encounter with a wild coyote further distracted me from noticing the trail. Luckily, in the Western states, unlike what I’ve seen on East Coast trails, hikers make CAIRNS, or markers, to indicate the best path. By following these manmade stone mounds I found my way.

The Cairn represents democracy in action. Unknown climbers take the time to stop and mark trails Using the tools of stones and twigs. They create these monuments for the members of the community of hikers. Even though they do not know who will follow in their footsteps, they feel themselves to be part of something, enough to go to this extra effort. New hikers come along and add to the Cairn, collaborating to solve the problem of finding the right path. These rocks are the shared object through which the community of hikers maintains its dialogue. Eventually, Cairns become art as well as monuments. I have chosen the Cairn as a metaphor for the future of e-democracy, the subject matter of this blog.

Anyway, having corresponded with her briefly about the Lateral Economics view of regulation – that is the need for ‘bottom up’ responsiveness as well as ‘top down’ disciplines on over regulation and bad regulation – I came upon her effusing about Obama’s policies on technology, innovation and open government.  I was intrigued. . . .

Barack Obama Unveils Unprecedented Plan for Open Government

Alone among the U.S. Presidential candidates, Barack Obama is confronting the question of how to produce more accountable and effective politics in our democracy.

His just-released Tech Plan (Download Obama Tech Plan) 1 uniquely understands that the time, expertise and enthusiasm that ordinary people invest in making Wikipedia better, for example, can be transformed into practices to make government work better and more accountably. So he doesn’t just call for making information more transparent to citizens; he wants to hear what we have to say and enable us to participate. The Plan calls for citizen engagement in the work of federal agencies and demonstrates respect for the intelligence and expertise of the American people. He calls for opening up the closed practices of government and using new technology to enable genuine citizen participation and engagement in our democracy.

This is a major and unprecedented step.

No other candidate gets it.

The proof of this particular pudding will be in the eating. It’s natural for people to get excited about the democratic prospects of Web 2.0, but politics is hard – what with Arrow’s impossibility theorem and all. My own aspirations are for us to try this stuff in the area of tweaking small things to make them work better. That is actually a hard enough problem – it took the private sector till the 1970s to get going with management systems like TQM which tried to make use of all the insights that are available on the shop floor and outside an organisation.

Still – and subject to the caveat that I’ve not seen any other candidates policy in the relevant area, there were some things in Obama’s policy that I found exciting in a Web 2.0, Open Source Government sort of way.

Open Up Government to its Citizens: The Bush Administration has been one of the most secretive, closed administrations in American history. Our nations progress has been stifled by a system corrupted by millions of lobbying dollars contributed to political campaigns, the revolving door between government and industry, and privileged access to inside informationall of which have led to policies that favor the few against the public interest. An Obama presidency will use cutting-edge technologies to reverse this dynamic, creating a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for Americas citizens. Technology-enabled citizen participation has already produced ideas driving Obamas campaign and its vision for how technology can help connect government to its citizens and engage citizens in a democracy. Barack Obama will use the most current technological tools available to make government less beholden to special interest groups and lobbyists and
promote citizen participation in government decision-making. Obama will integrate citizens into the actual business of government by:

Making government data available online in universally accessible formats to allow citizens to make use of that data to comment, derive value, and take action in their own communities. Greater access to environmental data, for example, will help citizens learn about pollution in their communities, provide information about local conditions back to government and empower people to protect themselves.

Establishing pilot programs to open up government decision-making and involve the public in the work of agencies, not simply by soliciting opinions, but by tapping into the vast and distributed expertise of the American citizenry to help government make more informed decisions.

Requiring his appointees who lead Executive Branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can watch a live feed on the Internet as the agencies debate and deliberate the issues that affect American society. He will ensure that these proceedings are archived for all Americans to review, discuss and respond. He will require his appointees to employ all the technological tools available to allow citizens not just to observe, but also to participate and be heard in these meetings.

Restoring the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best-available, scientifically-valid evidence and not on the ideological predispositions of agency officials.

Lifting the veil from secret deals in Washington with a web site, a search engine, and other web tools that enable citizens easily to track online federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and lobbyist contacts with government officials.

Giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days before signing any non-emergency legislation.

Some of this is boilerplate, but the second of the dot points is really interesting. It is really worth setting out as an aspiration. And it chimes in with Obama’s core rhetorical appeal.

Hope is the bedrock of this nation. The belief that our destiny will not be written for us but by us …. by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be…Together ordinary people can do extraordinary things.” (Barack Obama, Iowa victory speech, January 3, 2008).

Not a bad set of words if you’re talking about open source ways of doing things.  And I can’t think of four better words to characterise one’s aspirations for policy than those chosen by Obama ending his victory speech in South Carolina. “a politics of common sense, and innovation – shared sacrifice and shared prosperity.” Quite an interesting juxtaposition of words and ideas I think.

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16 years ago

Thats almost enough to make me switch to Rudd Mk II.