Thursday, October 02, 2008

rebooting democracy - "Small d Democracy"

I have read about half of the collection of essays called "rebooting america: Ideas for Redesigning American Democracy for the Internet Age." You can find it here for free. Each essay presents an idea for improving our democracy based on the tools made available by the Internet and new technology.

The first idea that I found worthwhile is from the essay titled "Small d Democracy" by Susan Crawford (page 92 of the pdf, if you are following along). Ms. Crawford's idea to improve our democracy is to develop a website that would track all the upcoming decisions being made by local government. We would then be able to read about these decisions and share our opinions with our leaders and with our neighbors. In this way we would know what was going on and our leaders would know how we feel about it. She does not mention it, I assume it is implied, but I would add that we should also be able to see how our leaders decided and then track how often we agreed/disagreed with our leaders. This would give us some basis to know who we should vote for in the next local elections. The website associated with this collection of essays allows you to comment on each of the essays, so I have made my suggestions to Susan Crawford. 

In her own words:

"If it were possible to pay attention every once in a while, between elections, to what our representatives or agency heads were about to do in an area of interest to us—and register our reaction to that proposed action—that would be useful.

This is a modest goal. Americans want to feel that our lives have been made more significant through participation in governance. Voting in elections is important, but it is not enough, and it need not be the ceiling for participation. With a little experimentation, we could be doing much more for ourselves.

For example: localities could generate radar-screens of issues coming before the city council or the mayor. With the weather report (something everyone seems to be interested in) on a local page could come a small radar visualization, with pulsing dots showing what matters were likely to have an effect on your neighborhood. If you were interested, you could click through and do a short amount of reading—perhaps just Twitter-length—about what was about to happen. And then act in some effective way (such as sharing the information with others, writing about it, or showing up at the meeting), with feedback showing how your action had been assessed/aggregated by others."

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