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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.

  • http://www.carakeithley.com Cara Keithley

    Thank you Craig for helping those of us working towards this new democracy. I really do believe we can work together to better serve our citizens.

  • John

    After sifting through twitter I finally got here … nice to see you here Craig and good points.

    Openness can lead to accountability so I think it is really important to push for openness.

    And yes if we got ALL of the people on board the technology would be easy. But for now these guys are AWESOME in the technology they are creating. Do follow them and their projects.

    http://www.sunlightlabs.com/

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  • http://opensf.wordpress.com Jay

    Great to see so much support for openness. I think our efforts need to also look at structural changes like procurement, giving open source equal footing against close source, legislation to force vendors to provide data to public.

  • http://www.hypercapitalism.org Renee

    Craig, Thanks for keeping us informed. I think the steps you’ve outlined are a start to a larger transformation that will bring humanity into a new age. I’ve written a piece that you might be interested in reading on the subject. Here’s a taste:

    At its most detailed level this theory of Evolution Capitalism works up from the laws of physics and chemistry, the building blocks of life, to the evolutionary edict that results from these laws – survival of the fittest. Viewed from the perspective of evolution, the roots and the potential future of capitalism come into focus.

    Capitalism is a self-organizing system. It is an evolutionary adaptation developed over thousands of years to increase our chances of survival – it is a force of nature. Capitalism clearly suffers from some significant shortcomings, but the human orchestrated institutions, i.e., government bureaucracy, with which we attempt to solve its limitations, are simply outmatched. We have been trying to deflect a class 5 hurricane with an electric fan and the utter failure of this approach is writ large across our planet – abject poverty and environmental degradation among an abundance of material wealth.

    Our economic system seems to be stuck in the evolutionary process. We have resigned ourselves to our fate, concluding that the best we can do is fine tune the balance of the free market and government bureaucracy. To continue with the analogy, we’re trying to develop bigger, stronger and more efficient electric fans. However, the idea that capitalism is the end of the road for the evolution of human economic systems makes as much sense as assuming that human beings have stopped evolving. That there will be a next stage in the evolution of capitalism is not only possible, but highly probable (assuming we don’t go extinct first)…you can read the rest at http://www.HyperCapitalism.org.

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  • http://twitter.com/levyj413 Jeffrey Levy

    Thanks for a well-thought, well-written piece outlining what’s needed. Thanks, too, for acknowledging that many of us inside gov’t are working toward the same goals as those outside, and that we have a lot to contribute.