An Open Letter to Newsweek, Google, and others
envisioning a new era of citizen engagement in government
2.0" in Newsweek Dec 1, 2008
Many people are waking up to how digital technology is generating
new possibilities for citizen engagement in governance. And some
also recognize the additional potential offered by our rapidly developing
"social technologies" -- new ways for citizens to come
together face-to-face for conversation and action.
While the Internet does make mass citizen participation possible,
its ability to generate COLLECTIVELY INTELLIGENT citizen guidance
for policy-makers is limited. Generating true public policy wisdom
requires high-quality, informed face-to-face dialogue and deliberation
-- diverse citizens creatively exploring, comparing and weighing
options together towards a coherent decision about a public issue.
But how do we get deliberative coherence from a population of millions?
The revolutionary answer is... the same way we do with juries and
public opinion polls: convene a randomly selected microcosm of the
whole country: a small group -- a dozen to several hundred people
-- whose members approximate the actual diversity of our nation.
(This approach can also work at state and local levels, but the
focus here is the whole nation.)
President Obama could convene tried-and-true, jury-style citizen
deliberative councils like (1) British Columbia's remarkable 2004
Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform, (2) the official Consensus
Conferences used by Denmark's Parliament to evaluate new technologies,
or (3) the internationally popular Citizens Juries created by the
United States' own Jefferson Center. These randomly selected microcosm
groups get balanced briefings about the issue they're considering.
They take testimony from -- and cross-examine -- diverse expert
witnesses. Then they deliberate to make recommendations they publicly
announce to policy-makers, media and the citizenry.
These leading-edge "policy juries" could be used to generate
collectively intelligent recommendations on any issue, grounded
in the knowledge of diverse experts and the values and experience
of diverse citizens. President Obama could go three innovative steps
further and (a) provide a public record of their briefings, hearings,
and deliberations, available online; (b) have them do web research
as part of their deliberative agendas and (c) submit their findings
to online public forums and on-the-ground community gatherings across
the country, where they can be debated and compared with other policy
proposals. This would engage the whole nation with the best efforts
of these potent citizen deliberative councils.
By stepping out of partisan politics into a "politics of the
whole" in this powerful way -- by taking the unifying spirit
of his campaign to the next level -- President Obama would in effect
be creating a "President 3.0". Rather than simply using
the Internet to further individual expression and interest-group
activism -- the usual political uses of Web 2.0 -- he would actually
be developing the public wisdom and collective intelligence capacity
of our whole country.
But he and we will need to keep in mind an important dynamic: When
Google CEO Eric Schmidt says, "A community will always make
a better decision than an individual," he is unfortunately
overlooking the proven -- and widely recognized -- phenomenon of
"groupthink". The truth is that there are conditions where
collective activity generates collective intelligence and others
in which such activity generates collective stupidity. Much knowledge
exists about the different conditions that predictably lead us into
one state or the other. We need to get smart about using that knowledge.
So how would all this come about? Clearly, President Obama could
spearhead this revolution in our politics and governance. But if
the President doesn't want to innovate Governance 3.0, Google or
any of dozens of other thoughtful, well-resourced groups and individuals
or emerging grassroots networks could do it. There's nothing stopping
us but our own bias towards partisanship. It's time -- high time
-- we got over that. There's a sane, healthy future just waiting
for us to gather our collective wits into collective wisdom, using
our diversity creatively.
During his campaign, Obama opened the door to that future. Citizen
deliberative councils offer a very powerful way for all of us to
walk through it together.
The Co-Intelligence Institute
Author: THE TAO OF DEMOCRACY: USING CO-INTELLIGENCE
TO CREATE A WORLD THAT WORKS FOR ALL
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