e-democ / e-gov

Comprehensive NYC post-‘open source’ campaign analysis

Micah Sifry, eCampaign Director has posted an excellent analysis of the Rasiej for Public Advocate campaign. Rasiej was running to be the Public Advocate (sort of deputy mayor) for New York City. His campaign was full of great new ideas including free wifi across the city. He had blogs, a Google Maps based pot-hole tracker to show what can be done with the Internet and encourage small online donations instead of currying big name support.

Unfortunately he only polled 5.17% coming in 4th out of 6 candidates for the Democratic primary – and that was that.

There's loads of good e-democracy stuff in the article which I won't bother repeating but of note for all, not just e-democracy folk, is their bitter disappointment with how little online advertising delivered for them.

I come away from reading the analysis feeling there's lots of positive things to take from more open, online campaigns but you can't forget the meat and potatoes of politics – people and particularly big name support (such as ex-presidents, mayors etc).

Go read!

e-democ / e-gov

A Cabinet Office Minister Blogs

A big up to William Heath, Chairman of Kable for getting Cabinet Office Minister Jim Murphy blogging on the excellent Ideal Government blog.

The first ministerial post is online here.

While the post is about e-government strategy, I see this as an important step in e-democracy. Ideal Government is a blog of people who care about e-government, they're an interested party. The minister has seen it to be worth his while to engage with the group online… a further validation of using online tools in the grey consultative areas of policy development.

e-democ / e-gov

Encouraging robust discussions and community links

A really fantastic forthright discussion I observed on a members-only email list got me thinking… I can't go into specifics but the discussion cleared up a few misconceptions some people in a town had about a certain big new development. Various persons weighed in support of the misconceptions but people with the authority and knowledge to know otherwise presented the 'truth' as they saw it.

Everyone came away knowing more about the facts and how other people perceive the issue. I think also a few were motivated to do more with the issue. It was an all round great e-democracy use of email.

Following on from another discussion I had this morning about forming geographical hubs of specialist firms, my brain got thinking on how to create the strong links which allow for robust, honest discussions between people. Often, in the UK at least, we're a bit too polite and reserved to really get to know each other without help.

I think people need to be given permission to embrace their community. Looking back at successes including that email discussion I described above), really great communities (in meat or virtual space) have in my experience formed out of agreed values and goals.

Not only by agreeing the values do we give ourselves permission but we have to make the goals explicit and public (to the community members at least). This may all sound so obvious to many but it's so easy to forget the basics. St Benedict knew what he was doing when he wrote down his Rule for monastic life – by clarifying how the community would operate in a fairly non-prescriptive way, he enabled communities founded on the rule to perpetuate for centuries.

For most e-democracy purposes a complete book is a touch too much, but explicit values on a single page will do, like those clever folks at do

e-democ / e-gov

Holland shows why ID cards are a no-no

An extraordinary report in the latest EDRI-gram newsletter shows how disastrously ID cards are doing in the Netherlands.

Since the introduction of compulsory identification in the Netherlands on January 1st 2005, the police have fined 50.000 people that could or would not present a valid ID. Almost 4.000 of those who were fined were children aged 14 and 15. The statistics are provided by the Central Judicial Collection office.

Read more…

e-democ / e-gov

About time…

“We are very much aware of the widening range of browsers used by our customers, such as Firefox and Opera,” said Carl Mawson, the head of e-communications at the Department for Work & Pensions, on Wednesday. “We aim to address this, so that our Web sites work in as many browsers, and on as many platforms as possible.”

Full story

e-democ / e-gov

Open Source turnaround

E-Government Bulletin are reporting that Central Scotland Police, an Open Source on the desktop pioneer, are going back to Microsoft. Wonder what the real story is… ???

Supplier Turnaround: Central Scotland Police, one of the first UK

public sector bodies to pioneer the use of open source operating systems on staff desktop computers when it switched them to Linux in 2000, has made a surprise about-turn and swapped some of them back to Microsoft Windows technology after signing a three-year contract with the IT giant. Microsoft cites greater compatibility with partner organisations' systems as among the reasons for the U-turn:

e-democ / e-gov

Let’s get an EFF UK

Huzzah for Danny O'Brien who has put together a pledge that if 1,000 people promise a fiver a month then he'll get a digital rights group setup in the UK. It's been long overdue, I've been envious of the EFF for too long… The music and movie industries need some solid opposition to nutty copy-protection schemes and mad copyright extension proposals.

Sign up today folks!

e-democ / e-gov

The Long Tail in e-democracy

Wired editor, Chris Anderson, unleashed a whirlwind of discussion when his article “The Long Tail” appeared in the October 2004 issue of Wired. He had found a useful way of getting to grips with just *how* digital technologies can shift the landscape, particular for commerce. The Long Tail caught on because his pitch wasn’t overly simplistic. There were no “information wants to be free” mantras nor the Internet changes *everything* type assertions. It was backed by real world numbers from real businesses.

The Long Tail concept is a real corker, simple and graphical, perfect for stimulating a good brainstorm. I’ve really enjoyed every session I’ve tried the Long Tail in – using it to open new potential directions or challenge assumptions. I’ve been stunned when people in seemingly unrelated fields have seen a short presentation from me and been talking “Tail” all day.

Some time before the General Election I was doing some thinking on what the ideal online MP might be like. What would they do? What would their site look like? Much of the output is still filed as being “In Progress” but it did help when I was putting some candidate blogs together.

Anyhow, somewhere along the line my ideal MP thoughts collided with Long Tail ideas, here’s what has emerged so far.

Much of the literature on citizen participation leans on Sherry Arnstein’s “Ladder of Citizen Participation” (Arnstein, 1969) which wonderfully structures involvement. I’ve found a derivative graphic which I think is more detailed and more current with today’s terminology. The “Continuum of Citizen Influence” which I found in (Anttiroiko, 2004) is originally from (Bishop and Davis, 2002). As you can see at the top we have maximum influence which would be direct citizen control on the levers of government.

Continuum of Citizen Influence

The reality obviously isn’t that a nation isn’t at one level or another. Different people participate at different levels – MPs do have fairly direct control while many only occasionally partake in the one-way processes at the bottom of the pile. A small number of people have large amounts of influence and a huge number of people hold massively diverse levels of power. In other words, ff we lay this continuum of participants on its side we have a long tail-type graph. Aha!

The Long Tail of Power

The left of the long tail is the top of the continuum, where the most influence is wielded through more direct forms of interaction.

So in my graph I fudge things a little for the y-axis. Perhaps it is perceived power, or maybe it represents the quality and number of democratic interactions performed by people. I think in fact that both types of measurements would be Long Tail-ish.

In my view the big red arrow is where the action’s at. Digital divide aside (a big aside, I know), e-democracy tools as simple as Google dramatically reduce the barriers to entry for activism. The tools can push people up the long tail towards greater perceived power and more, better democratic interactions. I think that kind of possibility is awesome.

Like for Amazon or the iTunes Music Store, the new “market” in e-democracy is down the tail, using the low-cost, mass-reach of the Internet to service these less influential people’s democratic needs.

I don’t like using too much marketing-speak when we’re dealing with democracy, this isn’t about money, but it is about making a sale. Repeatedly. Citizens need to be tempted to try an e-democracy service and convinced to keep using it. Sales and marketing has a place. However if our sales techniques succeed then we end up with a potential “supply-side” problem as my massively simple graph below highlights.

The Limits of Attention

As the number of citizen interactions increase people such as MPs and ministers will grind to a halt. I don’t think the curve is a straight-line, technologies are helping politicians to scale along with the increasing demand for their attention, but only to an extent. I’m reading Bill Clinton’s autobiography at the moment and there’s an interesting little section on when he worked for Senator Fulbright in the 1960s detailing the techniques used to help the senator cope with news clippings, mail shots and campaigning. Technology helping representatives deal with a growing demands on one person’s attention is nothing new, but as my graph shows, it will only carry us so far.

(Clinton even argues in a later chapter that he feels members of the House of Representatives are participating in ever more negative politics due to the sheer exhaustion created by their continual meetings, weekly travel back to constituencies and the 24-7 news cycle. Does one need a small geography for constituency politics to survive?)

I’m sure MPs have already met their total attention span limit, but not solely from citizen interactions, they fill their time on many other activities. Vital committees which help hold government to account, party duties and second jobs for some. There is no one right mix of how representatives should spend their time but as citizen expectations rise and e-democracy tools improve, how can we help the supply-side of the democratic world? I think WriteToThem is fantastic, for example, but as it gets ever more popular do the messages sent get devalued? I don’t have answers but I sense many questions.

(Chris Andersen, author of the Long Tail article, continues the Long Tail debate on his blog as he writes a book on the topic)

Anttiroiko, A.-V. (2004). Introduction to Democratic e-Governance. In Malkia, M., Anttiroiko, A.-V., & Savolainen, R. (Eds.), eTransformation in Government: new directions in government and politics. (pp. 22-49). London: Idea Group Publishing.
Arnstein, S. (1969). A Ladder of Citizen Participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 35(4), 216-24. (Online version by David Wilcox).
Bishop, P., & Davis, G. (2002). Mapping Public Participation in Policy Choices. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 61(1), 14-29.

*This post was republished on egovmonitor 4/7/05*

e-democ / e-gov

Wheel reinvented

I want to say something positive… I really really do.

But what can you say when along comes as site like ?

Of course it's a good idea but it's already been done much better by… the successor to

Can WriteToThem learn anything from this site?

  • The site does provide a link to the local authorities website, a good idea methinks.
  • There is also a slim but useful section on what councillors do, what kind of people they are and so on.

What should have happened?

MySociety (who built WriteToThem) is government funded. So was, why replicate the work? Those behind the should have just pushed the postcode lookup onto the WriteToThem engine – save the money spent for something else.

e-democ / e-gov

Richard Allan on the anti-terror bill

If you're not aware of it already, LibDem MP Richard Allan's blog is offering wonderful insights into what it's like to be inside the never ending votes on the government's ill-fated anti-terror bill. Add to your feed-readers today!