Archive for the 'Online deliberation' Category

Technology and Politics Camp, December 17

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

Meet me at Technology and Politics Camp, December 17 in San Francisco.

The Technology and Politics Camp is intended as a hands-on day of networking, brainstorming, and planning for organizations working at the intersection of politics and the Internet (or technology in general). The idea came out of the Technology and Politics session at BarCampStanford.

The general goal is to create stronger and more coherent coalitions devoted to democratic technology, freedom, social justice, and sustainability.

This is the re-scheduled Barcamp TechnoPolitics that I had announced here.

Crowdsourcing — Opportunities for politics and government

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

What is crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing” is a term coined by Wired magazine writer Jeff Howe and editor Mark Robinson in June 2006. It describes a business model akin to outsourcing, but relying upon unpaid or low-paid amateurs who use their spare time to create content, solve problems, or even do corporate R&D. Crowds targeted for crowdsourcing include garage scientists, amateur videographers, freelancers, photo enthusiasts, data companies, writers, smart mobs and the electronic herd.


Crowdsourcing attempts to replace selectively hired, trained and managed workforces with mass volunteer participation and self-organization. While not a new idea, it is becoming mainstream. Open source projects are a form of crowdsourcing that has existed for years. People who may not know one another work together online to create complex software such as the Linux kernel, and the Firefox browser. In recent years Web 2.0 technology has evolved to allow non-technical people to participate in online projects. Just as important, crowdsourcing presumes that a large number of enthusiasts can outperform a small group of experienced professionals. The tagline for Jeff Howe’s website,, is The Rise of the Amateur.

Back in July, over on Tim’s blog, I asked:

I wonder if this could be applied to the world of politics as well: Citizen engagement, crowdsourced policy development, only an engaged citizen is a good citizen etc.

Now two very critical postings by Chris and Tara make me want to get back to this.

Chris: Crowdsourcing — the neue sweatshop labor

Wired got it wrong when it established the term, putting business interests ahead of the community’s — suggesting it’d discovered a gold mine of cheap labor that could become the next wave after international outsourcing. What Wired should have said of course, casting it in such a light, was that it’d discovered the next source of legalized sweatshop labor where you never even need to meet face-to-face, let alone account for, the people doing the work.

Tara: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

The word crowdsourcing makes me sad.

Why don’t people just say: “wanting you to give your time to my project for free” or “could you do me a favor that will never be returned?”. It sounds so much nicer.

I don’t think I agree. If the terms are transparent and participation is strictly voluntary, I don’t see why crowdsourcing is necessarily a bad thing. Obviously, it may require a lot of effort in building relationships and community (much more so than with traditional outsourcing, I would guess, and something that not all corporations may be capable of doing).

On the contrary, I see enormous potential for crowdsourcing in the area of politics, government, and citizen participation. In a way, projects like AmericaSpeaks (to name just one among many others who were present at the NCDD conference in San Francisco this past August) do just that: they help governments and organizations crowdsource the process of finding smarter solutions and building consensus around them.

And why does that make sense? Because even if they wanted to, governments and the people involved in politics are oftentimes simply not capable of doing it on their own. Without consulting their citizens, they seem less likely to find the right solution to a complex, messy and controversial issue, let alone bring about consensus or get group buy-in. Instead, since citizen involvement is usually not an option due to organizational and budget constraints, they have to go it alone, achieving mediocre results at best.

This is what we have been used to. And this, in my opinion, is one of the main reasons why so many people around the world are frustrated with the political class, with the people who represent them, with the system as a whole.

Now what if…

What if there were an easy and fun way to do this type of collaborative work between governments and their citizens on the web? What if engaging your citizens became a viable option — efficient, affordable, rewarding for both sides? What if, as a government, for the first time in history you could ask the people for help when you need it?

Would citizens be interested? I believe so, and it’s worth a try. I am pretty convinced that more people have a pretty good idea of what makes a good citizen, and they would love to contribute a lot more than they already do — if only it wasn’t so hard.

And as for payment? My guess is you wouldn’t even need to pay people for this type of work, at least not in money terms. If you can convince someone that their contribution as a citizen, their time and effort, their learning about an issue, engaging with their peers, trying to understand each other’s points of view, trying to move things forward, going through all the sweat, tears, pain, and difficulty — if you can prove to that one citizen that all this wasn’t just a waste of her time, but instead, that her input really made a difference, then you will have rewarded her already.

RedBlue — An experiment in cross-spectrum dialogue

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, just sent a notification about the following project:

RedBlue will be an interactive Internet application that will provide an exciting yet safe way to engage directly with someone on “the other side” of the political spectrum. This new approach to civic engagement is designed to leave behind the confrontational and polarizing forms of discourse that dominate today’s Red vs. Blue debates and reintroduce Americans to the old-fashioned notion that in matters of public policy, there can be room for reasonable people to disagree.

RedBlue will create a private, one-on-one online dialogue process by matching participants with contrasting views. “Counterparts” will learn about the ground rules of productive dialogue, then engage on a difficult issue by viewing or reading a fictional narrative scenario that frames a front-page issue in personal, rather than theoretical, terms. Their email-style discussion will be monitored by a “virtual facilitator” that will make suggestions, provide feedback, and offer to step in when the heat of the moment threatens to derail the civility of the dialogue.

Another interesting approach. My guess is whoever gets this thing right might be in for something big.

E-Democracy Forum Rules

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

As the Campaigns Wikia mailing list is struggling with the challenges of how to have a meaningful discourse via email, Steven Clift gives out invaluable advice:

… you need a well defined set of rules and a forum manager empowered to warn/remove those who violate civility rules. You also need participants willing to use the delete key on the posts that might politically offend them but are not uncivil (rather than pay for a moderator or censor).

He then points to his very own E-Democracy Forum Rules:

Based on a decade of experience, these rules provide a citizen-based foundation for online civility by focusing on public issues in order to promote effective public agenda-setting through dialogue. These online public forums about the sharing of ideas and information rather than being right with one’s ideology or winning an argument. Our forums are not designed for debating abstract political philosophy or ridiculing others for their beliefs, backgrounds, or speculative motivations.

Online civility, in my view, is another key concept for any type of web-based deliberation project.

Hotsoup is live

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Hotsoup has launched (and already they made it on national tv last night). What is Hotsoup? is the first online community that joins Opinion Drivers from across the spectrum. The community connects well-known influencers from the worlds of politics, business, religion, and popular culture with influencers who drive opinion at the grassroots and community levels. Harnessing the power of social networking technology, levels the playing field by giving anyone and everyone a voice in how America’s institutions can work better.

Opinion Drivers are the individuals who, every day, influence their friends, colleagues, and peers. …

Collectively, grassroots Opinion Drivers are an enormous and growing force because Americans place decreasing trust in old-line opinion leaders such as network anchors and politicians; they’re turning to each other for advice and guidance in these fast-changing times. Where is a good place to eat out? What’s the best car to buy? Who’s the best candidate for school board and for president? More and more, Americans are turning to trusted friends and neighbors to answer such questions and manage the crush of information at their fingertips in the info-tech age. If you’ve ever been asked, “Hey, what do you think about…” then you are probably an Opinion Driver. Welcome to the community.


Opinion Drivers across the country are losing patience with party lines and PR spin. They recognize the complex challenges America faces and want intelligent discussion and reasoning. They want smart debate, real answers and, most importantly, they want the opportunity to be heard.

Carter, Chip, Joe and Mike, prominent Democratic strategists, and Mark and Matthew, Republican heavyweights, had successful private sector practices that specialized in helping corporate clients find Opinion Drivers. It was frustrating; the rise of the Internet and other societal trends made Opinion Drivers both more important and harder to reach.

At the same time, Internet veterans Allie, Bart and John were consulting on better ways to reach and engage Opinion Drivers online while simultaneously launching a new social networking site called

And Ron, one of the country’s most respected journalists, was observing his readers’ behavior change and co-authoring a book, Applebee’s America, about this audience and the community-building potential of the Internet.

Despite representing both sides of the political aisle, Internet media and journalism, we all reached the same conclusion: There is no single place for Opinion Drivers to gather online. That was the day we set out to build

Intelligent discussion. Smart debate. A voice for everyone. Will be interesting to watch if and how the makers of Hotsoup will be able to grow the community culture necessary to achieve these goals.

How to achieve positive return on civic engagement?

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

One of the questions I’d like to discuss at the informal research dinner tonight. We still have a couple of seats available so ping me if you’d like to join us.

What we can expect from deliberation

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

From The Deliberative Democracy Handbook (chapter 19, Future Directions for Public Deliberation, by Peter Levine, Archon Fung, John Gastil):

What we can expect from deliberation

Although the earlier chapters of this book raise many questions that remain unanswered, they also substantiate several conclusions. First, people are willing to discuss public issues and can sustain serious, in-depth conversations about technical or highly divisive matters. …


A second conclusion also can be drawn from the previous chapters: when deliberation is well organized, participants like it. In fact, they find it deeply satisfying and significant. …


Third, the products of deliberation are often excellent. Deliberators may be asked to develop budgets, design rural or urban landscapes, make policy recommendations, pose public questions to politicians, or take voluntary actions in their own communities. When the tasks are realistic, the questions are clear and useful, and the discussion is well organized, deliberators often do a good job. They can absorb relevant background materials, seriously consider relevant facts, incorporate and balance a variety of legitimate perspectives and opinions, and make tough choices with full awareness of constraints. Experts are often surprised and impressed by the quality of the public’s deliberations, judgments, and actions. … [G]iven the opportunity, ordinary people have frequently proven themselves to be capable of generating impressive outcomes across a wide variety of political contexts and policy issues.

Within the community of deliberation advocates there:

… appears to be broad agreement that a successful deliberative initiative has the following features: (1) the realistic expectations of influence (that is, a link to decision makers); (2) an inclusive, representative process that brings key stakeholders and publics together; (3) informed, substantive, and conscientious discussions, with an eye toward finding commond ground if not reaching consensus; and (4) a neutral, professional staff that helps participants work through a fair agenda. Over time, it is also hoped that deliberative processes can (5) earn broad public support for their final recommendations and (6) prove sustainable. Taken together, these objectives are not easily met, but practitioners have found many ways of managing — if not overcoming — the obstacles to deliberation.

The question is: If citizens are ready, willing and able — why isn’t this being done more often?

Online deliberation research — Berlin, Cologne, Brussels

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Aside from attending Barcamp Berlin and Blogtalk Reloaded, I plan to do a little research in the area of online deliberation and citizen participation.

I’d like to get in touch with people in the field (members of parliament and their staff, party officials, union members, NGO activists, lobbyists, researchers etc.) to find out where their biggest pain points are today with regard to political participation and decision-making. I will organize two casual evening meetups in both Berlin and Cologne. If you’re interested, please contact me and I’ll share the details with you.

Also, it looks very likely at this point that I’ll be going to Brussels, Belgium to take a look at The European Citizens’ Consultations. Don’t know if there will be time for a quick meetup or what form and shape it would take, but let me know anyway if you’re around and want to get together.


Friday, September 15th, 2006

The Citizendium Project

The Citizendium (sit-ih-ZEN-dee-um), a “citizens’ compendium of everything,” will be an experimental new project. It will begin life as a “progressive fork” of Wikipedia. But we expect it to take on a life of its own and, perhaps, to become the flagship of a new set of responsibly-managed free knowledge projects. We will avoid calling it an “encyclopedia,” because there will probably always be articles in the resource that have not been vouched for in any sense.

We believe a fork is necessary, and justified, both to allow people a place to work under the direction of experts, and in which personal accountability–including the use of real names–is expected. In short, we want to create a responsible community and a good global citizen.

The Citizendium will be launched as soon as possible, meaning within a few weeks at most.

Read the essay, Toward a New Compendium of Knowledge (longer version), for a more in-depth introduction to the project.

Is it just me, or is the space of online deliberation, citizen participation etc. picking up speed?

Via Tim: Öffentliches Wissen (in German)

Dropping Knowledge

Monday, September 4th, 2006

dropping knowledge is an initiative in the wider area of online dialogue and deliberation. From the FAQ and the overview:

dropping knowledge is a web-based platform for the exchange of multiple viewpoints, open to every citizen of the world. dropping knowledge is committed to heightening social awareness, challenging habitual ways of thinking and acting, fostering a global dialogue and inspiring real-world initiatives.

On September 9, 2006, 112 scientists, social entrepreneurs, philosophers, writers, artists and activists from around the world will come together in Berlin, Germany, as guests of dropping knowledge. They will individually answer 100 pre-selected questions from the vast pool submitted to our website by the global public.

On September 10, 2006, dropping knowledge will launch a freely accessible Copyleft knowledge portal and dialogue forum, seeded with audiovisual content from the first Table of Free Voices. Founded on a catalog of 23,000 interconnected problem classes, the platform will empower the global public to ask and answer questions, exchange viewpoints and ideas, and join in dialog around the most comprehensive hierarchy of social topics ever compiled.

Navigating by natural language search and an intuitive visual browser, users will come together to ‘inhabit’ shared themes of concern, setting up camp around the topics that matter most to them. By igniting global discussion covering the most pressing questions of our time, dropping knowledge will foster new thoughts, reflections and sustainable solutions to inspire communities of action within the emerging global society.

A transparent initiative to support global knowledge-sharing, dropping knowledge is a way of asking and answering the questions that matter to you. When you question in order to understand, when you answer in order to share, you are dropping knowledge.

The project is the brainchild of Ralf Schmerberg (founder and CEO of Berlin-based Trigger Happy Productions, a full-service production company for commercials, documentation and feature film), Cindy Gantz and Jackie Wallace. The “Living Library” software is being developed by Professor Hans Uszkoreit of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence.

German insurance company Allianz Group is a partner to the project (the partnership was announced on February 15, 2006: Global dialog gets underway, see also the Founding Partner Agreement). They have more information on their dropping knowledge project microsite:

Dropping Knowledge Principles

INCLUSIVENESS dropping knowledge is an open public resource that seeks to include every citizen of the world, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender or class.

SUSTAINABILITY dropping knowledge will convene future tables of free voices around the world, expand the reach and access of the living library and stimulate new initiatives and partnerships among individuals, NGOs and corporations.

COPYLEFT dropping knowledge abides by a CopyLeft principle of distribution. All content donated to or generated by dropping knowledge is freely available to all for all time.

PUBLIC OWNERSHIP dropping knowledge is an open-source platform with 100% stakeholder perspective. dropping knowledge cannot be owned by any organization, corporation or individual. It belongs to the people of the world.

TRANSPARENCY dropping knowledge commits to full transparency and disclosure, informing our community of donors, participants and users of the way it spends its donated resources.

At this point, Wikipedia only has a brief article on dropping knowledge (the German version is up for deletion even).

Some mentions on the web (mostly in German):

You can visit The Drop, the dropping knowledge weblog, to follow the project.

It will be interesting to watch how this works out. I only came across the site by accident last night and I am still trying to figure out what to make of it. Many questions come to mind, but I will leave those to another post.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts about dropping knowledge?