Thursday, April 08, 2010

Who gets my vote? We do

I have a first and easy step I'd like to suggest the UK Parliament takes in its pursuit of more open government.

It'll put its members in touch with the people who elect them - with the views of the nation. And it'll do that without requiring them to move out of their first class rail carriages. Can't expect too much all in one go, can we?
I recently asked David Cameron to tell us what he thought, rather than tell us what he thought he ought to tell us.
It seems politicians - with some rare exceptions - see this as a step too far.

Well, us lot, Joe Public, the electorate, this army of self-publishers, have no such qualms.
We are quite happy to say what we think. We don't even mind being proven wrong on occasion.

And, unlike the man who would be our Prime Minister, we do publish what we think. A lot. Particularly about things we care about. (image courtesy kberberi)

Things we care about include parliamentary bills. The Digital Economy Bill this week amply demonstrated how a community of purpose can discover one another and act rapidly around the social object of a piece of parliamenary legislation.

Similar communities of purpose exist around any issue - on or off the statute book.

So I wonder how the debate may have shaped had the pitiful number of MPs in the commons for the second reading of the #DEBill been able to see for themselves the thousands of comments that were being made, the excellent points raised by thousands of people on Twitter; the crowd-sourced brilliance of the nation our MPs are there to serve?

So let's see a big screen - the twitterfall (all the comments about a certain, usually hashtagged, subject - collated and shown in real-time) for each debate - installed in The Commons, The Lords and - where appropriate - committee rooms, too.

Listening is the first step to open government. And this could be a first small step to listening.
Note: this is already happening on a handful of MPs mobile phones - trust me on this - so please let's not get into arguments about 'distraction'.

Listening, open government, shouldn't be done for some kind of altruistic, touchy-feely reason (though none of that is bad). It should be done because it will improve MPs' decision making processes. It will improve our legislation.

How so? Because MPs are generalists. They have to be. And for whatever given subject there is a community of purpose ready to come together to offer expertise and real-world experience far in advance of anything the House can muster on its own.

We now have the social tools for communities of purpose to self-organise in rapid, adhoc ways. The #debill campaign, 20,000 letters to MPs in 7 days etc, shows it is happening and will continue to happen. Exponentially.

It is easier now than at any time in history for people to discover other people who care about the same issue they do and to organise to make change.

Government can join in if it wishes. If it doesn't, it just might find itself out of a job.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?