This post announces a new chapter in my work: developing a new democracy to match this new century!
I am working with my friends at Civic Hall Labs to create a new Democracy Lab. We have a 19th century democracy smashing into a 21st century society. This disconnect is causing democracy to fail around the world at it’s most basic job, to represent the best interests of the greatest number of people.
The Democracy Lab will remodel government for the Networked Age. The Networked Age is chiefly defined as social networks powered by digital technology. Every area of our lives is being remade for this new era, except, so far, government. But we don’t begin from a blank slate. There are excellent models from around the country and the world upon which to build. They include:
- Citizen University in Seattle teaches people how government works through in-person trainings and conferences and online videos.
- ioby (meaning “in my backyard”) mobilizing neighbors with good ideas to plan, fund and change their neighborhoods often in partnership with local government.
- vTaiwan started as an online organizing platform for students to protest trade with China. It has since become a platform for citizens to suggest and research new laws, discuss them in open online forums and watch the final legislative deliberations.
- Living Room Conversations is an effort created by Joan Blades, the founder of Moveon.org and Moms Rising. The program guides ordinary people to invite neighbors with different political views into their homes to discuss important issues and learn from one another.
- NASA taps the expertise and ingenuity of ordinary people to solve problems and create new technologies.
- Online platforms like Loomio, mVote, and, of course, Facebook and Reddit bring together large numbers of people to discuss and vote on issues.
And yet, significant gaps and deficits exist. Technology efforts too often focus on making government more efficient rather than remaking the relationship between government and citizens. Online platforms engage large numbers of people in conversations about issues, but do not necessarily connect these people to one another or engage government actors directly in conversations. On land organizing efforts are time-intensive but generally don’t scale to tackle big social change efforts. Citizens are taught how to engage with government, but government leaders aren’t taught how to engage with citizens. In other words, there are points of light but not a constellation of stars for a new democracy.
The Democracy Lab will begin its efforts by:
- Mapping the existing ecosystem of players and tools to determine what exists and works, what the gaps are, what needs to be woven together and what needs to be created.
Based on these findings, we will then
- Identify and pilot specific local experiments for future scaling and replication. And,
- Develop new models for network leadership within public institutions.
In the end, our aim is to revive and recreate the notions of common good and citizenship in a country that embraces diversity and opportunity. We are confident that together we can reinvent ourselves with the same optimism and confidence as generations of Americans have done in previous centuries.
Happy to talk to you about this if you have any ideas to help resuscitate our democracy – we need all the help we can get!