Next Generation Democracy Overview

Wikis, Web 2.0, etc I think have the potential to fundamentally transform the way we are governed and radically reshape political philosophy. Not since the days of Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau etc do we have the opportunity and the tools to address the many short comings of democratic society, especially the domination of special interests and lobbyists.

As Churchill once commented "democracy is the worst form of government, but it is better than any other type of government we have ever tried." Democracy 2.0 represents an opportunity to redress the many short comings of the worst possible government we have -democracy as we know it today.

However, participative democracy through a million wikis and a million blogs does not necessarily constitute better government or democracy. While there is unquestionable value in crowd sourcing and participative democracy, humans in general are not rationale creatures. There have been several good economic studies lately demonstrating the irrational economic behaviour of most humans. The reality is that most people vote first with their wallet, then their feet, sometimes with their heart, but rarely with their mind. But computer assisted Democracy 2.0 tools working in analogous way how Google provides much better search results based on actual hits by user rather than humans tagging the data may point to a better way. "Futarchy" is a good example of such an approach.

One of the fundamental questions that must be asked is why do governments exist in the form that they do today? As Francis Fukuyama and Paul Kennedy have identified in their respective books "End of History" and "Preparing for the 21st Century" governments around the world have evolved largely into a tripartite structure horizontally - legislative, executive and judicial and a vertical structure of geographically based municipal, state/provincial and federal jurisdictions. Do these divisions make sense, especially in the later case of overlapping and competing services from municipal, provincial and federal jurisdictions?

The famous Nobel prize winner Coase, asked the same question with respect to businesses - why do they exist? Why don't we have individual contracts for services with each employee, instead of large corporate bureaucracies? He discovered that "transaction costs" were the biggest factor which necessitated the creation of bureaucracies. In some lines of businesses like construction - lots of small contracts with suppliers and trades makes a lot of sense and is the most efficient way of doing business. But in most white collar businesses, the cost of transaction of doing everything through contracts becomes extremely costly. It is easy to specify a contract to install 1000 sheets of drywall - but it is another matter entirely to draw up a contract to process and follow up with 1000 customer purchase orders. That is why it is easier to hire someone to do this type of work, rather than negotiating a contract.

But Wikinomics, enterprise 2.0, Web 2.0 and SOA has the potential to simply many traditional white collar jobs and allow for outsourcing and reduce the transaction costs of contracting for services rather than hiring staff. The big impact of Wikinomics will be to dramatically change the corporate bureaucratic culture as we know it today. The 200,000 person Fortune 500 corporation is a remnant of the 20th century. Instead, as we already seeing today, companies will outsource many of their non-core functions and focus on what they do best. This will introduce a new age of profitability, productivity and long term growth - in which I believe we are just starting to see the early signs.

So what does this have to do with Next Generation Democracy?

I believe governments exist in the form they do today because of the high transaction costs of providing their services in any other way. In the 20th century there was no other practical, cost effective, way of delivering services such as defense, education, health care, social services, dog licenses, etc etc. True contracting has been tried from time to time, (e.g.
mercenaries) but it usually has failed because of a misalignment of objectives.

So Next Generation Democracy, using the new tools of Web 2.0 allows us to ask some fundamental questions:

1. Why can't governments compete for my services? Is this fixed hierarchy of municipal, provincial and federal governments necessary? Why not let governments of any strata issue vouchers for services and let "me" the consumer decide who is best at delivering those services. Perhaps federal governments would be better a funding and delivering research or driver's licenses? Maybe municipal governments should look after health care, etc etc

2. Governments always claim that taxes are "our" money, yet few of us feel any direct connection between our taxes and the services we receive. With today's computers and networks citizens could be provided with individual accounts and track how their individual taxes are spent and disbursed. They may even be allowed to prioritize the areas of spending within their individual tax accounts. Ultimately through their individual tax account, is how citizens can be allowed to vote with their wallets (which is generally more reliable then their brains) on the services that they deem most important to them.

3. Why not neighbourhood or personalized democracy? With these tools maybe my neighbours and I can elect to beautify our neighbourhood using our tax dollars or accumulated value in our homes. We could elect to put flower boxes in front of every home, cobblestone the street, install fiber to each house, etc etc. This would not only beautify the neighbourhood but would significantly increase the value of our homes.

4. Finally can we use the Internet to allow citizens vote through their behaviour rather than their sometimes counter intuitive thinking?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Governmental transformation through data feeds and data visualization

[Some great examples of use of mashups and web 2.0. From a posting on Dave Farber's IPer list--BSA]

From: W. David Stephenson []
Sent: Sunday, July 06, 2008 7:44 AM
To: David Farber
Subject: my speech at PdF2008 on governmental transformation through data
feeds and data visualization

To: Dave Farber
From: W. David Stephenson

I think your readers will be interested in a subject that I believe will be
critical to whoever is elected: the seemingly arcane (but in truth quite
fascinating and dynamic ) subject of widespread, automated releases of
government data combined with new Web 2.0-based tools to turn that data into
informative, illustrative visualizations.

I've just finished a white paper on the subject for Don Tapscott's Gov. 2.0
project<> , which was the basis for my presentation
at Personal Democracy Forum 2008, which you can download at

My argument is that government can transform itself both internally and
externally, improving performance, lowering costs, and building public
support and involvement, through a combination of:

* automated (preferably, real-time) data feeds, at first behind the
firewall, and then externally as well, in a variety of formats such as RSS
and KML
* easy access for both employees and (again, eventually) the public, to
the growing number of easy-to-use Web 2.0 data visualization tools that
allow taking data that may be hard to understand in tabular form and instead
turn it into eye-catching and informative visualizations -- plus Web 2.0
tools such as tags, topic hubs, and threaded discussions that encourage
sharing the data and insights -- and increase the chance of "wisdom of
crowds" knowledge emerging as a result!

I just received some crucial support from academia for my argument that
government agencies should make it a policy to release, on a real-time
basis, a wide range of data feeds in RSS, geospatial, and other formats, as
the keystone of their e-gov reform projects. A new study from
> concluded that there's nothing a
government agency can do to be more responsive to the public than to follow
the leads of the District of Columbia (to my knowledge, no one is in their
league, since they publish more than 150 real-time data feeds) and release
data feeds:

".we argue that the executive branch should focus on creating a simple,
reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that exposes the underlying
data. Private actors, either non-profit or commercial, are better suited to
deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and
reshape the tools individuals use to and and leverage public data. The best
way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal
terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal
websites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying
data as they make available to the public at large." (my emphasis)

IMHO, the Princeton study is excessively pessimistic about enlightened
governmental agencies' ability to serve the public by creative use of these
data, not does it address the secret sauce from use of public data and
visualization tools either behind the firewall or among the general public -
the potential for "wisdom of the crowds" to emerge when a large and varied
assortment of people use the data feeds plus Web 2.0 tools, such as those on
the Many Eyes<> and
Swivel<> data visualization sites.

It also doesn't deal with the benefits D.C. has gotten by using the data
feeds behind the firewall to erase barriers between agencies, coordinate
programs, etc.. In my paper for the Gov. 2.0 project (and in the Slideshare
presentation), I argue that internal data visualization sites are great ways
for agencies to test the water regarding data feeds: the steps needed to
have an effective internal program to share data feeds government-wide are
essentially the same as for external sites, and the benefits (increased
inter- and intra-agency cooperation, empowering a wide range of users,
improving coordination between programs serving the same geographic area,
etc.) are also similar -- and substantive.

I truly believe this is the most important steps that government agencies on
all levels can take, with low cost and a minimum of planning, to improve
responsiveness, cut operating costs, and involve the public in a substantive
way (please note the complete list of benefits I cite at the end of the
presentation -- they're impressive and achievable!).

<>W. David Stephenson | Principal | Stephenson
mailto:D.Stephenson@stephensonstrategi> | 617 314-7858 | 335 Main Street, Medfield, MA 02052
The Homeland Security 2.0 Blog<> |

Making Homeland Security Everyone's BusinessTM

I'll speak on public data at Personal Democracy Forum, June
> & Netroots Nation, July

"Let My Data Go! case for transparent government"<>
"21st century disaster tips you won't hear from
officials"<> Now on

homeland security technologies to watch in 2008<
"Expecting the Unexpected: networked terrorism and disaster

<>named to Feedster's "500 most
interesting and informative" blogs list

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