« profile & posts archive

This author has written 2362 posts for Larvatus Prodeo.

Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

19 responses to “CPD Insight: Upgrading Democracy”

  1. Rewi

    Mark, thanks for the link. The jargon in some of those articles is most excellent and amusing. This one is great:

    ‘One of the best lessons of the social web is the idea of rapid feedback-driven iteration as an evolutionary model.’

    It’s a lesson well-learned, I’m sure.

    Has it become trite to mention issues of participation and access concerning poverty and education? If it has, well, fine I guess. Perhaps taking the need to overcome these barriers to online access as a given is the explanation for a focus on participation that centres around, for example, improved ‘inquiry websites’ (Miriam Lyons) as a mechanism for overcoming ‘the barriers for contributing to policy development’ which can be ‘lowered by improving the opportunities to participate both online and offline, and creative commons licenses for government data free up citizens to tinker with it’.

  2. Mark

    Rewi, I made the point about the digital divide – which continues – in my OLO article last week.

    http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=9374

    I agree with you that there’s a real danger that issues of access and the sorts of literacies and educational attainment needed to ‘participate’ might get lost sight of – not just in terms of social inclusion, but in terms also of assumptions that might be made that any such participation is somehow representative of the broad community.

    I also have a degree of scepticism – as again indicated in my OLO piece – about the degree to which some claims made for web applications are far too strong. Part of the problem is that they’re often made by those who are themselves somewhat embedded in a very high level of online interaction, and who don’t always see that they’re a very small minority, or that other techniques than exhortation are needed to disseminate these skills, and that many won’t necessarily see a need to acquire them, even if they have the opportunity.

  3. Miriam Lyons

    Folks, I’m always in favour of eternal vigilance against hype, and there’s a hell of a lot of hype in the gov2.0 world, so your sceptical comments are most welcome. Yes of course the digital divide is still an issue – it’s not an issue that this edition focuses on, but that doesn’t mean that the contributors are unaware of it. No-one’s arguing that this is the whole answer, or that it’s time to leave offline consultation processes behind, and some of the contributors spell that out just in case ppl jump to the wrong conclusion.

    @Rewi If you believe in a rapid transformation to 100% participatory & deliberative democracy which includes all of those currently marginalised from the decision-making process, then I can see why you’d be uninterested in a publication like ‘Upgrading Democracy’. Fair enough. If, on the other hand, you assume that democracy is a process of continually attempting to reach the unattainable goal of 100% equality of influence, then you’ll be interested in any opportunities to expand the circle of citizens who are able to actively influence policy decisions, even if no single opportunity is perfect or all-encompassing. Australians now spend more time online than watching TV. It’s pretty obvious which medium allows more people to have an opportunity to participate. To me a shift from a broadcast model to a collaborative model of decision making in between elections would represent progress – even if it would’t represent a democratic utopia.

  4. Mark

    Australians now spend more time online than watching TV.

    Except, Mim, that’s kinda what I’m getting at. Which Australians? And what do they do when they’re online? I know the answers – because I’ve looked at the research (and the answer is that personal communication and entertainment are the two big non-work uses). It’s somewhat misleading to imply that this will necessarily lead to, or even provide a good basis for, large scale civic engagement. That’s the point I was making in my article, really.

    It might also be that the federal level is the wrong one at which to engage with everyday concerns (where those can actually lead to changes, that is) because the degree of abstraction in most federal policy discussions is such that it risks becoming just a way to empower further policy wonks and those who are already empowered.

    I’m not so certain, at all, that these sort of concerns can be bracketed off. Rather, I’d have thought they were fundamental to the questions covered in the submission.

  5. Rewi

    Hi Miriam and thanks.

    No, indeed I’m not sure (but may still be convinced in time) that 100% participation in deliberative democracy is necessarily a good or desirable thing, let alone utopia. Although I do confess to moments of utopian daydreaming.

    It was actually a genuine question. If, as I said in my first post, the need to respond to these ‘digital divide’ questions are a given then so be it. I’ve seen Messers Elliott, Sharp and Cooperrider’s entreaty to maintain ‘offline’ consultation processes, but would imagine that the process of online consultations and participation coupled with improved programs to overcome disadvantage could make a reasonable case that such methods are potentially superior for overcoming some barriers to participation.

    That is, improving education and reducing poverty may improve opportunities for participation by people, for example, in remote communities in a way that is not as feasible through other means. However, you’ve said that an editorial decision was made not to focus on such issues in these articles.

    I’ve seen that the June edition of Insight featured a number of articles on education, including one on improving schools and another on equity in education. I guess that what appeared to me as a bit of disconnection between what seem to be cross-cutting issues is the kind of issue (problem?) that, in the context of improved systems for participation in policy making that you have argued for, improved access will overcome.

  6. Ben Eltham

    That may be true Mark, but no-one could deny that TV has led to some important developments for democracy. While the majority of people don’t watch Lateline on TV either, that doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable thing for voters and our democracy in general that there is political coverage and engagement in that medium.

  7. John D

    There are two speparate issues here, influence and ideas. Political parties spend heavily on polls and focus groups so it is not unreasonable to suggest that the thrust of policies are influenced by the attitudes and preferences of the community as a whole. In addition there is a raft of organizations that are in the business of trying to change government directions. Governments take some note of these as well if they think they are talking for people who might change their vote.

    Ideas are a different matter. There are already mechanisms where, in theory good ideas can be directed to governments. however, there is a practical limit to the number of ideas that are actually considered. The web may help get an idea to pollies although my understanding is that you are more likley to get a result if you use snail mail. Perhaps what we should be campigning for is more resources to be devoted to looking for the good ideas that are sent in.

  8. David H

    Mark said,

    I also have a degree of scepticism – as again indicated in my OLO piece – about the degree to which some claims made for web applications are far too strong. Part of the problem is that they’re often made by those who are themselves somewhat embedded in a very high level of online interaction…

    which appears self evident but easily overlooked. I can relate to advocacy side of that statement. It is very easy to dismiss poor adoption rates for new ideas and simply waffle on about how people need to learn how to use the new fangled web thingy because its going to be the future. Focusing on the technology tends to obscure more fundamental issues in my experience.

  9. Francis Xavier Holden

    Last I looked, about 3 or 4 years ago, mobile phones had about a 99% reach in disadvantaged areas and disadvantaged groups and the net had anywhere from 65% to 85% reach in those same groups. The monthly spend (recurrent) on mobiles was way higher then the same spend on net access. Although it might be argued that initial capital (setting up) costs are higher for net access than mobiles. It might be less difference now with falling prices of laptops/netbooks not far different from mid /upper bracket phones.

    Most people use their mobiles for the same thing – texting and talking plus camera. The ways people use their net access vary wildly – from not changing their IE home page from Nine MSN and seeing the world through that lense and links out to others who use it as an essential and powerful business, research, communication tool.

    The degree of old fashioned literacy (and confidence and time)required to use the net like your average blogger (with PhD) is significant.

    Sometimes I think I don’t even understand what web2 is.

    The White and Yellow Pages are still faithfully delivered with a thump to most households – out of date when printed – but still used.

  10. Deslivres

    I just had a quick look at the submission, pondering where Web 2 had got to on the hype cycle in Oz(?still climbing up the Peak of Inflated Expectations?). I thought the Fundamental Issue (as I see it) was articulated perfectly in the John Chen article: Political Conversation is a DECLINING activity in Australia.

    Having said that, perhaps web 2 adoption by Government (she types, as she starts to ascend the peak herself) might con the populace into citizen engagement with their own government. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if kids who are rattling away on TV show web forums, found it natural to do the same on idea/government policy forums? And continued to do so?

    To me, the digital divide is not the threshold issue – wholesale citizen disengagement and disempowerment is.

    I’ve been telling some of my web forumly friends about LP and other political blogs – so far the best response I’ve had from one of them was about the fact that people can tell each other to get fucked on it. You can’t do that on the Idol forum apparantly.

  11. furious balancing

    “I’ve been telling some of my web forumly friends about LP and other political blogs – so far the best response I’ve had from one of them was about the fact that people can tell each other to get fucked on it.”

    What a pity, insensitive and ignorant provocations should be given equal treatment everywhere. People may need to develop thicker skins if they want genuine democracy, privileged voices tend to be a little insular and seem to naively believe that the people they make snarky, judgmental commentaries about aren’t equipped with a laptop and a modem.

  12. Deslivres

    In my experience in Australia, there is actually an inverse relationship between politicisation and socio-economic status. People from more privileged backgrounds tend to be less politically engaged. What is wrong with wishing that Australians were more politically engaged across the board?

    I’d be interested to know how anyone could participate on a web forum without a computer and a modum. Please enlighten me.

    I am going to take the comment about “privalege” personally, and respond to it directly. Born in Canberra – definitely an advantage – the ACT school system. I’m Anglo – an advantage. Participated in protests etc and youth activism from the age of 15. Prohibited from watching TV until grew up and moved out. Does that point make me more or less advantaged vis a vis cultural discourse? Earned my living from the age of 18. Supported myself through university. Got a full-time job afterwards.

    At the age of 17 I moved into a house full of working-class marxists in Sydney, and got a full-on education in marxist social-class analysis. I was an active anarcha-feminist at the time, so debate was lively. Marx’s class-analyses still affect my world view.

    I think political engagement is a good thing. I think Australia would be a better place if Australians as a whole were politically engaged – and I mean “political” in the broader sense. Hence I believe all Australians should be more politically engaged then they are. So sue me.

  13. John D

    The problem with any form of conversation with the government is that it is hard to see how this would work if a serious number of people were involved with a particular issue. How do you find the good ideas? How do you get people who really have something to contribute conversing? How do new people with good ideas get to be heard.
    Conversations work on LP because most posts are commented on by much less than 100 people. (And much fewer actually converse.) How do you conduct conversations when 1000 people want to be there? Or 100,000. (The recent senate climate enquiry had over 10,000 submissions.) How to you find the good ideas, new arguments etc?
    Even with LP one wonders how many people read the comments as distinct from reading the comments? Perhaps commenters would feel that they are being heard more if the post writer or someone else summarized the intersting bits and issued the summary as a separate post?

  14. Ron Lubensky

    JohnD, unfortunately all this talk about online public engagement has incorrectly presumed that everyone should be crowd-sourced. But stakeholders and partisans will still dominate. Miriam mentions deliberative democracy, but it isn’t just about public processes that encourage civil behaviour and reasoning. It’s also about inviting a randomly-selected microcosm of the population to decisions in the public interest, to guarantee both diversity of perspective and healthy group dynamics. Archon Fung calls these “mini-publics”. That’s what Jim Fishkin does with his Deliberative Polls. That’s what the justice systems in most countries do with impanelled trial juries. Randomly-selected Citizens’ Juries are an adaptation which have demonstrated a capacity for creative recommendations for local governments here and elsewhere. The challenge remains to model this in an online environment.

  15. Rewi

    Ron, could you explain what you mean by ‘crowd-sourcing’? Is it as simple as asking everyone’s opinion about everything?

  16. Deslivres

    The deliverative democracy does seem to be about crowd sourcing (using Rewi’s proposed definition) and assuming that the response will be a sufficiently small self-selected population.

    I love Ron’s randomly selected microcosm idea. I once served on a jury, and the different approaches and processing of information by the group members was fascinating.

  17. Deslivres

    ….Another way to do it – addressing John D’s point, is to adjust the role of MPs – ie their offices, so as to include being information shepherds/wranglers.

  18. John D

    The “randomly selected microcosm idea” seems a good start. It deals with the issue of max group size capable of running a good conversation. However, there is still the issue of exclusion. If people are only in a microcosm once every blue moon it doesn’t satisfy our desire to have a say. There is also the expertise issue. In many cases the workable microcosm formrd by random selection may not have anyone with the expertise needed for a useful discussion.
    Perhaps we need something along the lines of cascade democracy. (A number of small base councils each elect delegates to the next level council etc. until you reach the council level that runs the whole country.) In our case what we might be looking at is:
    1. People register general interest in being involved in conversations (Plus areas of expertise?)
    2. These people are emailed whenever a new topic comes up. They register interest if they want to be involved. Email may ask for topic specific expertise as well.
    3. Workable size discussion groups formed. People with relevant expertise may be allocated to a specialist group as well as a general group if willing.
    4. Discussions run over the internet for a while. People from outside the group can monitor any discussion they like but only people within the group comment.
    5. After a while groups nominate a few people for the next level groups. Expert groups may be retained at each level if appropriate.
    6. Next level groups go through discuss and nominate cycle. Delegates can refer issues back to their group if they this will help.
    7. Process contiues creating higher levels until a single workable group is reached. Final group submits ideas, recomendations etc.

    If senate submissions are a guide many discussions may take place at one level only. However, others may need more. As a guide, a system based on groups of 50 with 5 delegates per group could handle 500 with 2 levels, (10xlevel 1 plus 1xlevel 2) 5000 with 3 levels etc.

    What is suggested here deals with both the need to include all those who want to be included as well as the issue of expertise.

  19. Deslivres

    Sounds good. I would suggest this amendment – for appropriate conversations, include a mandatory school feed-in stream, and include such participation in the national curriculum, for primary and secondary levels.