Crowdsourcing policy making

Iceland citizen's assembly

Iceland citizen's assembly to discuss Constitutional reform

There has been a lot of buzz in the Internet about the icelandic “crowdsourced” constitutional reform. The Iceland government is actually doing a very good job by involving people through social networks in the reform process. However, it is not clear how comments collected through Facebook and the other social tools will be taken into account. Can we call this “crowdsourcing”?

Drafting laws on a wiki page is the dream of many web2.0 fans. However, writing a law is quite different from editing a wikipedia entry, where you can present two alternative views on the same topic if editors do not reach a consensus. A law or a Constitution cannot be ambiguous, even if two views are present in a population. That’s why old-style elections are held, to let people express which political option has the greater social support. Of course, you can always use wiki to write laws on which everyone agrees, but that is the most boring part of the game. “Wiki politics” is perhaps more suitable for drafting political party program, which are not supposed to receive everyone’s appraisal.

It does not mean that crowdsourcing and the Internet are useless in politics. Other methods of involving people in the decision making process are based on different principles seem to work fine. Uservoice, for example, is a platform to collect feedback from users and, most important, decide which action has to be taken first, based on the number of votes proposals receive and on a smart self-reinforcing mechanism. According to them, 50,000 companies use uservoice for to collect feedbacks from customers. Although this example comes from marketing, it provides also an important lesson for policy makers eager to use ICT to democratize the policy design activity: to involve people, give them the possibility of expressing ideas, but do not forget a fast and transparent algorithm to reach a consensus.

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