26 March 2010

A new paradigm for citizen engagement.

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Many of you may know that I’m putting on a workshop for developers of citizen engagement software that are focused on Congress. Here’s a little ideological background on why I’m doing that and what I expect to set in motion with it.

Today

The current system of communication platforms that connect citizens to their elected officials is a direct evolution from the system that was established in 1787 when the Constitution was signed. It’s based on person-to-person conversations and up until about 10 years ago, this was a perfectly acceptable paradigm to operate within.

Problems

However, messages are easier to send today. Email started the process, but mobile phones, Twitter, and Facebook are all equal culprits. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, more and more Americans have the ability to convert a thought into a message to their elected officials in about 10 seconds.

The current system of receiving messages in Congress has not failed to accept and properly distribute incoming messages for about 10 days now. By that, I mean that the Congressional email servers were overwhelmed and incapable of handling the incoming email during last week’s discussion leading up to the final vote on health care. Shocking, isn’t it?

Well, it’s only going to get worse. More and more citizens are getting broadband internet and smart phones. Unstemmed, the current deluge will appear as a trickle when compared to the flow of information that citizens will want to convey to their elected officials when another decade passes. (Now, I’ll acknowledge there are some underlying assumptions to this premise, including the desire of all those citizens to communicate but I’m happy to discuss those points in the comments if you’d like.)

What to do?

It seems to me that there is only one logical answer and that is to fundamentally change the paradigm in which the communication system operates. Person-to-person, one-on-one communication is not a reasonable expectation with today’s technology. Instead, we need to build technology to handle the problems that technology has created.

The Goal

Every citizen who wishes to engage in a meaningful discussion on any issue should be able to do so using the form and format that they wish to use.

A New Paradigm

Let’s call this led multi-directional communication.

Part the Uno. Ongoing, continuous discussions on every imaginable issue that anyone can engage in. These could be sources of new ideas, education on the issues, and debate. They could live on blogs, social network sites, and in mobile apps – many of the places that already exist.

Part the Dos. Technology to tie it all together. Maybe it’s not unlike what exists today to connect blogs for search and pingbacks. Perhaps it’s based on OpenID, Facebook Connect, or Twitter OAuth. Maybe there are multiples methods of connecting diverse sources of information. Nonetheless, it has to go farther than any of these examples. It has to collate the information and provide it in a meaningful format for representatives. This should include breaking it down by topic, perspective, and of course: constituency.

Part the Tres. Representatives engage in these same conversations: adding more information, sharing their perspectives, explaining the current political situation, and helping their constituents to understand the complexity of the process. Ideally, they can do this all from a single dashboard on their computers and cellphones.

Sound crazy? Maybe it is. I will not pretend that this is the answer but I do know that what we have today is not sustainable.

The Workshop

Basically, I’m saying that all the software that is being used today to connect citizens to representatives will be replaced in a number of years. I don’t know how long that time period is, but my goal is to hasten that process. This workshop is my first attempt to identify the players that will lead that change and empower them with everything they need to do it swiftly.

Only when a new paradigm has been developed, accepted, and implemented will every citizen have a voice in the decision making processes that shape the world they live in.

If you’re a developer and ready to lead, sign up here and let’s do this thing!

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