19 August 2010

Legacy Systems.

Filed under Articles

In pursuing our mission, I’ve come to realize that technology is NOT the hard part. It’s the legacy systems. Think about it – our federal government (all three branches) has almost 223 years of history – culture, rules, regulations – all put in place to solve some problem or other and most of them were put in place for a good reason.

When was the last time you moved?
You know how you find all that stuff that you haven’t seen in years but that takes up all that space in your drawers and on your shelves?
It’s kind of like that – if you’d lived there for 223 years!

Of course, this stuff is different. This stuff aims to ensure that government treats all citizens fairly and upholds the principles laid out in the Constitution. It’s meant to keep incumbents from gaining unfair advantage in elections by using citizen’s money for campaigning (franking rules in the House), and it establishes procedures to prevent tyranny of the majority (filibuster) and to provide a system through which the multitude of issues that government has to deal with can be channeled and made sense of. There’s a huge bureaucracy in place to handle the compilation and sorting of huge volumes of information and the distribution of huge sums of money, and there are redundant departments meant to keep tabs on each other to make sure that all parts of the government are doing what they’re supposed to do.

If that wasn’t enough, you have the surrounding communities – advocacy groups, lobbyists, corporations, state and local governments, other countries, and international organizations like the UN, World Bank, and IMF. They have all developed their own means of influencing the system based on what they have found that works through trial and error (and in some cases, with a lot of money to throw at the problem!).

Finally, there’s you. Quick quiz:

  1. Do you actually think you stand a chance of having your voice heard in the mess that I’ve just described?
  2. No? Who do you blame for that?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as blaming our elected officials. The system that runs our country was started long before they were in office and it is the reason that we are the country we are today – both the good AND the bad.

If it’s any consolation, I have yet to meet anyone on the Hill that isn’t there to make things better.

There’s a lot of work to do and pointing fingers at one another isn’t going to make it go any faster. It’s time we started trying to understand the legitimate difficulties inherent in the system and finding ways to solve those using our combined strengths.

If you’re into this, you may want to check out the Open Model for Citizen Engagement at http://om4ce.org/.

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