Saturday, July 4, 2009

Reinventing the political campaign

The total amount spent by political lobbyists per capita last year in the USA was about eleven dollars. So how come special interests have so much more influence with leadership than the people they're supposed to serve anyways? Should we spend twelve dollars to bribe them back? For just two dollars per month we could utterly overwhelm the private interests if it weren't for just one thing; We couldn't agree on what to tell them to do. We need a community mind and that begins with a community brain.

A neural network for a city

Suppose a small community was looking for ways to invigorate their economy and create a greater sense of their shared purpose among residents. (Shouldn't this go without saying?) But instead of relying on themselves, they decide to look for a way to get the community itself to self-organize around the powers and functions of their city government--to reinvent their electorate. Their goal is to create a parallel virtual city council that they can use as a resource in making the decisions that face them. Their idea is that by having a vote from the community, and discussions about each issue, their eventual decisions can only be better informed, while also leaving each voter with more context to evaluate their performance and grateful to be a part of the process.

Connecting the senses and muscles

Using free tools and web resources they put all of the non-confidential information they can about their city into a site available to all members of the community. They establish a small fund, say $5/resident, to encourage the development of software that presents the data in ways the users find useful (which developers split according to how much their software gets used.) The data is stuff like the budget, infrastructure maps, codes and ordinances, maintenance schedules, issues to be addressed by the council and the reports or other information related to those issues. Everything the city isn't obligated to keep confidential and that would be useful to voters playing the role of council members.

Processing the sensory input

To encourage participation by people in the community they organize the site to provide two different roles for users. They can be either virtual council members, or city evangelists. The latter is for those folks who believe they have a vision for their community and should probably be running things already. Their job is is evangelize the issues presently facing the community, help users explore the available data, learn more abut the community, and explain their own positions and policy goals. They are people hoping to one day serve on the city council (if they aren't doing so already) and see this as an opportunity to campaign for that position by explaining how they would approach present day issues.

(It's campaigning via a demonstration. The site creates only a few slots for each public office and city evangelists must win their slot by bidding for it with real money in a Dutch auction. Instead of spending what they would to campaign in traditional ways, they buy a slot on the site for a lot less and get a chance to better prove their competency and much more exposure. Besides, that money goes into a pool that becomes the political capital spent by the voters and can be earned back.)

Everyone else joins for free and becomes a virtual council member earning a monthly virtual income of political capital. They can spend it on the site to support or oppose the issues they care about. The city evangelists earn a share of what is spent in accordance with whatever position they've been advocating on each issue. In other words they earn political capital by convincing the virtual council members to spend it the way they recommend, which they then spend to advocate their position on upcoming issues (which is then redistributed as share income to the virtual council next month.) This structure is intended to gradually concentrate political capital into the hands of those city evangelists who best represent the wishes of the community.

Enabling the phenomenon of emergence

I've left out the details and some important points about the site to focus on the strategy and goals. The hope is to do the minimum sufficient to get it started, and then let the community itself take over the evolution of the specific mechanisms that emerge to best harvest their political will and insight. My belief is that we might stumble onto an infrastructure that does a far better job deploying our collective resources simply because our behavior, wants, and expectations have changed to suit the realities of what we learn by virtue of participating and being so much more aware of present conditions and what can be done theoretically.

I'm hoping it results in a rudimentary community mind. In a genuine sense. No one of us will feel any differently but something will be very different. Our city should function in a way that exhibits an ever growing self awareness and intelligence that emerges from no one of us so much as it does from the political technology we've created to empower and guide us wisely.

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