Structuring Deliberation 2.0

Whenever I have talked to government officials in 2009 (in Cancun, Erfurt, Vienna, Salzburg, or Washington DC), at some point in the conversation they mention that “we need to develop new modes of interacting with citizens.” Implicit in this argument is a frustration with the fairly artificial tool set they have at their disposal.

Government as a Contract Society institution wants to insure the legality of its operations at all times, therefore, it is very careful in its communication: “if you really need an answer, please do not send an email, letters are better integrated into our (electronic) work-flow.” But network society logic (outcome orientation, eternal beta, radical transparency) have a way of sneaking up onto us.

In 2009, there is a clear realization that “things will be messy, but this is necessary (and not as dangerous as we think).” And everybody (and their grandmother) is scrambling to set up platforms to “ideate,” “deliberate,” and “collaborate.” On Wednesday, for example, we will discuss the participatory budgeting platform for the city of Erfurt.

The Obama adminstration has just gone through the first two months of the Open Government Initiative and there are interesting first lessons. And because online interaction is still so new, we are developing our sensitivity for deliberation 2.0. Here are some takeaways from Beth Noveck, in a recent NYTimes article:

  • If you don’t frame the debate, if you don’t ask a good question, you don’t get a good answer to the question.
  • If people are going to be asked to spend the time on contributing, you want to use the participation they give you.
  • If you run a dialog over weeks and weeks, you cannot begin to use the inputs you are given [there will be too many].
  • Government must also create a culture that is in some ways more formal than much of the rest of the Web. On sites like Slashdot, she said, the most popular posts are “the funniestor the snarkiest.” But that’s not an appropriate standard when trying to debate policy.
  • There is a reason you want people with expertise working in the jobs we have,(..) but the new online tools will nonetheless put pressure on officials to take public opinion into account.
  • Even something like having a blog with an open discussion about policy is revolutionary in the way government works.
  • In addition to the public brainstorming session, she ran another online discussion for government officials. This was unusual in that it asked for ideas from people at every level of government, speaking on their own. That’s very different from the usual structure in which feedback on ideas posed by one agency is funneled up through the chain of command at other agencies.

Beth Noveck

As we are preparing for the Erfurt Sessions, what are your takeaways from deliberation projects you have been involved in? What projects worked? Which did not? Why?

About Philipp

Philipp Müller works in the IT industry and is academic dean of the SMBS. Author of “Machiavelli.net”. Proud father of three amazing children. The views expressed in this blog are his own.

13. July 2009 by Philipp
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