As far as we know, this is the first time that an elected official has initiated a political wiki; a sea change in the relationship between representatives and voters is clearly underway. -- PDF
Utah State Representative Steve Urquhart, Chairman of the Rules Committee that decides what legislation goes to the floor, launched Politicopia -- a Socialtext wiki for open government. It is off to a great start:
One week into the experiment, Politicopia is working. Citizens are participating and citizens are being heard. Legislators are talking to me about things they’ve read on Politicopia. Because of input I received, I have changed a position I've held for years. Already, citizens are using Politicopia to shape the debate. As a matter of fact, a reporter emailed me, to ask why Politicopia wasn't linking to her article. That has never happened in the two-plus years I’ve been blogging.
He introduced the wiki last week on the Personal Democracy Forum with The Revolution Will Be Wikified:
Politicopia joins the revolution to improve people's ability to understand and control their government. Politicopia starts with three simple notions.
1. People need more control over government.
2. Insiders have too much control over government.
3. The Internet will disintermediate government.
In politics, intermediaries tightly control information. Those intermediaries are (1) special interest groups, (2) the media, and (3) bureaucrats. There's nothing wrong with the fact that those three entities exist; they can be quite helpful in proper dosage. The problem is the overwhelming degree to which those intermediaries filter content and control political dialogue.
Citizens can elect representatives, lobby if their interests are special enough (institutional pluralism) or go public with campaigns that appeal to change (individual pluralism) with great effort and cost. But citizens have had no role in sausage making, let alone transparency into the process of legislation. When citizens collectively disintermediate politics, emergent democracy happens.
Urquhart further explains Politicopia:
The people must wrest control from the intermediaries. How? By (1) improving access to information and (2) improving the ability to organize.
Politicopia will improve people's access to information in my state, Utah, by presenting a wiki-based forum for the compilation and presentation of information on actual bills pending before the Legislature. If a citizen wants to learn about an issue and shape the dialogue, Politicopia will provide a quick and solid handle on the process -- without the intermediaries filter. And if a legislator wants to hear unfiltered suggestions from interested citizens -- instead of mainly hearing from organized special interests -- Politicopia will give him or her a new source of input.
Using a Socialtext wiki, Politicopia will list the bills, present a brief summary of the issue and the bills status, invite pro and con arguments and comments, and provide links to relevant sources. Users will provide and control the content. Adding a forum where commentary and links can be added to the great information already provided on the Legislative website, Politicopia should become a very useful source for quick, accurate information on issues that the peoples representatives are deciding in Utah. Please check it out and help supply content or start a site for your state, city or mosquito abatement district.
Citizens link to the bill, build pro and con arguments, track status, link in external references and deliberate. The issues may matter to you, even if you don't live in Utah, such as:
- Cell Phone Restrictions for Teen Drivers
- Drivers License -- Revocation for Dangerous Drivers
- Higher Speed Limit, Violation Amendments
- Vouchers for Private School Tuition
- All-day Kindergarten
- Payday Lending (Sen. Mayne's Bill)
- Fee Waiver Appropriation for School Districts
- Illegal Immigrants -- In-State College Tuition
For more on Politicopia, see Phil Windley, Doc Searls, Brit Blaser, David Weinberger and Micah Sifry. I'm encouraged to see social software employed in politics for more than campaigns and become a new valve for the heart of the legislative process.