[Olpc-open] [BDPA-Africa] Networking Democracy: can the internet help democracy work better?
echerlin at gmail.com
Wed Mar 26 03:19:37 EDT 2008
On Tue, Mar 25, 2008 at 3:31 PM, Chifu <chifu2222 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Networking Democracy: can the internet help democracy work better?
> Posted on 24 March 08, 10:17 pm
> by ourkingdom
Short answer: Yes, it does help some, as witness China, Serbia, Nepal,
and even the US, and the absolute refusal of North Korea and Burma to
allow public Internet access. But the obstacles are great. The enemies
of democracy also have the use of the Internet.
> OurKingdom is hosting what we believe to be a unique online
> deliberation on how the potential of the internet can be integrated
> into a national political process. It is about this question: can
> participation on the web reinforce representative democracy? The
> initial phase took place among a group of experts
I mean no disrespect, but there is no such thing as an expert on this
subject. I have studied the issues for more than a decade, and what is
most clear to me is that we don't even know what the appropriate
questions are. If you think you understand the matter, that is
sufficient proof that you don't (as Niels Bohr said of Quantum
> who were asked to
> set out the problems and summarise what is already known - please
> look at it here. The first section of it has an email exchange
> between Anthony Barnett of OurKingdom and Michael Wills, the
> Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice - who bravely agreed to
> an independent debate. Their exchange sets out what we are doing.
This should not be a debate, but an investigation. Not an expression
of competing opinions, but a gathering of facts, a creation of
hypotheses and theories, and a process of systematic, peer-reviewed
testing of those hypotheses and theories. And also a great flowering
of new ideas, such as we see every day on the Net.
> We are now opening up the debate for anyone to contribute, here or on
> your own blogs and websites. The post below is Anthony Barnett's
> personal summary of the discussion so far. Please read at least some
> of the discussion before commenting. We have an important opportunity
> to raise the game of the web in politics - and not just in Britain,
> we are trying to bring in as much international discussion as we can.
A key issue is the use of the Internet in education. Most countries
still use something like the late 19th century Prussian education
system, the first to apply the principles of factory automation and
mass production to the classroom. The avowed purpose of this system in
Prussia was to keep the population in line while the rulers did what
they pleased. Its success was all too evident throughout the world
during almost the entire 20th century.
I volunteer with One Laptop Per Child, which is an education rather
than a computer project. It has a rather different view of education,
based on learning by doing in a process of collaborative discovery.
The aim is to create independent lifelong learners and thinkers,
rather than compliant factory workers, shop clerks, bureaucrats, and
so on. In order to end poverty, we have to teach students how to link
together around the world, and to create sustainable international
businesses together. This same global collaboration will have other
important economic and political effects, most of which we cannot yet
We can, however, at least say that universal access to e-commerce,
both to buy and to sell, is a far more serious version of Free Trade
than letting corporations go anywhere while limiting most people to
their home countries. As in the case of Overstock.com being certified
as the largest employer in Afghanistan after the war, with rugmakers
and other craftspeople and artists getting more than 60% of the
selling price. (Number two was a brick factory.) The Talmud describes
the political and social consequences of prosperity and poverty thus:
"Without bread there can be no righteousness, and without
righteousness there can be no bread."
Any attempt at prediction is likely to be little more than pious hope.
Just remember that if you want to make God laugh, you should tell her
But there are elements of the future that can be effectively
predicted, mainly by inventing them. That is the plan of One Laptop
Per Child and my NGO, Earth Treasury. I cannot give a full account of
the plans and the possibilities here, or of the existing experience
from such educational projects. I would be happy to explain in much
greater detail, and to provide appropriate evidence, in a suitable
forum, and to help you get further information from the OLPC and ICT4D
communities, and others that will be involved.
> The minister and some of his civil servants at Justice are listening
> to this conversation, and have already contributed in the initial
> exchanges as you can see. We would like as many people as possible to
> blog about this, write about it, and host discussions about it in
> their own fora. If you do, please link to here and email us ( at
> jon.bright at ... ). After three weeks, we will aggregate
> all the discussions that we know about into a final document.
> Please also note something that is very important: the starting point
> of this experiment may be the government's commitment, for which
> Michael Wills is responsible, to have a citizens summit. But our
> concern is not with how to make this specific summit work. The
> Minister's questions are ones of principle: Tories and Lib-Dems and
> Scot Nats and Welsh and Irish politicians should all be asking these
> questions for themselves. As the voting system comes under review,
See, for example, the Open Voting Foundation project to create secure
Free/Open Source voting software, which anybody can test, in contrast
with the proprietary software and secret testing processes in use in
the United States.
> how can we widen and deepen democracy by other means as offered by
> the internet? This is a non-partisan issue that will grow in
> importance over the coming decades.
> Networking Democracy: National conversations on government policy
> using the internet
> Here are some of the lessons I draw from the first stage of our on-
> line deliberation. A very big thanks to everyone who has participated
> so far. What follows is not a formal aggregation and taxonomy of
> different views. It's an overview of the lessons I have learnt.
> The aim is to initiate a web-based debate on how a government - that
> is any government - could integrate the potential of the internet
> into a national political process designed to support representative
> democracy. The idea started from a conversation I had with Minister
> of State, Michael Wills, who is charged with organising a Citizens
> Summit to make recommendations to parliament on a British Statement
> of Values. He told me that he wanted to draw on the potential of the
> web. As you can see from our initial email exchange, he had the
> courage to ask us to discuss how this could be done - and I want to
> stress again openDemocracy's OurKingdom team is doing this unpaid by,
> and independently of, the Ministry.
> The nature of the proposed summit caused some nervousness amongst
> those invited to take part. There were objections to the abstract and
> general nature of what we have asked everyone to do. What emerges
> from this is that if a government wishes to draw in popular input it
> must be clear about what it wants and why. What is the aim of the
> specific conversation? Who is supposed to be talking to whom - and
> who is listening? What members of the government are reading the
> comments even, let alone responding? What is being made of the
> The Minister had two specific concerns: how to make sense of large
> numbers of web contributions (if they occur) and how to ensure both
> that there is a good input and that it is fairly representative and
> is secure from `capture'.
> An important lesson for me is that while the Minister's fears are
> understandable they may be misconceived. The web is not just a
> version of `The general public'. Voting does indeed disaggregate
> everyone into private, anonymous individuals, whose `x's are then
> counted. But the web is not just a soup of isolated individuals prone
> to manipulation by the wicked or the commercial and in need of
> benevolent guidance from the authorities. Rather, it consists of many
> groups, networks, communities and cyber-associations, such as regular
> readers of particular blogs, small and labile aggregations, some very
> persistent, with over-lapping interests and memberships, often very
> intelligent and capable of learning. The success of social networking
> sites like facebook is that they generally use real names and create,
> precisely, social networks.
> To go to the web to assist a national conversation means asking these
> groups and networks and communities to debate and discuss the issues
> for themselves, off-line as well, and on their terms, while feeding
> back within whatever rules are set.
The Internet communications protocol, TCP/IP, was designed to
interpret rules limiting communication as damage, and to route around
them. Once you start this conversation, you will no longer be in
control of it, even though you can control the official reporting
[rest of post, mostly procedural, snipped]
Anybody who wants to see what the Internet can accomplish is welcome
to come to a demonstration in Haiti or Rwanda during the coming year,
after they get their 10,000 or more One Laptop Per Child XO computers
in their own languages (Kreyól Ayisyen and Kinyarwanda, respectively).
Or we can show you some of the results from early trials in Canbodia,
Nigeria, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and elsewhere.
End Poverty at a Profit by teaching children business
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."--Alan Kay
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