Thursday, 25 November 2010

A new model of poltical debate...

It is time to bring technology to the process of governance and harness the power of the crowd.  Here's my idea about how we can do that...

In the houses of parliament, we need politicians to be working on national issues.  MP's should still be voted on by constituencies but as representatives working on national issues (they can of course still represent their locale, when called upon by councils if necessary).

Each day Mon-Fri, There should be a two-three hour debate on each of the main areas of interest: Economy and Business (inc. Employment), Energy and Environment, Home Affairs (transport, health, housing), Foreign Affairs and Science, Technology and Education (just off the top of my head).  In front of each seat is an ipad-like device, with software that facilitates the debate.

Each member can prepare for the debate in advance, uploading evidence and questions and even debating the questions in forums.  Come the debate, evidence and questions can be dropped into a queue during the government reports to argue or counter the claims made.  This queue is voted upon by MP's and those questions that get the most votes rise to the top to be asked.  If it is particularly pertinent to that precise moment of time, then an urgent flag can be attached and the speed with which the votes are placed contributing to the speed with which the question or evidence is put forward.

With practice, and with a slower oratory, I believe technology is finally at a stage where this can happen in close to real-time (it would take no longer than having to wait for the "rah rah rah' to die down).  Not only that, it can also open the process even further.

Imagine that you then have a pool of people picked for their outstanding knowledge.  Have their peers vote on candidates in journals in various expert disciplines, have NGO's and activist groups vote on experts of Human Rights etc.. Nurses, doctors, architects, lawyers, anyone with expertise and not simply academics.  This pool of people is then split into the five areas of interest for the debates, plus a pool of people that represent the universals.  By this I mean those factors that must be thought about in any given debate.. the environment, human rights, philosophers, historians etc.  This sixth group is included in every debate, alongside the segment that are experts for that particular debate.  MP's have no authority over members of these independent groups.

There could be space, say 20 virtual seats, that are open to public vote over two-yearly terms, subject to acceptance from the person.  Again, I don't care who is voted for.. they will have duties to attend and the possibility of recall if not participating.  A level of commitment is required and, bottom line, they are going to be as human as you or I.  As the only common denominator we all share, that has to be a valid viewpoint.  It would also allow campaigners to argue the case for any academic that may have fallen foul of their peer-group for whatever reasons (and there are good as well as bad...).   The worst case scenario, some kook gets in denying something, would see that person up against the hundred most eminent thinkers in that field and his lack of any sort of support would automatically stop progress of his or her agenda.  He would have to argue his case and if they are a kook, they'll lose.  It will be a totally public airing of their inadequacies as shown by the multimedia smack down they took.  If you feel that's time-wasting, be assured it wouldn't impinge on the debate itself, but in the experts only section.

These two groups (universals and each set of experts) would total a few hundred, maybe a few thousand people strong.  Exclusive software areas enable them to debate the following weeks debate in advance, do research, think of questions etc, which get voted upon by the group as a whole with the top 6-8 automatically guaranteed to be asked.  They then watch the debate live with the software shunting urgent or highly voted real-time questions into the parliamentary software for MP's to judge and vote upon also.  If a question or piece of evidence gains, say, 60% of the vote in the experts section, it would automatically bypass the MP's section and be put forward regardless. 

It would also be conceivable to have a national, open version with the top question voted prior to the debate, and the most voted upon question during the debate, being addressed at the end.  I don't care if it the most trivial or comical or irrelevant question you could imagine.  It could become a national sport to have asked of the prime minister a 'would you rather, or...' question and be good practice at campaigning for anyone willing to put the effort in just for a laugh.  We need to connect to our leaders in a deeper, more human sense as well as connecting to cut out the bullshit.

Everything should be viewable to the public.  Not only would we have hundreds of committed experts both contributing and holding our leaders to account, but the legitimacy would be so much greater.  We would be able to see for ourselves and contribute, the public funneling useful ideas and important evidence to experts, who are able to then pass it on up.

At the moment, we are but numbers in a faceless bureaucracy.. we need to use this technology we have now to create a structure connecting us all, one that we can see working and see when and why it doesn't.  MP's profiles would have to include all previous voting patterns with explanations attached, details of all contributions and interests.

Same too with the experts.  We need complete transparency, including all data.  There are computer wizards out there who are voluntarily inclined to sift through data, mashing it up and creating illuminating displays.  Let's use them!  They would be a great tool for the experts to present their questions and arguments in as concise a way as possible to facilitate practical real-time debate.. Twitter is a good training tool.  It could become an art-form in itself, stream-lined understanding.

To some, this may sound a backward step.  "Complicated things take time to discuss, you cannot present arguments in 140 characters!".  However, when as is the case in politics today, all that we the public hear is 90% corporatese bullshit spun from a yarn of obscurities anyway it might simply help trim the PR from the evidence.  It would be judged upon its merits, and with multimedia technology as it is, the possibilities for mashing evidence together in beautifully clear ways, labeled and linked from to indicate the providence of the evidence, together with a short paragraph outlining the implications, those merits could be substantial and contribute significantly to debate.

This kind of mass conversation in governance hasn't been possible before now.  But we would face such a fight to instigate it.  MP's have far more to lose than to gain in implementing this kind of reform.  The idea of opening themselves up to that level of expertise with the ability to upload implicating or contradictory evidence before everyone's blink of an eye would terrify them!  Yet this is surely the direction that democracy must take at some point in the non-too-distant future; it would be folly to fight it.


Anonymous said...

You're a mong.

Ben King said...

ha! Brilliant! My favourite comment thus far.

And to think you don't give your name, denying us the chance to put a face to that rapier wit.