More Perfect is an interesting new site for collaboration on policy prototypes. Built on MediaWiki, the site allows anyone to add or change issues or policies. For example, you can rewrite the United States Constitution, and you can question/discuss changes or additions. This is potentially a great tool for evolving policy with a high degree of openness, transparency, and citizen participation.
WorldChanging asked More Perfect's co-founder and CEO Tim Killian how the site came together. His response:
I've been working in politics since 1996 here in Washington State. My first job was to manage a statewide initiative to approve the medical use of marijuana.
We lost badly, and were convinced that the culprit was the language we used in the initiative. So, the morning after that loss, we sat down and began crafting new language for a new initiative. And then, we did something that I've since discovered is very uncommon; we distributed our draft language to those who had both supported us and opposed us in the previous effort.
To our pleasant surprise, several of those opposed to the initiative actually took the time to vet our language, and gave us valuable feedback. We didn't take all of their suggestions, but they helped us to write a better initiative, and we passed it the next year by a 60-40 margin.
I've since worked on several campaigns and consulted on various initiatives. I'm always struck at how little the language of initiatives or public policy or legislation gets vetted prior to being filed. These things are typically written in the back rooms and seen only by a few supporters. Rarely are they created with any public scrutiny.
Those experiences were on my mind when I started participating on Wikipedia nearly 3 years ago, and I began to wonder if this same concept might be applicable to public policy. My co-founder, Chad Maglaque, is also a political activist, and we spent time talking about how we might improve the process overall. I mentioned the idea of wiki-based public policy development, and the idea was born. That was about a year ago, and he and I have spent that year working on the more perfect concept.
In short, we want to become the place were people gather to discuss, improve and create better laws and public policy. More people. More ideas. More perfect.
More Perfect has just announced its first direct partnership, with the People's Waterfront Coalition (PWC) in Seattle to facilitate citizen involvement in a "transit and streets" proposal for replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. There are sections for defining the problem, setting goals, and determining a plan for action. Much of the content already on the site focuses on Seattle and Washington State, but there's sections for all states to have voters' guides and townhalls. The site also integrates a WordPress blog and phpBB forums.
It will be interesting to see how well More Perfect can attract collaborators from other states and how well the project can scale. The real challenge will be how well the social system supported by the site handles ever larger numbers of participants, and how well the kind of contention that sometimes breaks out at Wikipedia can be resolved in this context. Expect a followup report from WorldChanging as activity at More Perfect escalates.
Hurray! This is something I've been thinking about for a long time too, but never quite had the web savvy to do.
So, that "transit and streets" proposal, while I would personally support it, was shot down a LONG time ago because it would lose Seattle the funding necessary from the state of Washington for the replacement of the seawall protecting Seattle. We can't reduce capacity on highway 99 and keep the $2 billion dollars we're getting. Don't believe me? Ask the WA State Attorney General's office - they already came to this conclusion.
This is fantastic! I just sent a link to a couple of my PolySci teachers : )
Thanks for the post, Jon.
Ben, there's a "flip side" page on the Transit & Streets proposal. Perhaps you should post your ideas there?
Here's the link: Transit & Streets Flip Side
I hope some of you will join the site and become participants. Let me know if you have any questions.
I think this is a great initiative, with one small caveat...
Online collaboration and discussion is a field that is still in its infancy, not just technically, but perceptually. In trying to set up wiki sites of my own, I have found that many people have real difficulties with the concept (in one case, when I demonstrated how she could edit a wiki page, the lady concerned was freaked that she was going to change other people's articles!)
How to encourage such people to participate is probably a topic worthy of a wiki site in itself!
Timothy, I'm not sure what I'd add. I don't think there's anything that any number of people in Seattle could do to change what's going to happen, tunnel or replacement (or no funding for either under RTID, dragging Sound Transit down with them).
I foresee (and hope) that this sort of collaboration will be used more and more in developing policy.
I am a subscriber to 'SD-scene', the UK Government-sponsored e-newsletter that is intended to highlight progress being made in sustainable development.
The most recent issue (July/August 2006) describes a similar process for formulating an 'environmental contract' under the auspices of the UK Environment Secretary, David Miliband, and DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). This environmental contract (they say) will make economic development as economically sustainable as it is socially sustainable. It has this to say:
"It's crucial that ideas lead to action. Despite awareness being at an all time high, we can often feel there's not much point making changes to our lives if others won't. This applies to individuals, businesses and nations! An environmental contract could go some way to setting out our own rights and responsibilities and what we can expect from others. To help develop such a contract, David Miliband is launching an experiment in collaborative working; a Wiki that allows direct input into the drafting of the contract."
Though only an experiment in its infant stages, the fact that the government wants stakeholders' help in developing the idea of an 'Environmental Contract' is most definitely a step in the right direction as it should allow people direct input into the process of drafting the contract. Let's hope that many choose to take up the challenge!
People can contribute their ideas at the Defra Wiki: http://wiki.defra.gov.uk/WikiHome