There’s a good chance that if you’re interested in the tech industry, you’ve probably seen the 2001 movie, “Startup.com”. The documentary follows two friends as they leave their high-paying investment banking jobs and risk it all to launch govWorks, a website they thought would completely revolutionize the way government works and interacts with its people. I don’t want to pour salt in an old wound (given the time period, you can imagine how the movie ended), but the two entrepreneurs’ dream – the huge idea that would completely change all previously held beliefs about government – was essentially a way to pay parking tickets online. Today, Iceland is crowdsourcing its new constitution on Facebook. BAM! How’s that for human progress in 10 years?
After the country’s 2008 financial collapse, Iceland saw a need to rethink, retool and potentially reboot the way the country was being governed. The Icelandic government saw the rewriting of the constitution as a perfect opportunity to use social media to ensure transparency and public engagement during the entire process. Also, two-thirds of its citizens are on Facebook, so it just made sense.
The 25-member council commissioned with the task to refine the country’s constitution can be found here: Stjórnlagaráð. I would suggest clicking the link unless you happen to have an Icelandic keyboard.
On that Facebook page, you will find what you might expect from a transparent government body –frequent updates from council members, press photos of the events, and even a daily live stream of their meetings. However, the kicker here is that citizens can submit their thoughts, opinions and new ideas for specific articles of the constitution to be considered by the council.
In an interview with The Guardian, Icelandic council member Thorvaldur Gylfason said, “There’s been a lot of goodwill for what we are trying to do. The public has added much to our debate. Their comments have been quite helpful, and they have had a positive effect on the outcome.”
In light of what Iceland is doing, and now that we have our first Twittering president, I’d like to know what’s stopping our great nation from conducting a similar experiment with democracy and social media?
For example, political pundits and the common man alike have complained about the Electoral College for decades. While it was originally intended to help less-populated states during presidential elections, many argue that the Electoral College is completely outdated and gives an unfair advantage to candidates who may not win the popular vote (depends on the hanging chads). It’d be very interesting to see if a provision like this would remain if ordinary citizens were allowed to help persuade a redraft of the U.S. Constitution.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that with an Internet recently overrun with hackers and funny pictures of cats, that the less-intelligent people in our country will abuse the ability to influence the process. But let’s pretend like it’s the perfect world. What would you change about our country’s current Constitution? What new ideas or processes would you suggest?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section below and I’ll tweet them to @BarackObama.