Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Comments on emergant democracy

Posted by shannonclark on February 14, 2004

(these were my comments to Britt Blaser’s recent post on Emergant Democracy) repeated here for my own records and to further clarify/answer some questions that were raised.)

first, my orginal comments:

A few quick thoughts – just thinking aloud here.

There is, I believe, a difference between the “tools” and the “design” which might be important and critical.

Tools for tools sake are one thing.

Well designed implementations transform “just” a tool into something effective and perhaps revolutionary (using your own “Amazon One-Click” analogy, pre-Amazon most online stores were very cumbersomel, indeed many still are, what “One-Click” did was emphasize ease of use as well more subtly an assumption that customers would purchase many times in the future)

Indeed, a critical difference between Amazon and in fact almost all other online companies is built into their view of historical information. Most online sites – from hotmail to online stores, routinely “purge” data from customers who have not returned for a long time (in hotmail’s case as short as one month). in contrast, seemingly never deletes any data from a customer. This is in large part due to their recommendation engine (a tool) which using purchasing data to make suggestions – but it is also a valuable part of why I keep going back – the memory of my past has value.

This combination of an effect which powers the site’s goals, with an effect/benefit for the individuals is also, I would argue, the result of really good design PLUS good tools.

In the Electronic Democracy “space” there are a number of seperate issues to address. First, the identification of a candidate, his or her positions, and the technical aspects of an election (ballots, staffing, petitions, fundraising).

Second, once identified and registered, the candidate’s positions usually need to be refined and publicized, volunteers and funds raised, and opponents reacted to.

Third, the candidate’s support needs to be shown at the polls (first a primary, repeated many times for a national campaign; secondly an election)

Fourth, the candidate – assuming a win, transforms from a campaign strategy to a governing strategy – which may mean transforming from volunteers to some paid staff (locally and at the government center), perhaps political appointments (depending on the position ran for), and critically transforming from election promises into actions.

Fifth, the cycle typically repeats, though if successful, incombants have many advantages in reelection campaigns.

Looking from this perspective, is it possible that one challenge facing Emergant Democracy is that tools and the design of their use has, so far at least, not focused on all the critical aspects outlined above (and the many which, I am sure, I missed)? Perhaps the focus on fundraising and volunteer mobilization, while critical, is not sufficient.

For one, I believe, that in most things if you set up the assumption of success, it tends to help achieve that success. In an election perhaps this is “electability” – i.e. signalling that the candidate and the organization around the candidate is capable of not just the campaign, but also winning, helps win.

Anyway, hopefully this makes some sense, looking forward to your ongoing thoughts.


Shannon Clark • 2/14/04; 6:51:34 AM

Then, a comment about my comments:

Shannon, I think you’ve confused the republican form of governance with democracy. Democracy isn’t about picking a candidate, therefore tools for democracy won’t necessarily have that focus.
Jon Lebkowsky • 2/14/04; 8:13:57 AM

My reaction to Jon’s comments:

I’m not confusing two systems. If you look at our elections, there is generally speaking only a small set of people who run, and there is some degree of picking and choosing amongst these people when they do run (i.e. picking elections they think they can win). There are also a lot of technical criteria that a candidate has to meet (living in a district they are going to represent in many races, not having a felony criminal record, being a certain age, being a US Citizen and not a naturalized one in the case of presidential elections etc.)

Further, I would argue that “emergant democracy” is not just about the “movement” after a candidate has been declared, but is equally about finding the candidates and convincing them to run (think the “draft Clark” movement for a small example of this). I would predict that some future candidates will also be “drafted” by an emergant group, perhaps from the leadership of the group itself.

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