86. DIY Democracy--Key to a Sustainable Planet
The US Congress is failing to meet the challenges of 21st century democracy, including planetary sustainability. In order to make policy on complex, "big picture" issues, two oversight functions of the legislative process must be re-engineered: expertise and deliberation. Our president has declared that we must do something about "the destructive power of a warming planet." Realizing this priority on Capitol Hill, however, will require a new participatory approach that takes advantage of big data, citizen science, network technology and recently mandated transparency requirements across government. Today, knowledge management tasks critical for oversight in Congress can be distributed outside of Capitol Hill. This system wide realignment will modernize our democracy and create a powerful constituency for evidence based decision making.
DIY Democracy will take two fundamental oversight functions of Congress --use of expert knowledge and deliberation--and de-centralize them by leveraging the location, relationships and reputation value of science networks. Partnering with Members of the House and Senate, it will re-invent the evidence-based hearing on Capitol Hill and also the field hearing, a local, official oversight mechanism. Along with decentralizing the policy input and the deliberative function on and off Capitol Hill, DIY Democracy will mobilize social media and citizen journalists to report on the events and build public accountability systems into this new form of democratic representation. Why is DIY Democracy necessary? Over the past ten years, global public interest advocacy on planetary sustainability has often been drown out by vested interests beholden to an obsolete status quo. For example, climate science is often marginalized by the fossil fuel industry. Scientists have been stalwart defenders of empirical data and global sustainability, yet they have lacked a compelling constituency. This is changing. Today, disruptive weather and the need to plan for community resilience have become mainstream concepts. Also today, citizen scientists provide large amounts of data about disruptive weather events--yet this information fails to be included in the oversight process of Congress. This solution transcends the old ways of democratic practice, which is top down, sclerotic and narrowly beholden to influencers who often have financial stakes in the outcome. This unrepresentative practice is compounded by congressional committees--which are structured to reflect the 1940’s, not modern complex challenges. In decades past, Congress maintained the world’s premier science advisory body along with hundreds of expert staff. Today, however, the institution is working at 60-80% of 1979 levels of staff and receiving 800% more contact from the outside world. Because Congress is incapacitated and overwhelmed, Members lack in-house expertise and committee hearings don’t usually adopt strategic or integrated perspectives. Congress' functional obsolescence is one of the main reasons it cannot productively handle planetary sustainability issues. Expertise leveraged by technology can perform many needed services for Congress on behalf of planetary sustainability: fact checking in hearings, witness research, question assistance, timely narrative. These functions can happen through already existing technology (webcast hearings, mobile phones, the Internet, g-chat, hyperlocal journalism and new technologies like Crowdhall.com) Social media can provide example platforms: Reddit's vetting, Ebay's reputation system, rottentomatoes.com for expert/popular hybrid input. Citizen science expertise can be benchmarked and standardized for oversight purposes in partnership with federal agencies, academic centers or research organizations. By opening up the institutional process of Congress, DIY Democracy will allow for more public interest voices to be included in legislative policymaking. it will create an active an invested constituency for planetary sustainability--one that moves beyond advocacy and PAC money. It will also demonstrate how big data can be leveraged on behalf of the greater good--especially research conducted by thousands of Americans on their own home turf. Most of all, DIY Democracy will re-invest Americans in American civic-life and in their governing institutions. And, because the USA is so powerful, modernizing our own democratic institutions will ultimately be fundamental to securing planetary sustainability.
Why it should be recognized:
This solution should be recognized because it will re-engineer the most obsolete and incapacitated part of our democracy, the US Congress. It will benefit evidence-based decision making and the American people by making the legislative branch more representative. It will also share the benefits of modern innovation by infusing civic activities with technology on behalf of the greater good. Importantly, it won't require re-inventing the wheel, just getting it rolling. Modern technology makes political headlines daily. Yet moving from campaigning or "winning" to governing is a different challenge. Political tech and civic tech are similar, but require different forms of engagement. Governing is longer-term, and it requires less sentiment and more substance. The challenge is not one of crowdsourcing, but curation. The legislative branch must evolve so that the custodians of high quality knowledge connect with our governing institutions usefully. For Congress to act on scientific findings, expertise requires a constituency that matters i.e. it must be located in states and districts across the USA. Today's technology with new open government rules allows for this evolution. This project blends two perspectives: institution and innovator. It meets critical participants where they are, with familiar technology and processes. Finally, it is part of a global and growing movement that sees a new kind of self-determination as critical to planetary sustainability.
Submitted: Jan 31, 2013
Author: Lorelei Kelly
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URL: http://newamerica.net/publications/policy/congress_wicked_problem