Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Prefab politics, Poblish.org and PolicyWiki retreads galore ...

If I had anyone to wave with, I'd wave this idea. Prefab politics. This was an email I sent to a certain Beth Noveck in 2006. It was a bright idea which like all bright ideas before it had already been thought up by someone else. That someone else was Noveck and her colleagues.  Their website was called PolicyWiki.com - or something like that - because, as is my wont, when I have a bright idea, my first instinct is to register a website; I went to do so and to my chagrin found it was taken! The site is, however, no longer operational, as far as I can see, but the germ of an idea remains.

I don't generally publish private emails, but I think the content of this one is worth republishing here.  It's my half of the conversation, not hers, so I don't think I'm breaking any rules:

Hi Beth:

I had a bright idea yesterday, as I was getting totally frustrated with how the British political party I'm a member of simply doesn't allow for participation in policy-making (an opinion poll published at the weekend indicated 74% of its members believe they cannot influence policy in the party).  So I thought it'd be a great idea to set up a PolicyWiki site.  But of course someone (yourselves!) has already thought of it.

The idea came to me borne of frustration, but also because the British government has recently considered importing Megan's Law (the right parents have in the US to know where paedophiles are living) to Britain.  It seemed to me that if a grand and searchable repository of all the policies that had ever been made could be set up (policies rather than laws - laws are too administration-specific, they're the technological implementation of the science and what interests me here more is the science rather than the technology), then we could all benefit from Wiki-style approaches to policy-making, which would help us focus on creating best policy collaboratively for the benefit of all, rather than using certain policies as litmus tests of political trueness.

Anyhow, I see you have a project up and running and I'd be interested in joining any mailing list you might have.

Many thanks in advance.


Miljenko Williams
As you may gather, it didn't work out at the time - but that's no reason to say it couldn't be made to work now.  With the technologies that Andrew Regan is developing over at Poblish.org, prefab politics using a PolicyWiki approach could be made to work on behalf of us all.

If it was good enough to solve a housing crisis, why not use the same prefabrication approach to solve a political crisis?

If we can simplify IT to the point that everyone who is half knowledgeable in these matters can create a decently devolved PowerPoint or word-processed document, why not use similar templating and wizarding technologies to help develop and - what's more important - efficiently reproduce political ideas from across the globe?

My frustration is unbound.  The idea is so good, I would consider it self-evident. A biosphere for politics.  With certain caveats of course.  I'm not looking to preserve all the political DNA we have at our disposal.  The events and discourses here in Britain during the past ten days should provide sufficient evidence of why that would be unwise.

But a massive PolicyWiki, using plugged-in social media tools to ensure voter-relevance, and aimed at enabling Gov 2.0 to be a little more than simply a question of designing platforms to ensure delivery, would, I think, be something truly special.  Andrew: are you listening?  Beth: are you still interested?

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