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View Derek Lackaff

“Open Innovation as Digital Democracy: Emerging Approaches to Collaborative Governance”
Derek Lackaff, Elon University

Main Topic:
Civic engagement and democratic engagement

Slides from this presentation are available here.

Example: Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent US federal agency, charged to regulate the many domains of communication. In 2007, organized a series of town hall meetings in major US cities to address changes to media ownership regulations, for example, allowing greater media consolidation by media owners.

Video Clip: showing a series of town hall meetings in Seattle, WA, showing citizens reactions to FCC consolidation in town hall style testimonies. The clip was shown to point out how public input can be completely ignored by the government.

Slide: Quote from Coleman & Blumler showing the gap between politicians and people

Key Issues:

- Need to pursue emerging opportunities
- Multiple modes of online civic engagement
- Experiments and case studies
- Challenges are socio-political and socio-technical

Primary Questions: How do we build an online civic engagement platform so that it works well, the way people work? Best not to build a system where you would have to adapt the people to your pre-conceived ideas.


- Critique of online deliberative democracy
- Overview of open online political innovation
- Challenges and opportunities
- Preliminary recommendations

Deliberative Democracy: Is it the gold standard?

Democratic Deliberation:

- Doug Schuler’s definition of Democratic deliberation: “process of directed communication whereby people discuss concerns in a reasonable, conscientious, and open manner, with intent of arriving at a decision” (Schuler, 2010)

- Structured and (more or less) formal

Discussion Question:  What are the ideal outcomes? What good can come out of democratic deliberation? What do we look for when we communicate in a democracy, with deliberation in particular? What are the tools that are in our toolbox for building a democratic society?

Audience response: Is this an issue of deliberation or ownership? Some people just want to win. Some people want to be noisy.

A critique of deliberative democracy comes from Beth Novak, a former member of the Obama Administration in charge of the Open Government project. Novak believes that deliberative democracy is timid, that it does not go far enough.

Audience response:
- as the examples of the rebuilding of the Ground Zero in NYC, and of NOLA after Katrina indicate, this “toothlessness” is a product of poor process, not of deliberative democracy.

- Who is the other party we tend to engage? Who represents us? In dictatorships everyone knows that we are not represented. In democratic societies representatives tend to represent themselves nor us.

- Election process is our ultimate tool in a democratic environment

Mediated deliberation

- Most citizens are political “lurkers” who monitor government but are not actively involved
- Mediated deliberative democracy potentially crosses boundaries of time, distance, and social scale - diversity of viewpoints is key
- Online deliberation platforms increase engagement. i.e. turn lurkers into participants?

Online deliberation Challenges
- Time consuming
- Formal/confusing
- “payoffs” less than effort expended
- Limited support from governments
- Deliberation systems demand diversity, but often unable to engage across digital divides

Novak’s Propsal: Open and Collaborative Democracy
- Collaboration is crucial, but not yet well-understood
- Medium/platform matters
- Egalitarian

- Participation is more than voting or attending town hall meetings
- New tools enable collaboration, in the sense of open source
- Deliberation and collaboration are different forms of participatory practice
- Collaboration is ad hoc, emergent, and user-driven

Medium Matters
- Online social interaction has technical and design components
- Platforms need to reflect groups work back to itself
- Identify appropriate practice and embed in the code (ratings, reputations, etc.)
- Open experimentation and sharing

- Mass participation: voting
- Need to provide multiple types of participation opportunities
- Recognize different types of interest and expertise
- Egalitarian mass participation: Wikipedia

Web User Practice
- With a few exceptions, social web participation is open, user-directed, and granular
(click, consume, produce)
- FOrmal deliberative rhetoric vs. multimodal, citizen directed participation
- What are the ways in which online civic participation can meet citizens where they are?
- How do we make online civic participation banal?

Open Innovation
Crowds aren’t wise, but networked individuals are effective.

- Emerging approach to online civic engagement
- Focus is on idea generation, rather than consensus building
- Worth examination as an engagement and participation approach in itself
- In practice, many benefits of deliberation )more informed opinions, etc.) can be realized through open innovation processes

Definitional issues
- Wisdom of crowds (James Surowiecki)
- Crowdsourcing (Jeff Howe)
- Open Innovation (Henry Chesbrough)
- Petition sites

Open Innovation Platforms
- Example: Dell’s IdeaStorm web project

Local vs. national level

Open Government Directive Dialogue
- Summer 2009, public invited to engage with Obama’s transparency memo ( )


- 4000 users, 1100 ideas
- Trolled by WorldNetDaily
- Top ideas about America’s drug prohibitions (rather than open government)
- Savvy early participants left site after first week
- Brought new participants into policy discussions


America Speaking Out
video clip (May 2010)

(Slide: showing various reactions from the participants)
- “ONLY gays in the military. THink about it.”
- I should have the right to name my children using numbers. If I want to name my child I33t, I should be able to name him that, darsh gone it. WHo is the guberment to say that I can’t name my children using numbers?”

- “Last week, the top five entries in the “liberty and Freedom” category were: ban handguns, “drop the idea that we’re a ‘CHristian’ country,” declare abortion “none of the government’s business,” allow gays to serve openly in the military and legalize marijuana.
- Republican leaders mentioned non of these when they began highlighting proposals from the project. Instead, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called for numerous spending cuts, including canceling unspent stimulus dollars and freezing government pay raises.”
- “It’s not a ‘top vote gets in’ deal.”

Open Innovation as Digital Governance: Manor, TX
Manor Labs
- Partnership with Spigit, PeaceDot
- October 2009
- 42 ideas and 2 implementations 1st month
- 3700 participants, 91 ideas, 780 posts
- 10 ideas to final stage, 6 implemented (auto-billing, more online city resources, etc.)
- More complex ideas aborted or unfinished

Open Innovation as Collaborative Democracy: Skugga-sites
Chart: Icelanders’ trust in various institutions

Best Party Campaign (January 2010)
Video clip: song about clean city, “topnotch staff, stopp usual bluffs, promise drug-free parliament by 2013”, etc.
Audience comment from an Icelander: “The guy became our mayor”

- Invited policy proposals via an open innovation website
- Each party given a “branded” section of the site
- ~1200 users registered, mostly to participate in the Best Party section

Better Reykjavik
- After winning the election, Best Party asked for new section of site to inform coalition negotiations
- 5000 participants, 800 priorities debated
- Best Party took top priorities and added them to their platform,...
- Reykjavik now has commissioned new site (tentatively “New and Better Reykjavik”)


Citizen Self Interest
- Open political innovation platforms work best when participation is self-interested
- Collaboration based on multiple strengths
- Example: SeeClickFix

Appropriate Scale
- Consider the size and type of population you want to reach
- Is 4000 participants on a national site representative or democratic?
- What scales of participation are reasonable and necessary to achieve goals?
- Design to engage broader publics

Consider Policy Interfaces
- Top-down approach vs. bottom up
- Legitimacy via attention

Workshop Discussion - Hands-on experimentation, place input during the ISDT conference.

Open Active Democracy
- Open-source software platform currently developed by Citizen Foundation
- Building “New and Better Reykjavik” site with city support
- What are the priorities of ISDT 2011? Short term? Long term?
- What questions digital transformation need further attention?
- How can the social and technical challenges of open innovation processes be addressed?
- How can interfaces between grassroots open innovation activism and official policy-making be developed?