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A Meta-layer for Restoring Democracy and Open Society: Part Two, Meta-layer Requirements

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Joseph M. Firestone and Henk Hadders

Requirements for an e-participation platform in human political CASs

We won't be able to stop the movement toward oligarchy unless we can create a new institutional framework that allows us to change those aspects of our present situation supporting oligarchy and undermining open society. We need a framework that will operate within the context of existing rules and laws to create changes supporting increased self-organization and distributed knowledge processing shifting our democratic PCASs back towards an open state.

The new institutional framework must provide a meta-layer of political interaction and networking that places new ecological constraints on the current political system, driving it back towards a condition in which the ability of individuals to both arrive at more accurate constructions of reality, and act on them, through increased self-organization and distributed knowledge processing, is dominant. The meta-layer can be provided by a web-based platform eventually incorporating most of the eligible voters in a political system, and providing capabilities for political organization that can overcome the impact of big money and media on political parties, legislators, legislatures, and politics generally.

Here are the requirements for such a framework. It must provide or enable:

-- social contexts and milieus within which people can organize themselves and others around public policy agendas, comprised of policy options and policy priorities, into voting blocs and electoral coalitions ranging from very small to blocs of millions of voters without needing sizable financial resources from sources external to these social milieus, and without being subject to external mass media communications influenced by financial oligarchs and other special interests;

-- social contexts and milieus offering the possibility of informal group and social network formation around these policy agendas;

-- social contexts and milieus that are transparent and inclusive in providing participants with previously developed data, information, and knowledge, and in allowing them freedom to participate in communicating, organizing, collaborating, critically evaluating, problem solving, and decision making within voting blocs and electoral coalitions;

-- social contexts and milieus in which participants have a modicum of trust in other participants;

-- participants and voting blocs to communicate their policy agendas to candidates for public office and office holders, and also securing either commitments to these agendas, or clear refusals to support them;

-- participants and voting blocs to continuously monitor and rate performance of office holders against agendas and to decide whether to continue to support them after performance ratings are arrived at;

-- tools for voting blocs and electoral coalitions to organize efforts to get both major party and third party candidates and initiatives onto ballots, and to get people to the polls to vote. Simply, it must provide tools to enable voting blocs to do all the things political parties now do to support candidates they want to elect and ballot initiatives they want to pass.

In brief, the new institutional framework must provide an alternative network of social and political relations to the contemporary world of political parties and established interest groups. The alternative world must embody the key attributes of open society, which means it must provide an informal communications and knowledge network that is very much independent of the mass media, and also capable of enabling creating highly cohesive voting blocs and electoral coalitions of many millions of people, and even new political parties, which can offer decisive support to candidates and office holders in return for their continuing support of voting bloc agendas. The alternative world will then work as a meta-layer constraining the prior political world, and preventing it from concentrating power in oligarchies by subjecting them to continuous self-organization and a cultural background of new knowledge arising from distributed knowledge processing.

Information Technology Requirements

What are the Information Technology (IT) requirements to provide this new meta-level of political interaction and networking? Below we present our view on functions and facilities needed:

a. Application software available as web services within an architecture capable of easily incorporating new web-service enabled applications when they appear. Fulfilling this requirement makes the platform adaptive;

b. Facilities (e.g. forums, web conferencing) people can use to jointly clarify with one another and state the problems they see, and store the problem formulations in a knowledge base, linked to people who formulated them;

c. Facilities for creating policy options, selecting others from a knowledge base, rating policy options relative to one another to establish ratio-scaled priorities, entering and storing policy options, and priorities in a knowledge base, making annotations linked to the options text, explaining why policy options make sense, and describing how they've performed;

d. Facilities for gathering information both internal to the system, and across the web, to help people arrive at their policy agendas. System search facilities employing the best available semantic web technology, newly emerging in web 2.0 and 3.0 applications, to help people locate information relevant to policy option formulation. Facilities for content aggregation “mash-ups” drawing on hundreds of web sites for content related to issue areas linked to policy options. For more advanced users facilities/tools for modeling, measuring, and projecting policy impact;

e. The search and content aggregation facilities mentioned, will supply people with tools to help them critically evaluate policy options, and annotation and linking capabilities will enable them to tie their evaluations to their policy options, and to create a track record that they and others will be able to use in the future;

f. Facilities for accessing an already existing policy options knowledge base, using platform search capabilities, learn about other people’s policy agendas, creating new policy options, and adding them to the knowledge base. Facilities for accessing existing policy options by using folksonomies established by users over time, producing content by participating in forums, by blogging and micro-blogging, and by contributing to wikis they’ll create on various issues. Facilities for cognitive mapping allowing people to compare the cognitive profile of their own policy agendas with other policy agendas available in the knowledge base, helping people place their agendas in context, and preparing the way for collaboration with others in voting blocs;

g. Facilities for annotating policy options and creating the track record of criticisms and evaluations of all policy options, as well as all reasoning recorded in the knowledge base supporting them. The best practices in policy and the lessons learned will be there. The history of performance will be there, and will be organized, searchable, and navigable due to the annotation and linking capability present in the platform and people’s use of this capability over time;

h. Facilities for social networking including building and mapping networks, and analyzing them like those in such well-known applications as Facebook and LinkedIn, and for accessing social network graphs, using social software for creating communities and discussion groups, exchanging ideas, searching for and locating experts, using text and data mining, cognitive mapping, and finding and contacting voters with statistically and/or conceptually similar priorities and cognitive maps;

i. Facilities for team-based workflow so teams of people can plan and implement common tasks involving specialization, virtual team workspaces, application and desktop sharing in virtual collaborative sessions, collaborating on documents such as policy agendas, policy options, impact analyses, wikis, blog posts, and discussion forums to use in creating voting bloc coalitions;

j. Facilities for project, task, and event management, web-conferencing for online meetings to recognize and formulate problems, develop solutions, criticize them, and mobilize support for policy agendas and for voting bloc campaign activities; collaborative prioritizing of policy options as well as planning and prioritizing political initiatives to get policy options passed into law; collaborative e-learning for getting access to content fragments gathered from across the internet relevant to a problem they’re trying to solve, and a variety of virtual environments for social collaborative learning for teams;

k. In addition to the facilities mentioned earlier, a voting/polling capability for collaborating and getting agreement in voting blocs, using agreed upon policy agendas as a legislative mandate for elected representatives and electoral candidates, a rating tool for evaluating announced candidates and recruiting new ones, a tool for monitoring elected representatives’ legislative actions, and a scorecard and decision making tool for evaluating their track records and deciding whether to vote for or against them;

l. Facilities for a mass e-mail blaster; “Write-your-rep” campaigns and petitions using voting bloc agendas; web conferencing between voting bloc members and reps, if they agree to attend; voting bloc donation solicitation and management; political event management; and voting bloc chapter management.

m. Facilities for identity management for members, a hierarchical system of access rights guaranteeing the security of sensitive data, content, or applications, assigning access rights to any object, a central user and rights directory allowing access rights of individual users or groups to be assigned with a mouse-click. Facilities for creating unbreakable security for privacy protection including, if necessary, quantum encryption.

Next we look at the case of the platform and its Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) tools being developed by a team led by political scientist Nancy Bordier. The platform, IVCS tools, and voters using it will together form an open PCAS, solving the wicked problem of overcoming Michels's Iron Law which, today, is threatening to transform the US and other modern democracies into oligarchies.

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