the fly-by user, faction, caucus [was]Fwd: how could simpol.org be more "open"?
- The following is a short article intended for presentation to
simpol.org to address the relationship of their proposed process of
global "simultaneous policy" formation, and tools of open politics.
It's a draft. Comments invited to firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Anderson of the UK Liberal Democratic Party asserts that "the
'fly-by user' is surely the oil that greases the wheels of
participatory democracy, not the entrenched quasi-councillors that
establish themselves in unnecessarily bureaucratic organisations"
often fully against the will of the ordinary member. The casually
participating expert advisor, inside whistleblower, or person who is
affected by a decision, usually has no status whatsoever in democratic
decision making, unless and until they pay membership fees, register
and "log in", each of which presents an unnecessary barrier to entry
and participation. Organizations which do not create such barriers
but encourage the fly-by to become more interested and involved, and
engaged, have proven that they can grow rather rapidly by comparison
to most political parties. Wikipedia's growth is clear proof of that!
The rights of anonymous and factional and credentialled (but not
named) users, are framed in the "open politics in force" rules that
were applied by Nova Scotia Greens and in some global political wikis:
Contrary to the rules promulgated for "local issues forums" by Steven
Clift and the UK e-democracy.org project, revealing "real names" is
not a requirement for participation. The reason should be obvious:
When you walk into a town hall in real life, anywhere in the world
that is actually democratic, you are not accosted for fingerprint or
picture ID. But that is exactly what is implied by the requirement to
"use real names" or "log in". The "fly-by user" is a person who might
know a great deal about the issue or debate, but by failing to accept
their input, one rejects:
- the input of people AFFECTED BY the decision, who are not registered
- the input of people REJECTED BY the group attempting to form policy,
who might have been rejected for a variety of (social, clique) reasons
- the input of people WHO REFUSE TO BE RECORDED in any committed way
but would freely offer an opinion or observation if they were anonymous
- the input of people ACTIVELY OPPOSED TO the group debating the
question, who will be encountered (at latest) in the public arena
Hubley claims "participatory democracy cannot exist without these four
groups able to provide input. In the case of the last, which includes
opposing parties, etc., it is plainly foolish to exclude their views,
as the sooner you find out about them, the easier it is to form a well
reasoned response." There are numerous bad examples that show just
how destructive it is to consensus to attempt to exclude opposition:
The Green Party of Canada Living Platform http://lp.greenparty.ca
failed absolutely in February-September 2005 to retain the input of
people actively opposed to its ruling clique, and even those people
affected by its decisions. It shut down anonymous input, which had
been its main source of intelligence during the 2004 federal election.
It shut out informed and eloquent outsiders. It failed to give these
deliberations a status equivalent to that in an open general meeting.
The entire affair was written up by an extremely interested Wikipedia.
"What it did, in effect, was demand identification and bound and gag
the people who refused to offer it, ejecting them from the forum. I
think this would not be tolerated in any real democratic institution.
It might however be a fair analog to what happens in China or
Zimbabwe." And in the UK, if the "local issues forums rules" the
government is promoting, are followed. Perhaps they should not be.
Interestingly, at Clift's own dowire.org/wiki there is a set of "wiki
best practices" that do not in the least resemble the "local issues
but instead seem to reflect the more "troll-friendly" Wikipedia rules
and its successful experience of creating critical mass by working on
a "forgiveness not permission" basis, encouraging editors to "be bold"
and so on.
However, Hubley advises that "unanimity minus two" consensus be used
as a guide for when to stabilize pages or change published versions -
that a staging or editorial or research wiki be used first to find all
the sensitive issues and relevant positions and arguments, and slowly
accrete these to stable statements and positions that can be voted on.
This is much like the methodology that was originally proposed by the
Green Party of Canada's Michael Pilling, although, Hubley emphasized
the absolute necessity of using the wiki "only to frame the issues" so
that live meetings could turn them into a "mark up and mail back" form
of ballot. Thus the most sensitive aspects of the decision would not
be "decided" by "online deliberation", but only have a meeting agenda
and terminology and options laid out for the live meeting to work out.
Then, the mail-in ballot would ensure the actual membership was fully
respected, and that there were no biases from the online participation
or reliance on live meetings (which of course not every member gets to
). Failing to following these rules may have cost Pilling his job, as
some of the resistance to the GPC-LP method was to Pilling's process
that did not allow for live meetings, mail-in ballots, or secretaries
to bridge the gap between users comfortable with wikis, and those not.
Another failure was the inability to support "Factions" that could
speak with one voice and protect their individual members from any
reprisals. Hubley emphasizes the historical importance of these, and
not just to protect vulnerable members, but to permit even well known
and intimidating voices to be opposed based on their arguments alone:
"When "Publius" wrote the Federalist Papers in defence of the US
Constitution, no one had to know that this faction consisted of John
Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Why would anyone care?
Would these famous names have not simply precluded good debate, as
people were intimidated from arguing with these persons of power and
influence? Their choice to work as a faction of anonymous trolls with
a common name, is a choice that many activists still make today."
Organizations that have a "caucus" of elected members that sit in
actual parliaments or have actual proxy status relative to others,
could well have several classes of participant. But Hubley warns
"giving these people more voice just because they are more trusted is
a serious error. Their job is to mediate and decide when to end any
conflict, not to set the terms of the debate themselves to suit only
themselves. They are elected only to settle the most egregious sort
of disputes, not to prevent disputes from becoming visible at all in
the first place." Hubley warns against the "issue management system"
paradigm that some commercial products apply, in which supervisors are
wholly in charge of what issues become visible even to the other
staff. "An organization that can't manage this by social processes
without technical controls, is already one of blame, mistrust, lies
and inability to find common ground or common interests in its work."