A Platform Against Apathy


So ideally we’ve started a dialog. How do we keep it going? 

After the unconference has wrapped there are a number of tools available to keep the individual project teams connected – wikis, Google Wave and even old fashioned e-mail but there’s another conversation that we haven’t touched on. 

We all hear little bits of information regarding the politics of our city – radio, TV, internet and newspaper. Some of you may even follow our more enlightened local politicians as they blog, tweet and Facebook. Problem is that most of these media outlets have no real persistence – the dialog happens in passing and no record is kept and thus there is little long term accountability. 

So let’s envision a web based platform to make local politics open, engaging and persistent. 

Of the three key ingredients in our local democracy the most important part of the system is you, the citizen, so this system will be based around you first and foremost. The entire system will endeavour to make the other two ingredients (the politicians and the issues) more transparent to you. 

How do we encourage an open, civil conversation? 

Think of it like a meeting hall – everyone is free to discuss any of the issues but they will do so without anonymity. The theory being that a democracy functions better in the light than inĀ  the dark. Systems like this can quickly devolve into shouting matches – the hope is that by making each individual accountable for their words this will be somewhat mitigated. 

Every comment entered in the system will have a voting mechanism – if your input into the system is valuable you will gain “karma”, if your input is not constructive or disrespectful you will lose “karma” – lose enough “karma” and your comments will be muted by default. There will be a mechanism for everyone to un-mute a conversation with a single mouse click. There will also be several layers of abuse detection. The goal is to provide a useful platform and mitigate against those with no constructive input. No comments will be removed from display in this system (unless there is a legal order to do so). 

What kind of information could we present with this platform? 

Let’s start with a blog/wiki system so that you can contribute articles and opinions for other citizens. Full comments would be enabled and a voting system so that others can provide feedback on the quality of the article. 

This website would have a list of big picture issues (transportation, environment, taxes) and questions relating to each (bike lanes, garbage collection, expenditure priorities), while the big picture categories would be pre-defined – anyone could add a question underneath. In addition anyone can rank the priority of these questions for themselves. Each question would be open for comment as well to better define the overall issue. 

In addition each politician or candidate would have a dedicated page in the system – this will combine: a bio, contact information, voting record, appearance schedule, tweets, facebook info and a list of news articles that would pertain to their stand on the issues that concern you. Again, you will have the option of voting on information to determine its potential value to other users of the system. Politicians will be given the opportunity to engage in the discussion here as well. 

The site would also contain a calendar of upcoming public participation sessions and agendas (where available) for these sessions. Live tweets, pictures and blog summaries would also be amalgamated on this page. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all of the functionality that will be in the system – additional ideas are welcome. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this project – please leave comments below. 

A few notes: 

** The entire system would be built on open source technologies and would be available for anyone to download the source code for use in other municipalities, provinces, states and countries. A license would be selected that would keep the source available in other communities so things stay transparent. 

** Not every feature would be available in version 1 of the platform and some components like the “karma” system would be under ongoing development to ensure that it is as fair as possible. 

** While a few developers have already expressed interest in participating in the development of this platform others are encouraged to participate. Existing open source platforms (likely Drupal for the base functionality) and modules will be leveraged wherever possible. This will reduce the build time on the project and enable the code that’s generated to be used in other open source projects. 

** Should someone want to contribute information anonymously they would be encouraged to use WikiLeaks or a similar service and provide links to one of the site administrators. 

** This is an independent project and is in no way affilliated with rTraction Canada Inc.