[T]he notion of widespread, push-button democracy in whatever form does little to address how to instituionalize complex decisions in particular cases. It is no wonder that the vision of participation by direct democratic voting has not taken off. (page 36)
Deliberative democracy has been the dominent view of participation in contemporary political theory. At its center is the Habermasian notion that the reasoned exchange of discourse by diverse individuals representative of the public at large produces a more robust political culture and a healthier democracy. (page 36)
Her critique? That it’s essentially “toothless.”
[D]eliberative democracy’s proponents assume that people are generally powerless and incapable of doing more than talking with neighbors to develop opinions or criticizing government to keep it honest…. [I]n practice, civic talk is largely disconnected from power. It does not take account of the fact that in a web 2.0 world ordinary people can collaborate with one another to do extraordinary things.
The anthropology of deliberative participation leads to practices designed to present the finished work of institutional professionals, spark public opinion in response, and keep peace among neighbors engaged in civic discourse. The goal is not to improve decisionmaking for “there is no one best outcome; instead, there is a respectful communicative process.” ….Deliberative democracy relegates the role of citizens to discussion only indirectly related to decisionmaking and action. The reality of deliberation is that it is toothless.” (page 37)
- Deliberative democracy suffers from a lack of imagination in that it fails to acknowledge the importance of connecting diverse skills, as well as diverse viewpoints, to public policy. Whereas diverse viewpoints might make for a more lively conversation, diverse skills are essential to collaboration.
- Deliberation requires an agenda for orderly discussion. Collaboration requires breaking down a problem into component parts that can be parceled out and assigned to members.
- Deliberation either debates problems on an abstract level before the implementation of the solution or discusses the solution after it has already been decided upon. Collaboration occurs throughout the decisionmaking process. It creates a multiplicty of opportunities and outlets for engagment to strengthen a culture of participation and the quality of decisionmaking in government itself.
- Deliberation is focused on opinion formation and the general will (or sometimes on achieving consensus). Collaboration is a means to an end. Hence the emphasis is not on participation for its own sake but on inviting experts, loosely defined as those with expertise about a problem, to engage in information gathering, information evaluation and measurement, and the development of specific solutions for implementation. (page 39)
Possibilities of Collaborative Democracy
[O]bscure (yet important decisions are made every day in government that could be made better if technology were used to open participation and oversight to a few dozen experts and enthusiasts: those that blogger Andy Oram calls the microelite: the 5 or 10 or 100 people who understand a discrete question and who are passionate about getting involved in a particular way. Collaborative democracy is about making it easier for such people to find the areas where they want to work and contribute. (page 41)
Giving ordinary people – as distinct from corporations and interest groups – the right and ability to participate enables them to form new groups better suited to address new problems. Alone, there is not much any one person can do to bring about change or to participate meaningfully and usefully in a policymaking process. But working together a group can take meaningful action. (page 42)
Online groups can also change their collective goals in response to pressing problems more quickly than traditional organizations that lock in their own institutional and individual priorities. (page 42)
This quote reminded me of Tim O’Reilly’s brilliant concept, Government as Platform:
A collaborative culture does not place the burden on government or the public alone to address complex social problems. Instead, by organizing collaboration, government keeps itself at the center of decisionmaking as the neutral arbiter in the public interest and also benefits from the contributions of those outside of government. (page 42)
The reward of collaborative democracy? Better governance, more effective problem solving, and innovation:
[C]ollaboration offers a huge potential payoff in the form of more effective government. Effective government, in turn translates into better decisionmaking and more active problem solving, which could spur growth in society and the economy. (page 43)