Politicians have long been scratching their heads on how to restore the increasingly fractured relationship with constituents. So as more Americans migrate online, lawmakers are experimenting with crowdsourcing as a means to better understand voter needs and to create policy that answers their concerns.
In states such as New York and California, code repositories such as GitHub and writing workspaces like Wikispaces are fast becoming mediums for politicians to field feedback or help drafting legislation, Government Technology reports.
In fact, California Democrat Assemblyman Mike Gatto gained great fanfare for his Wikispaces initiative, which enlisted residents to help draft legislation on probate law. The measure, which enables a court to determine who becomes guardian of a deceased person’s pet, may have been a small contribution to the state, but it motivated Gatto to further pursue the idea of crowdsourcing policy. Gatto contends that crowdsourcing could bridge the longstanding gap between elected officials and frustrated constituents.
“When you put out a call like I did and others have done and say ‘I’m going to let the public draft a law and whatever you draft, I’m committed to introducing it … I think that’s a powerful message,” Gatto said. “I think the public appreciates it because it makes them understand that the government still belongs to them.”
New York City Council Member Ben Kallos uses GitHub to collect public commentary on much of his technology-related legislation. Kallos finds crowdsourcing as an empowering tool that creates a different sense of democracy, he told Government Technology.
And that’s not all. The Catwaba Regional Council of Governments in South Carolina and the Centralia Council of Governments in North Carolina are surveying local insight how leaders should plan for growth in the area. Earlier this year, residents were given iPads at a public forum to review four ideas for growth and provide feedback.
Of course, there’s a chance that special interest groups can manipulate these digital tactics to dictate how policy is shaped. Crowdsourcing expert Trond Undheim cautions that while the concept is great for public engagement, lawmakers should be careful with whom is influencing how laws are written. But Gatto maintains that Wikispace provides safeguards about editing a crowdsourced bill if it is apparent someone is changing legislation for the wrong reason.
“I think as long as there is sufficient participation, and that’s the big key, then I don’t think anyone can pull a fast one,” Gatto said.
But perhaps that’s the point of crowdsourcing: underscoring the very idea of democracy and giving everyone an opportunity to speak up.