Participatory Democracy

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There has been much speculation in the media about President Obama using direct participatory democracy an important element of how he and his agency leaders govern.

 

Three recent articles, one in the New York Times one in the Washington Post, and one by the National Journal, outline some of the steps already taken and offer some insights on possible next steps.

 

The first, by New York Times’ Helene Cooper, “The Direct Approach,” where she notes that “President-elect Barack Obama says that he wants to make his administration more responsive to the American people. To that end, his aides are introducing a host of YouTube and other efforts aimed at bypassing the media and communicating directly with voters.”  The article notes that the Bush Administration piloted some “by-pass the press” approaches, such as blogs in the State Department, and that the Obama transition is testing ways to allow direct citizen questions.

 

The second, by Washington Post’s Jose Antonio Vargas, “e-Hail to the Chief,” focuses on the use of the web in governing (only the Washington Post can publish an article on governing and place it in its “Style” section of the paper!).  In an interview with an active on-line Obama supporter, Vargas was told:  “Well, people are still fired up and ready to go. . . . What’s next?”  With this kind of expectation, Vargas notes there might be a rough transition from the campaign’s my.barackobama.com, to the transition’s change.gov, to whitehouse.gov:  online social networking is designed to foster a community. For that approach to be effective, WhiteHouse.gov can’t just push information out — it has to pull content in, too. And once it does so, the administration will have to decide whether, when and how to incorporate those voices into its decision-making process.”

 

There are experiments by the transition’s change.gov, encouraging comments on healthcare reform (with over 3,500 received), encouraging the submission of questions (with over 20,000 participants), and the outreach by the campaign’s my.barackobama.com encouraging its 13 million members to participate in self-organized house meetings and report back – with more than 4,200 meetings held in 2,000 communities.

 

The third, by National Journal’s David Herbert, “Obama Voters Fired Up, Ready to Go (Online),” summarizes a new report out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project on post-election voter engagement.  In it, he says: “The report also found that not only are Democrats more politically active online than Republicans, but they expect more outreach from their candidates. Among those who use social networking sites, 37 percent of Obama voters expect to be contacted through those sites by the president-elect. . . “

 

There have been similar articles in other forums, such as TechPresident, that have also offered their insights.  More will follow, I’m sure, in coming weeks. The real test will be:  what happens after January 20th when the Change.gov innovators have to begin following federal government rules?

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