Lift13, Gudrun Pétursdóttir: Icelandic Constitution [en]

Here are my live notes of the Lift Conference session “Democracy in Distress: Re-engineering Participation.” Keep an eye open for mistakes, inaccuracies, and other flakiness due to live-blogging.
Gudrun Pétursdóttir

From the Californian dream to the cold reality of the Icelandic quest for a Constitution for the people by the people.

Economic collapse in 2008. Huge amount of public anger. Demanded a cleaner and reformed constitution.

Iceland has been independent since 1944 (before: Denmark). Hasty constitution adopted with great national support (98%). Was to be revised very soon but it never happened in the hands of the Parliament. Maybe they weren’t the right ones to deal with it? Vested interests.

How they did it: put together a national assembly which had only one role, work on the constitution. Random sample, 18-92. Very well-prepared. In one 8-hour day of work, they had drafted out the major points that the constitution should include, and were able to publish it online the very next day.

25 people elected from the general public (anybody could run) form the Constitutional Council. Worked for 4 months solid (leave of absence from their work). Draft proposals posted on the website and open to public comments. 3600 comments. 370 formal suggestions processed by the Council. So we have a bill which took shape in the Council but with open exchange of opinion with the community. General feeling of being able to participate.

After 4 months the Council presented to the president of the parliament a bill for the new constitution — which had to be done in a way that was in line with the old constitution: only the parliament can change the constitution.

A year and a half later the constitutional bill is still under deliberation by the parliament. Heck. Conventional party-political practices: the opposition has to be against, by principle anything the ruling majority supports.

The question remains: will the parliament manage to complete the task that the public has contributed so much to? Dreary and pessimistic last slide. Whatever happens however, Iceland will never accept to go back to the previous ways of having the Parliament only work on the new constitution. They have tasted participation. steph-note: that’s depressing

Lift13, Micah Daigle: Upgrade Democracy [en]

Here are my live notes of the Lift Conference session “Democracy in Distress: Re-engineering Participation.” Keep an eye open for mistakes, inaccuracies, and other flakiness due to live-blogging.
Micah Daigle

Activist for 8 years.

Story: city with only one clock, owned and controlled by the king. He’d tell people when to wake up, go to work, eat, etc. Revolution, stormed the palace, took the clock, and put a replica in the public square. Good time will be kept, and it will be kept in public. Years and years later, the clock starts wearing out, and it cost so much to maintain it that only a few wealthy people were able to do it: they became the clock-keepers, and controlled it just like the king. People took the clock apart and realized it had inherent flaws. They came up with a better solution, but it was rejected by the people, because the clock in the city centre was the symbol of their freedom. The clock remained. Years later, completely solved by a solution which did not involve taking the clock down.

This is about democracy, not about a clock. How we make decisions together.

Democracy is both an ideal and a system. You can agree with the ideal and not the system.

Micah Daigle at Lift13

We have direct and representative democracy. In CH and California, hybrid system. Direct democracy seems like a good idea until there are too many people making too many decisions. 100-page book in the mail with all the stuff one has to vote on (California). But that was just a small percentage of things the government needed to vote on. They had got on the ballot because of money, etc. Not that good a system.

Representatives do not represent all your opinions on all the issues. People get in there because they care about certain issues, but then need to take a stand on others, start trading favors, slippery slope to corruption. Money buys access to politicians.

Humans have inherent limitations (trust, etc.). What if we could turn them into strengths? “What if we could represent each other on the issues that we know best?” What would that look like? Well, we would vote on issues we knew about or cared about. And delegate our vote to somebody else we trusted for other issues. But what about money, buying votes? If I’m representing my friends, that would be an incentive to not get bought out (would break their trust). But what if? Kick the person out of the system. “Liquid democracy”, “distributed democracy”, “dynamic democracy”… better: networked democracy.

We move from hierarchy to networks. Though old networks turn into pyramids. Everything the internet touches, though, seems to want to turn into a network. Makes sense our democracy would become networked. Makes sense in theory, but how does that work out in practice?

To change something, build something that makes the existing model obsolete.

Back to our town clock: wrist watches.

Lesson here: this isn’t about upgrading democracy, but upgrading collective decision-making.

Where are we now? Started thinking about how to build it. But to build the network, need to raise money, which would in a way trap the network inside a pyramid. Others than him in the same situation. Started company called collective agency. Looks for these projects that might transform the world, but can’t get funded by traditional VCs, and helps them tell their story in a way that allows them to crowd fund them effectively.

Lift13, Maximilian Stern [en]

Here are my live notes of the Lift Conference session “Democracy in Distress: Re-engineering Participation.” Keep an eye open for mistakes, inaccuracies, and other flakiness due to live-blogging.
Maximilian Stern

Think tank on Swiss foreign policy (foraus). Anybody can join and contribute to drafting papers on Swiss foreign policy. Party membership declining.

We face big challenges, however, and need to act — there is a tension here with our desire to include people’s concerns for our political decisions. Protests: Stuttgart 21. Nuclear power plant shutdowns. But you need to install new ways to produce electricity before shutting down power plants. Germany: wind in the north, industry in the south, so you need high voltage power lines to bring electricity from the north to the south.

=> new ways to integrate people into political decision-making.

But what kind of reform?

– direct democracy. Flaw: you can say yes or no, but not make comments. And it takes a long time to implement direct democracy.
– liquid democracy (cf. German Pirate Party). Only works within one party, the big parties are losing members.
– deliberative democracy: public discussion to reach decisions.
– go one step further: collaborative democracy.

Maximilian Stern at Lift13

Developed 6 tools for deliberative democracy:

– analyze
– …
– check the facts
– joint planning
– engage financially (citizen’s wind parks)

Examples: Iceland tried to crowd source its new constitution. Merkel’s dialogue with randomly picked citizens. Shell project connect to build a pipeline under the Rhine. Invited people to their plants and talked to them. Ended up changing their project a bit (different placement), and the project cost a little more, but they avoided all the inevitable protests.