Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

Networking For A Better Future - News and perspectives you may not find in the media

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May 11, 2005

Citizens Participate - The District Wiki

We are quick to complain about government doing what we don't like, but are we actually doing anything constructive about it? Democracy is a system designed to allow citizens to participate in decision making - through the election of "representatives". But as it happens, the representatives are often too far removed from the real issues, they end up doing more or less what they please or what they are pushed to do by organized special interests for the time of their mandate.

Clearly what's needed is a more participatory style of democracy, where people can express their real concerns and be heard, where those governing us have a real barometer of what our problems and concerns are.

Reading Robin Good's newsletter "Master Mind Explorer" this morning, the editorial proposed just that - a simple set-up that allows internet-connected people to practice bottom-up democracy, to counter balance that top-down approach which seems to have become the norm in today's politics. The implications are huge - if we heeded Robin's advice, we might be heading for a real revolution...

- - -

Wikis And Blogs As Instruments Of Citizen Participation

(original is here)

This morning, as I was driving inside the Rome traffic on my way to the office, I realized something interesting, about blogs, wikis and all these new forms of grassroots communication.

They can be great enablers for local district and community support and they could easily offer much greater opportunity for citizen participation to key issues and problems to be addressed locally.

The whole reasoning was sparked by a traffic event. As I was slowly going through a new roadway section that has just been completed at the point where via Trionfale meets via della Pineta Sacchetti and the new North-West underground pass something stroke me as worth exploring.

Lots of resources and great efforts have gone in this yet to be completed urban masterwork but one of the few glaring negative end results is that the last 100 metres of via Trionfale have been cemented into a true bottleneck that slows down traffic to a crawl worse than the one we were used before all this underground pass revolution.

The culprit is an innocent sidewalk, placed within the road itself (not on the side) and possibly intended to separate local traffic from mainstream one. Fact is that the width and positioning of this new physical barrier makes traffic much worse and physically reduces the capacity of the roadway in a significant way.

Since urban works are done with citizen money, I felt bad two times: one because I was wasting a lot of time for a bad architectural decision that was not visibly benefiting anyone, two, because I felt very aware that the waste and damage had been done with my own money.

So, I asked myself: "How I could ever affect or influence such things, in a way that included:

a) not wasting enormous amounts of time by having to write to mainstream newspapers and media to get their attention to this issue.

b) doing something that would actually help me change the status quo of this problem and not simply allow me to complain about it (which is not what I am after)?

Well, I have heard from my friend Tova that in San Francisco, where she lives, if something of public interest in the city does not go right, one can call Channel 4 KRON TV and possibly get their attention to do some coverage of the issue at hand. (I was so impressed by Tova's own recounting of a situation in which she did call Channel 4, and her recall of how they immediately dispatched out a reporter to check the facts, that last time I was in Frisco, I looked at a Channel 4 truck passing on Van Ness as if it was the 5th Cavalry Regiment ready to go and rescue someone.)

In Rome, and many other places around the world, there is no Channel 4 or nothing that comes close to it, but even if there was, the on-air space that can be made available to such a topic is nothing more than a few minutes, within a 24 hour schedule, and within a spectrum of other tens if not hundreds of channels.

Since the coverage created by such a community-oriented news report is aired generally once or twice at most, what percentage of the intended beneficiaries are going to be able to see it (outside of being able to act upon it), in the chaotic universe of TV, radio, newspaper and Web messages coming to us?

Next to none.

The message is going to dissipate into nothing and even when it doesn't the TV and radio media make it still very hard for individuals to aggregate and work together around common issues and projects.

So, Mr. Good, which is the way out?

Here is what I saw.

Each district in a city could have an online, a well publicized and easily accessible wiki that brought together in the open, the key issues and priorities to be addressed by that community.

If you are not familiar with it, a wiki is a web page, that can be edited and updated with extreme ease by non-technical people.

So, this wiki page of the Trionfale district of Rome, would have its key priorities both for the ongoing budget and program, as well as for the future.

The district wiki (editable only by registered users that work for the district) would also allow for a comment section where citizens would list new topics and issues needing attention.

In this way, citizens could fully participate in raising the attention of the district managers to issues and problems that may have been overlooked. By having the ability to comment on the district wiki, citizens would have the possibility of linking to issues on the wiki from their own blogs. This would provide the ability to offer more information and detail on any issue, including photos, video clips, or other reference information useful to the district and to other citizens to evaluate the issue at hand.

Now, once an issue has been proposed, there is no need to formally approve it.

Citizen blogs can now intervene directly in voting what are the issues that count the most to them.


Any citizen can be enabled by the local government with a free blog (unless one has already her own) that can be used also for grassroots participation into the life and management of the local community/district.

(For what is a blog please follow this link)

If most people have a blog then they could vote the issues and problems raised by other citizens simply by pointing to those preferred issues with a link from their own blogs.

Issues collecting more link popularity by citizens would be then addressed with higher priority and larger budgets, while allowing in this way much greater transparency and opportunity for citizen participation in the local political activity.

The issues of spamming or fraudulent voting can be quite easily managed by distinguishing anonymous votes (links) from authenticated ones.

Those of us, like me, who wanted to have some weight in the decision-making process of their community would have to go once to the Postal Office to authenticate themselves and receive a key unique identifier to place on their blog pages devoted to community participation. Once that authentication code is placed on my blog, and I am willing therefore to openly state my opinions and preferences, my vote can be used to tally and measure key issues and problems to be addressed in the community.

Notwithstanding my incompetence in the political arena and in the bureaucracy and logistics of local governments, I see the above fantasy scenario giving much greater incentive to the individual citizen to participate and to feel ownership and responsibility for the direction and decisions that her district/community/town will be able to make.

What do you think?

Robin Good
You can contact Robin at Robin.Good[at]

See also related:

What is Direct Democracy

Direct Access Democracy

Movement for Direct Democracy

Evolving Collective Intelligence

... [several] blogs announce the launch of a new experiment in collaborative problem solving in public health, The Flu Wiki.
A Wiki is a form of collaborative software that allows anyone to edit (change) any page on the site using a standard web browser like Explorer, Firefox or Safari.The purpose of the Flu Wiki is to help local communities prepare for and perhaps cope with a possible influenza pandemic. This is a task previously ceded to local, state and national governmental public health agencies. Communications technology has now become sufficiently available to allow a new form of collaborative problem-solving that harvests the rich fund of knowledge and experience that exists among those connected via the internet, allowing more talent to participate.

Wikis And Blogs As Instruments Of Citizen Participation


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Wednesday May 11 2005
updated on Tuesday December 21 2010

URL of this article:


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The Individual Is Supreme And Finds Its Way Through Intuition


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