Saturday, November 15, 2008


With Barack Obama, the numbers are always astounding – I mean, they are not just a hair better than the other guy, a whisker away from possible defeat, a tad more than the precedent set last year. They are numbers that make you go wide eyed and open mouthed, fall off your seat in amazement: a $600 million dollar campaign, 1 million plus donors, 70 million votes, etc. The online campaign was no less impressive: 280,000 people created accounts on, over 6,500 grassroots volunteer groups were created, more than 13,000 off-line events were organized through it, and over 15,000 policy ideas were submitted.

And that was the campaign. Less than two weeks after the election, he’s moved on to governance. On his transition site, (following Sarah’s post below) the new administration is urging people to share their stories and voice their concerns. The Washington Post hails the forthcoming administration as the youtube presidency in light of Obama’s online video address to the nation on its aptly names Clickocracy section. And here’s Christina Bellantoni pondering what a big leap this will be from the current site.

The evidence is all there on Dr. D.C. Misra, who has studied e-governance for many years, boils down the most noteworthy aspects of the strategies being debated by the new administration here.

Making government data available to citizens is a good start, considering the fact that we’ve had eight years of arguably the closest, most secretive government in U.S. history. These data include federal grants, contracts, and the now infamous earmarks. Taking this one step further, and getting ideas from the people on issues of daily concern to them might be a proposition. London’s mayoral office did such a thing last year, in conjunction with the police department, and harnessed the power of the people to create “crime maps.” The U.S. could also take a page out of the playbook of New Zealand’s government, which is doing some truly groundbreaking stuff through wikis – what could be a better example of distributive government than urging people to change and edit laws online?

The new administration has certainly expressed an interest in actually listening to the people – not to private conversations through wiretaps – but to get ideas and suggestions on policies, bills, and proposed legislation. The British Foreign and Commonwealth office started a similar exercise last year, where it invited ideas and suggestions on foreign policy from civilians. That sure would have been helpful for the Bush administration; now, if only Dubya could log onto the Internets.

The appointment of a chief technology officer was mentioned by Obama several times on the campaign trail, and was probably his biggest selling point among technology geeks (not to mention the fact that our future president might actually be capable of checking his own email), and the site elucidates on the roles of such an appointee: overseeing an interagency effort to ensure that all departments use and share the best technology practices. We could get lessons from our northern neighbor, who has been conducting a government technology conference these past two years to get top officers from various public sector departments to enhance the workings of “Government 2.0,” as they call it.’s emphasis on network neutrality had me drooling – not allowing Internet Service Providers to bias Web searches by privileging some sites over others would reinforce open competition on the Internet. The new team also outlines an ambitious plan for next-generation broadband, which if implemented, only portends good things –I don’t have to rely on my studies in technological crowdsourcing (though it helps), to conclude that the one thing hindering the democratic nature of Web-centric participation is the seemingly insurmountable digital divide. People are willing to contribute toward society’s common good (isn’t Obama’s election proof enough?) as long as you provide them a way to do it. The fact that Obama understands how huge this problem is and wants to do something about it sure is comforting after eight years of a president who was clearly on the wrong side of the divide himself.

Regardless of whether these strategies achieve true citizen participation, or allow civilians some role in the legislative process, they are certainly steps in the right direction. E-governance has been implemented in several different countries and I’m curious to see it in the U.S., where the Internet probably has a greater and more widespread influence than anywhere else. Talk of next generation broadband makes the possibilities truly endless, allowing a distributive Internet junkie like myself to smack her lips in anticipation.