The Network at the Heart of Democracy

Last week Thursday I had the pleasure of presenting the opening keynote at the annual System Administrators Guild of Australia conference.

I tried to create a historical context for what OpenAustralia is doing by looking at the time that the Westminster system, the political system that we have in Australia, was created. The Westminster system of representative democracy evolved as a very practical solution to the problems of governing a country democratically with very slow transport and communication.

Of course, many transport and communication technologies have been invented in the last 250 years, most noteably the Internet. Looking forward we can imagine many kinds of governance that become possible with the use of these technologies. You can view OpenAustralia as a stepping stone to these.

Today’s network, the internet, has already shown itself to be the agent of great change. In this talk I look at some of the new ways politics is coming to ordinary people and some of the incredible opportunities for the future. We have the potential to re-imagine the very core of our democratic system – but how can we do this without leaving people behind?

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One Comment

  1. Martin Stewart-Weeks
    Posted August 16, 2009 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    Representative democracy wasn’t only conceived as a response to prevailing conditions of distance, scale and communication (although all of those things are, of course, relevant). It is also an attempt to create a set of incentives and sanctions that provide for effective accountability. It is, in that sense, an institutional response to the demand by the people to have some way of holding those in power and authority to account for what they do with both.

    No question at all that in the “connected republic” of the Internet and social technologies the possibilities for evolving, perhaps even dramatically transforming, our democratic institutions are enormous and exciting. But without a similarly concerted effort to evolve the principles and practice of an effective method of accountability (“accountability 2.0”?) the speed and commitment with which some of those possibilities are embraced will be significantly reduced.

    In some ways, just to throw one quick idea out, ease of access + transparency replaces representation as the defining accountability ethic of the web 2.0 world. But for many not yet convinced that web 2 and the associated magic it promises is actually real or will be sustained, the apparent downgrading of the whole notion of representation is hard to handle.

    It’s one of the biggest and stubbornly unresolved questions in the whole gov 2 debate I think…

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