Everyone agrees: politics are disappointing. Corruption, lobbyists, unresponsive representatives, deadlocks, endless debt, partisanship, social and financial issues, ridiculous laws and rulings, and an endless barrage of misleading statements make for a pretty… well, shitty time.
So, I asked, “Can we reinvent political participation?” Can we make politics relevant and meaningful again? How?
The responses were all in agreement (there is hope), and some even proposed ways of using technology to fix politics. We took it upon ourselves to mockup some ideas on how we can improve government and politics. Like with all of our projects, we hope that these prototypes spur conversation and encourage you to come up with your own ideas. So, without further ado… How to make politics relevant again:
1. FOR ACCOUNTABLE GOVERNMENT, MAKE INFORMATION ACCESSIBLE
Most local politicians have a website as boring and un-navigable as the third circle of hell. It’s not really clear what your elected representative did, and any sort of information needs to be dug out with pincers from poorly scanned paperwork. You can get almost any information you need somewhere online, but it’ll be hidden or riddled in legalese, for the most part.
It’s a lot easier to choose your politician, prevent corruption, and understand where your taxes go when the information is clear and legible. Taking a clue from one of the best designed and most intuitive political projects out there (that’s Obama’s Life of Julia page, though not to endorse), we’ve come up with a few templates for politicians or local accountability groups to use:
2. CHANGE WHAT WE VOTE FOR (VOTE FOR THE IDEA, NOT THE SHARK)
Too often, you’re forced to vote for the entire package: “I like this politician’s stance on spending and taxes, but his social views are horrifying!” Or: “I support immigration reform, but I don’t think it’s necessary to also ramp up deportation!” Politicians are no longer ‘people with ideas,’ but prepackaged ideological products. That’s not acceptable. We shouldn’t have to vote for all-or-nothing politicians—like many have argued, we need ideas, not politicians or technocrats.
So, in response, why not do just that? Doesn’t the internet allow us all to participate more actively and democratically than ever before? Either with a downloadable program or a website, we can create a Kickstarter-like political system.
Imagine: politicians are elected to figure out how to make stuff happen. Let’s reinvent the town hall, just like they did in Germany. Or, let’s crowdsource a constitution, like they did in Iceland. What if your elected official is the moderator of a digital town hall, where citizens converse and suggest ideas? Ideas are upvoted/downvoted: for any idea that gets two-thirds of a town’s vote, it’s the politician’s responsibility to make it happen. That means if the people vote for a new park, it’s Representative John Polk Carter’s job to figure out budgets, land-use, legalities, and organize construction crews, design, and so forth. If the proposal is unreasonable, then it’s also Representative Carter’s job to explain why, and propose a different idea.
Is your politician saying “No” to everything? Then he’s a lame duck and should be voted out (or, you should stop asking for a death-ray). Is your politician not suggesting any new ideas? Elect someone with imagination and reputation! Town hall voting and successful ideas provide ordinary citizens reputation points (commonly known as Wuffie or Klout) in their town, which could make (or break) political careers. A digital, kickstart-ed democracy. And, no idea has to get let in the physical back and forth of conversation and debate.
Both of these plans address the need for a more open and accountable government. I believe that technology won’t ‘solve’ the problems of democracy; after all, there is a reason why democracy, like communism, work best at small scales: political representation, at a large scale, is an inherently flawed idea. Instead, I think technology can make government more accountable to the people, more responsive.
When we complain today that our government is more beholden to corporations and special interests groups, we get at the core of the problem of government: it needs money to run, and money always comes with strings attached. However, I believe that a government that it more accountable to its citizens it also a more economically responsible government: it gives people a reason to pay taxes and participate. Partnerships between business and government can still prosper, so long as the government works with businesses to invest in communities, not to destroy them in search of better funding.
Perhaps these ideas work only on a local level… national representation still cannot create a one-size-fits-all solution for every geographic, social, industrial, and economic region. Perhaps regulation would do better than policy on a national level—that is, ensuring that every region and every state hold to a given standard, rather than trying to unify the country through economic subsidies, national healthcare or immigration initiatives, or so forth. Maybe government should focus primarily on addressing social issues, rather than economic ones. Maybe not. Maybe just on foreign policy. Or maybe not.
But now, it’s your turn. What do you think? Do you have an idea to change politics? To make it, in some way, better? Does that matter? Let us know in the comments, and we can put your prototype online as well.
Roman Kudryashov is the founding editor of What Are These Ideas. Educated in design and political philosophy, he often writes about the intersection of language, society, and technology. He currently lives in New York.Contact: