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Reviewing

Quick notes from ‘Contact democracy for the hyper-connected age’ event

Policy Network and the Barrow Cadbury Trust are running a great little series of events under the umbrella title of ‘Understanding the Populist Signal’. Last night’s was ‘Contact democracy for the hyper-connected age‘ – probably the area most closely related to my own interests.

Prof. David Farrell of University College Dublin gave the main presentation – an excellent review of both the pessimistic view of democracy (turnout down by an alarming rate in all large Western democracies – but watch those Scandi’s bucking the trend, of course) and the optimistic view (today we engage in different ways – by signing petitions, by tweeting a minister – and we hate the phrase politics, but that doesn’t mean we don’t practise it). Even on constitutional reform – which can seem to be going nowhere – Farrell argued that the UK has been a lot more successful over the last 20 years than his home country of Ireland (e.g. progress on Freedom of Information and the Human Rights Act).

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Thinking

How I (probably) failed to register my neighbours to vote…and how I might succeed next time

A door.

Last weekend I posted some leaflets through the letterboxes of all the flats in my 1930s building near Waterloo. I was supposed to be knocking on doors and asking people whether they’d registered to vote. But I’d run out of time – and, feeling it was too late to disturb people, posted the voter registration pack – a letter and form from Join The Vote (a non-partisan, charity-supported, 38 Degrees-led coalition) through the letterboxes instead.

I went back several days later – this time earlier in the evening – and knocked on the relatively few doors into flats which showed signs of life. No answers. Well, one answer – but he was the local activist type, who is often whipping up support for some petition or other. Not surprisingly, of course he’d registered to vote.

And really, it would be a surprise if many of the building residents had failed to vote – this locale is easy-pickings for local party activists, particularly Labour and Lib Dems who are battling it out to define who is more useless, ‘barmy’ or wasteful in regard to running Lambeth Council. We’ve all had a lot of leaflets. A lot. Flats are great for the letterbox/minute ratio. And canvassing too – at least twice in the last few months – and that’s only counting the times I’ve been in.

So was it likely that many people weren’t registered to vote? Did it matter that I failed miserably to allow enough time to do several rounds of door-knocking?

Who knows, but it’s worth looking a little more deeply at the Join the Vote campaign.

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Reviewing

‘The real objective is a greater life.’ Notes from Roberto Unger: The Progressive Agenda Now

Solidarity mural
Hands in Solidarity, Hands of Freedom mural on the side of the United Electrical Workers trade union building on West Monroe Street at Ashland Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. (BY-NC-ND 2.0 Terence Fairclough)

Roberto Unger is a Professor of Law at Harvard. He taught Barack Obama back in the day, and apparently urged Americans to reject Obama’s bid for a second-term. Ouch.

He’s also advised progressive movements and parties around the world – and he served in President Lula’s government in Brazil. Great lefty credentials. Huge Wikipedia bio here.

He spoke at LSE last week and was in the UK to lecture, sell books and talk with Ed Miliband (more on whom later).

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Thinking

“Let them – let them read my frigging email. Because I’m going to belong to the real world.”

Brilliant, hilarious talk from fast-talking Douglas Rushkoff, on what digital media does to us, our perception of time, our institutions, the way we work, and what it does to our democracy.

Interrupted by the NSA/PRISM breaking news story just before going on stage, Rushkoff talks of the ‘perpetual state of interruptive emergency’ that digital media encourages us to live in: ‘present shock’. What appears to be a pessimistic talk – he even complains about Game of Thrones – is turned around as Rushkoff dreams of a culture of activism.

I’m not convinced his position is really consistent – I’m not sure you can complain about the Obama campaign just using digital for fundraising, about nobody having goals anymore, before claiming a bright future of local a peer-to-peer economy and always-on activism: I don’t see how the latter creates longer-term goals either. But it’s still a great watch.

Salim ‘Singularity University’ Ismael’s talk from the same forum is also excellent – some ‘wow’ statistics in here:

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Thinking

Parliament Everywhere: designing a legislature for the 21st century

Parliaments are in trouble. Invented – in the form we know them – nearly 800 years ago to prevent the abuse of executive power, they struggle today to meet same goal. In the 21st century, executive power is no longer exercised from neat, single locations that are reflected in legislatures. If the democratic control of power is to be reasserted, alternative democratic innovations must be considered. This post looks at such potential innovations – and considers some of arguments for why they’re necessary. It argues that the location-less nature of the Internet may suggest a solution in the form of a multi-layered platform – a ‘parliament everywhere’.

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Reading

Open business: publishing pay, abandoning hierarchy and creating the democratic firm

In this week’s The Economist, Schumpeter (the business columnist) discusses the application of open methods to management in ‘Corporate Burlesque: the case for stripping away secrecy surrounding firms’ finances’. 

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Thinking

Reimagining global democracy: from world parliament to global digital deliberation and participation

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong

I recently completed my main research paper for the MA Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs.

It’s published in full below, but I wanted to provide a quick summary for anyone interested. It features all your favourite digital public participation projects, but tries to set these in the context of global governance, as an answer to the problems of the ‘global democratic deficit.’