Lernen von Obama?
The Bertelsmann Foundation, a German think-tank based outside Berlin, recently published a collection of essays exploring the possibility for the Internet to foster a more inclusive and deliberative democracy. I contributed a chapter outlining international trends and best practices, as well as some highlights from the UK experience and the Demos perspective. You can order the book from their website. The only catch is that all of the chapters except mine are in German. So, for the none-German speakers amongst us, we've put a copy of my article on the Demos website which you can download here.
For the unaware, 'deliberative democracy' is an idea largely attributed to the work of Jurgen Habermas, the 20th century Austrian philosopher. For Habermas, a deliberative democracy would see a heterogeneous collection of citizens with diverse opinions come together in the public realm to engage in structured debate, free of coercion, to reach considered judgments about an issue of common good. A perfect example is the Citizens' Convention Demos and Ipsos Mori held two weeks ago on MPs expenses.
A more deliberative democracy would provide a more inclusive and legitimate procedure for resolving conflicts and making decisions. It would also engender a greater sense of community and citizen responsibility, and potentially lead to greater consensus on issues of public policy.
It's a rosy vision, and whether the Internet can bring forth this utopia is highly questionable. However, the Internet does hold the potential to bring about a revolutionary realignment of social power structures. As Richard Reeves and Phil Collins argue in The Liberal Republic, power is primary in individuals, not in institutions. Nothing is making this more evident today than the Internet.
To conclude with an extract from the chapter: "The Glorious Revolution of 1688 marked the triumph of parliamentary democracy in Britain. As the Internet provides millions of people with access, information and the ability to self-organise, are we potentially on the verge of a new Glorious Revolution? ... The successful 21st-century government will be a flexible and highly networked entity, seamlessly entwined with civil society and individual citizens. It will not merely seek to impose deliberative engagement channels from above but will, instead, work to support and supplement the actions, deliberations and emerging innovations of a new breed of self-organising individuals in the informal and everyday reaches of the Internet."
Demos is pursuing research around the idea of Digital Citizenship as a part of it's broader Citizenship Programme. Stay tuned for more.