Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Had dinner tonight with Lawrence Lessig to talk about emergent democracy and other things. Larry pointed out some interesting work called deliberative polling being done by Professor James S. Fishkin. Since polling forces people to vote on something they don't really know too much, the data may be statistically accurate, but is not necessarily the best way to promote a democratic system. Deliberative polling takes a diverse group of people, forces them to discuss the issues in small group, in large groups, small groups, over and over again for a fairly lengthy process until everyone has a pretty good idea of the issues and a balanced and educated position. Polls are conducted through the process to track how people's opinions change. Afterwards, many of the people who have participated become much more active citizens. I think that this is similar to the emergent democracy idea that we have. Maybe we can try to do this deliberative polling using the online tools that we have.

Deliberative polling turns to the representatives to execute on these opinions. Antoin was the first to point out (many others have pointed this out later) that my paper misses an important part of the democratic process. The execution. It focuses on the deliberation part. Maybe emergent democracy should focus on those interesting moments in history where the people wake up and change government. Larry talked about how there were three such instances in the US. When the framers went against the bill of rightsarticles of confederation in writing the constitution, during the civil war and during the "new deal." Each of these involved a deviance from constitutional democracy because of a huge swell in the opinion of the people. Maybe emergent democracy enables the people to force an issue when it become important enough to engage the public to rise up. Sort of an information militia. We can rely on the experts in the representative democracy when this are running smoothly and the people are not engaged... Anyway, still very malformed thoughts, but a lot to think about.


Yes! Highlighted the polling aspect of Emergent Democracy today.

This brings it into greater focus -- back to the role of the Town Hall Happening, where smaller networks ferret out informed opinions. Polls are then aggregated for representatives. A more informed opinion then engages in a competition of ideas in larger networks to the mass media and body politic.

Just to clarify a bit - two key elements of "deliberative polling" are:

1) that the people polled are not just "diverse" but statistically representative of the population affected. The experiments have tended to be attempting to address big issues like "crime" using groups that represent the national population. The idea is that you could then really claim with a little more credibility that the groups "spoke for the people" and

2) the groups don't just speak among themselves - they get evidence from experts and they quiz their elected representatives.

For further reading (on paper, alas) interested people might want to take a look at one of these:

Burnheim, J. (1985) Is Democracy Possible? : The Alternative to Electoral Politics, Polity in association with Blackwell, Cambridge.
Fishkin, J. S. (1991) Democracy and Deliberation : New Directions for Democratic Reform, Yale University Press, New Haven.
McCombs, M. E. and A. Reynolds (1999) The Poll with a Human Face : The National Issues Convention Experiment in Political Communication, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, N.J.
Salmon, C. T. and T. L. Glasser (1995) Public Opinion and the Communication of Consent, Guilford Press, New York.

Thanks. You're right David. Not just diverse, but representative of the public and a true random distribution. And yes. Experts to seed the discussion with a very robust process.

Thanks for the pointers to the "papers..."


Is it getting to be time for another Happening? What do you think of "tools" as the focus?

- Adina

Seems like discussion and voting could occur on one portal for execution, though scale might surpass just about anything in service now, an expensive problem. Then consider "World of Ends," as a way of seeing whole systems from the vantage point of a network node. Surely a way can be found to take advantage of the wide distribution of resources, a small part of which can be standardized for direct democratic discussion and action. It's odd how the word "representative" comes up, not that it's the same as representative democracy.


How are you? I'm Frank Ruscica, and I have been following with interest your efforts re: emergent democracy.

Maybe I can help.

In your post, you wrote:

"Maybe emergent democracy enables the people to force an issue when it become important enough to engage the public to rise up."

IMHO, turbocharging maturation of the global lifelong learning and career services (LLCS) industry is such an issue. Here's why:

A big part of winning the war on terrorism is convincing potential terrorist recruits and supporters that their interests are being served by America and her allies. People are at their most convinced when they are psychologically addicted. Psychological addiction takes shape in the part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is fired by the prospects of professional success, romance and laughs (PSRL). Increasing PSRL will be the consuming focus of all credibly sustainable providers of lifelong learning and career services (LLCS). In particular, these providers will race to develop and fund their own student loan programs, as most customers will need financing in order to consume their initial bundle of LLCS, and will be drawn to the LLCS provider offering the best loan package. These loan programs will, in time, democratize access to LLCS -- and hence, expand prospects of PSRL to all potential terrorist recruits and supporters.

(Happily, you don't have to take just my word for the PSRL-LLCS connection. Not long ago, my business plan for an LLCS provider was circulated internally at Microsoft. I subsequently received the following e-mail from Randy Hinrichs, Manager of Microsoft Research's Learning Sciences and Technology Group:

"Frank, you are a good man. Have you thought about joining this team? Your only alternative, of course, is venture capital. But their usual models require getting rid of the 'originator' within the first eighteen months. With Netscape it took a little longer, but you get the idea.")

I have posted an updated version of my business plan here. If you have occasion to take a look, and come away agreeing that turbocharging LLCS is a goal worth pursuing via emergent democracy, let me know and we can puzzle over a next step.


Frank Ruscica

The Opportunity Services Group :: Have Fun to Get Ready

3 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Dinner chat with Larry Lessig on Emergent Democracy.

TrackBack URL for this entry:

chatting with lessig about emergent democracy and... world of ends vs. "world of assholes": Read More

Okay, so it's not quite "dinner with Larry Lessig," but today I spent some time with the US Public Printer, Read More

This week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Future Salon alongside Zack Rosen and Tom Atlee on the Tao of Extreme Democracy, a wonderful fusion of tools, practices and political activism. Zack demoed CivicSpace, a funded continuation... Read More