Open source governance

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Our governmental structures are descended from the democracies introduced in the late 18th century in France and America. They were designed in times when information could travel no faster than a horse. With 18th century technology, the only feasible way for people to have a say in civic decisions was for each area to appoint a representative to speak on their behalf. This was a revolution in collaboration and openness when it was introduced to replace monarchies, but it has not been updated much in the 200 intervening years. In an era of light-speed communication, it is obsolete and dangerous. We now have the ability to create a democracy that is direct rather than representative, where each citizen can put forward ideas, debate issues and vote on the things that matter to them. This is called open-source democracy, open-source governance, direct democracy or direct participatory democracy. It is simply the application of the idea of democracy to modern times.

The 21st century is an era of torrential, rapid change in every area. Everything is changing now in a way that has never been seen before in history. Medicine, science, technology, art, social structures and even consciousness are taking on new forms every few years. Perhaps the single greatest requirement for the organizational structure around these things is the ability to keep up with change. Rapidly communicating changes in policy was not possible with 18th century technology, so it is not built into 18th century democracy. But with open collaboration and modern digital technology, organizations can change as rapidly as the human knowledge-base changes. (This is a recurring theme of this wiki, see for example the Open-source medicine page.) It is now possible for the populace to be given up-to-the-minute information and data relevant to civic decisions, to be polled within hours or minutes, and to change decisions in light of new data just as quickly. Such digital democracy can respond more quickly than the cumbersome 18th-century model in which government is changed only every few years, and policies cannot easily be recalled once enacted.

Decentralizing decision-making power has the advantage of removing egos from the equation. We are all familiar with the spectacle of politicians trying to claim that a decision they made was right, when it has become apparent that it is completely wrong. Politicians are obliged to do this by a democratic structure that centralizes decision-making power in their hands while giving the populace the power to take it away from them. To protect their reputations, politicians must always appear to be right — even when they are patently wrong. With open-source governance, on the other hand, mistakes can be corrected as soon as they become apparent. If a course of action turns out to be ineffective, it can simply be changed. No one loses face because no one person was responsible for making the decision in the first place.


EfficaSync provides one detailed proposal for the nuts-and-bolts of making a direct democracy work. It envisions policies being put online in a program very much like a wiki. Anyone can propose a new version of a policy and present it to the online community. It is then debated in forums, and ultimately voted on. If it gains the approval of a majority of voters, it is passed, and the wiki is updated to reflect this.