June 27, 2011
Facing financial crisis after the collapse of all three of its major commercial banks, Iceland is in need of a major constitutional overhaul. Taking a truly 21st-century approach, the country is, believe it or not, crowdsourcing the process.
The 25-member council responsible for drafting the new constitution is turning to the Internet to get input from citizens. In April of this year, the council began posting draft clauses of the constitution on both its website and on its Facebook page, inviting the public to leave feedback through the comments on either site. The mind-blowing part? The comments are actually being incorporated into the document.
Iceland is undertaking perhaps the most open and participatory constitutional process in modern history. “The public sees the constitution come into being before their eyes…This is very different from old times where constitution makers sometimes found it better to find themselves a remote spot out of sight, out of touch,” Thorvaldur Gylfason, a member of Iceland’s constitutional council, told the Guardian.
With two-thirds of Icelanders on Facebook and the country’s population among the world’s most computer-literate, the constitutional council is utilizing a breadth of social media outlets to reach out to the constituency. The council is streaming all of its weekly meetings live, and has accounts on Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr.
The online recommendations have spanned topics anywhere from improving the treatment of livestock to making it easier for authorities to seize stolen property. From what I can tell, the revolutionary process seem to be working. The current draft of the Human Rights section not only contains an extensive clause barring discrimination for just about any reason, but also guarantees universal mental and physical healthcare, protection of natural resources, and academic freedom.
The unparalleled transparency of Iceland’s constitutional process has also garnered countless nods of approval from people all over the globe. As three Facebook users on the site stated:
“You are a model for every freedom and democracy defender all over the world. Our hopes rely in you. I wish you the best from Spain.”
“Well done Iceland. Irish politicians sit up and note how things should be done!”
“As an American, I would like to express my profound awe, gratitude, and jealousy toward the awesome transparency and collective national effort that the people and leaders of Iceland are showcasing in this fantastic process.”
The council aims for the draft bill to be ready by the end of July. It may be put to a referendum without any changes imposed by parliament, making the document truly “by the people, for the people.” The bill would include checks and responsibilities for parliament and provisions for separation of powers that are intended to prevent a repeat of the financial crisis. Significant changes in the parliamentary election process have also been suggested.
I, for one, think that Iceland’s actions here are inspiring. Faced with economic strife, the country is going the way of the future and utilizing modern vehicles for communication with its citizens. However, the fact that the discussion is mostly taking place on Facebook shows the need for innovative, well-thought-out platforms to facilitate such crowdsourcing processes – especially when the problems to be solved are on a national level. Perhaps Iceland’s efforts are the first steps towards online platforms specifically designed for large-scale brainstorming, harnessing collective power, and synthesizing ideas into real government action.
If you want to contribute to the constitutional discussion and put in your two cents, you can do so here.
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