ORGANIZATION

Metagovernment

November 1, 2017 Ed Pastore
February 7, 2010 Ed Pastore

Mission and Purpose

The mission of the Metagovernment project is to support the development and use of Internet tools which enable the members of any community to fully participate in the governance of that community. It is a global group of people working on various projects which further this goal.

Metagovernment's political purpose stems from the political philosophy of open source government which pushes for the combination of traditional democratic principles and Internet-based collective involvement to enable citizens to participate in the creation of policy.

This collaborative governance system does not directly relate to traditional direct democracy. It is not based on majority rule. Rather, it relies on consensus decision on all issues affecting the community. Failure to participate implies consent in decisions made. In this sense, it reflects Robert A. Dahl's principles of democracy, in that ideally a system of meta-government encourages:

  • Decentralization: A centralized entity has less control and it is the participants as a collective making decisions
  • Encouraging Diversity of Thought: Since consensus is the goal, all opinions must be heard
  • Centralization of Information: To ensure that everyone can participate, all information is found a single location with easy access
  • Equality of Opportunity: Everyone has the same ability to participate (questionable, given that it is an online system)
  • Participants are equal
  • All actions are transparent for everyone to see

Many of the member projects of the Metagovernment are working toward building software which can act as a stand-alone governance mechanism; i.e., without relying on individual empowered leaders to make decisions. To that end, the project itself eschews a formal leadership structure. At the moment, it operates as an adhocracy (modeled after the typical open source software project), though it is working on using the software of member projects to act as its governance mechanism.

The intention of the project is to build governance software which is to be adopted first in small communities. From there, they intend to study the implementation, collect feedback, and adapt the software such that it can spread outward with the potential to gradually replace many institutions of representative democracy with a new kind of social organization called Collaborative Governance.

History

While there is little information available on the origins of the Metagovernment project--even on its own website--open source governance first appeared in the early 1980s as part of a computer-based research project on online deliberation and deliberative democracy.

Other small examples of open source government and ICT-facilitated collaborative democratic mechanisms appeared in the early 21st Century as Internet technology drastically improved and usage boomed. ICT-facilitated collaborative governance is a young, emerging form of governance being developed to adapt the traditional aims of direct democracy with the new capabilities presented by the internet. Practical development of this governance method is being undertaken by the Metagovernment project.

Traditional implementations of direct participation have labored under enormous obstacles. First there are the technical obstacles of gathering all people together for each vote, then of meaningfully tallying so many votes. The existence of the internet and software remove these obstacles.

However, that still leaves the much more profound criticisms of direct democracy: mob rule, demagoguery, issue overload, and tyranny of the majority. The Metagovernment project posits that, by careful application of sophisticated software, these issues can be used to solve each other. Simply put, mob rule and demagoguery result from focusing governance on a few hot-button issues. Issue overload is only a problem because of the demands of a majority rule system, requiring that there be massive participation on each of these few hot-button decisions. By contrast, ICT-facilitated collaborative governance opens up every decision to everyone. Nobody is expected to participate in each decision, but those who do must come to a consensus or no action is taken.

Many first attempts at ICT-facilitated collaborative governance were an effort to create a citizens' forum for elections and public opinion. The Green Party of Canada, for example, created what it referred to as a "living platform" to compile the opinions of Canadian citizens and policy experts to ensure a very well-represented platform for the entire party.

Specializations and Activities

As the organization is still in its early years, the activities currently primarily focus on growing the information present on the website as well as its influence. According to the Metagovernment project website, there are a number of manners in which the average global citizen can participate in the community:

  • Join the Startup Committee
    • Organized as an adhocracy style mechanism, the Metagovernment project needs people to join their list serve to become well-informed on the goings-on of the organization. This allows people to become active members.
  • Attend Meetings
    • Metagovernment project holds online meetings that are open to anyone who wishes to participate and help the organization grow. Ideally these meetings will occur on a biweekly basis, but as of now the time between each ranges from months to even an entire year
  • Propose and Participate in Votings
    • Using software from the member projects, such as Vilfredo goes to Athens for open questions, discussion and voting are set up for members to propose their own ideas and vote on others'.
  • Edit the website/wiki
    • Similar to participedia, collaborate democracy's future depends on participation and the growth of their web presence. Interested individuals are welcome to register on their wiki/website and make edits to any page. The more articles that appear, the more information there is regarding metagovernment project and the political philosophy.
  • Contribute Code
    • One key component of the metagovernment project is the success and growth of its member projects. Active members can help contribute to these projects, improving the software and making voting and proposals easier.
  • Translate the Wiki
    • Effective democracy implies equal access to participation. The primary language for the metagovernment is English, but this limits who is able to participate in deliberation. The goal is to translate at least the main page into other languages for information on the organization to be viewable by man. Currently it is available in English, German, Spanish and Japanese.
  • Promote the Organization Online
    • With the popularity of online social networking, the organization wants participants to promote the wiki through direct links on various websites, bookmarks on websites such as StumbleUpon, blog/forum posts about the political philosophy or direct e-mail invitations to other organizations.
  • Pass out Literature
  • Attend Conferences
    • Active members are encouraged to attend conferences about governance and technology to promote the general goals of collaborative governance, and speak at the events if possible.

Major Projects and Events

In addition to individuals interested in the general notion and promotion of collaborative governance, there are several software development projects involved in the Metagovernment project. At this time, all but one of these are free and open source software. The member projects range from software tools intended to build consensus and facilitate decision-making, to ones which are intended to act as stand-alone governance mechanisms. As of February 2010, most of the projects are, roughly, in a beta stage of development, and have not been deployed substantially. However, the Metagovernment project itself has used several of the participating software tools to make decisions internal to the community.

The member projects are active and created by members of the metagovernment project for the members' benefit and to advance the capabilities of collaborative democracy.

Adhocracy

Adhocracy is a drafting and delegated voting tool for small and medium-sized groups. It is one of the active projects of the Metagoverment project. It is a free and open source software project following a standard three-section BSD-style license. It uses a liquid democracy software website, and in Adhocracy, individuals choose to act as NGOs, initiatives or corporations to network through democratic principles and processes to formulate goals, strategies and internal rules to develop positions on issues. It is a practical implementation of direct parliamentary systems.

Candiwi

Candiwi (formerly Metascore) is the name of the software which can administer any community wishing to govern itself through collaborative governance and is currently in the alpha development stage. It uses a scoring system to evaluate resolutions.

DemocracyLab

DemocracyLab is an experiment in direct democracy, powered by open source software, and built on the idea that technology can empower individuals to harness freedom of speech and the power of the vote to solve today’s most challenging problems.

It uses participants’ posts and votes to build a dynamic map of political thought designed to facilitate consensus and solve problems. The result is an engaging public forum where the best thinking rises to the top, creating a community-driven alternative to traditional politics.

DemocracyLab is a transparent and collaborative work in progress.

Dynamic Democracy

Dynamic Democracy is a ranking engine for users to submit and vote on "bills" that they wish the government was considering. The organization neither vet submissions nor actually campaigns on them. Instead it allows anyone post freely and anonymously to see what information and ideas arise.

The site came about in the wake of the Digital Economy Bill fiasco in the UK - when it became clear that the government really doesn't address the public's issues very well. The organizers wanted to see what the government would be talking about if the citizens were the government. In that way, it is an online program similar to the Countywide Community Forums (of King County).

Eudemocracia

Eudemocracia is an Argentinian NGO. It has the same overall mission as Metagovernment (online collaborative government), but it makes its primary focus activism rather than just pure deliberation.

Indaba Application Network

The Indaba Application Network is the platform running 'WeVote' (on Facebook) and 'ChoiceRanker'

NationBuilder

NationBuilder is a member project of the Metagovernment project. It is the foundation of White House 2, which is a web platform for American citizens to (unofficially) collectively act as the White House decision-makers. There is a similar program available in Canada, Iceland and Australia

Openpolitics

Openpolitics is a Canadian issues based approach to public deliberation that developed as a result of the living platform project (Green Party of Canada). Activity is on hiatus as owner/founder Michael Pilling focuses on personal goals, but supporters are hopeful that the group can provide a "bigger solution" which draws input from multiple organizations and websites.

Telematics Freedom Foundation

The Telematics Freedom Foundation has the general goal of furthering democracy, including media and global democracy, through the promotion of telematic solutions that enable the protection and extention of the communication and participation rights of all people.

Vilfredo goes to Athens

The Vilfredo Goes To Athens project starts from the research of what would happen from a mathematical point of view if the principle "without consensus there is no law" were in fact truth and seriously considered. It also assumes that in many case there is a possible solution out there that would generate the consensus. Sometimes key individuals (often regarded as leaders) would find this solution by speaking with the various parts. This program software is trying to help the discussant by showing where the key differences are. It seeks to help people find their own solutions without the need of a deified leader, as such leaders eventually can become a burden themselves.

Virtual Parliament

The Virtual Parliament is a UK based website that allows the public to vote on existing policies from political parties, and also suggest their own.

Votorola

Votorola is a member project of the Metagovernment project. It is a software designed for building consensus and reaching decisions in public. Installed in a local town or region, nationwide or worldwide, it functions as a primary rule-making system for the open proposal, refinement and selection of candidate laws, plans and policies. It also functions as a primary electoral system, one in which candidates are chosen by open, cross-party consensus. The backbone of the system is a peer-to-peer voting mechanism that allows for recursive delegation, unrestricted nomination, and continuous vote shifting. The voter lists are authenticated by a neighbourhood trust network.

Votetocracy

Votetocracy is a site which allows citizens to vote on bills before the United States Congress and send votes to their representatives. Citizen's votes are tallied against the votes of Congress and displayed as agreements or disagreements. It acts essentially as a rating system for Congressional members and a path to a different kind of governance. In addition to the above, version 2 will allow organizations, lobby groups, and others rally their members and Votetocracy members. The project is building an internet-wide platform that organizations can embed in their own sites to tap into the Votetocracy system. The ultimate goal is to combine the collective efforts of citizens and organizations into one voice with measurable outcomes and comparisons versus the decisions made in Congress.

Funding

A direct budget number for the metagovernment project was not found, however, they explicitly state their political/philosophical stance on funding on their website:

"In collaborative governance systems, proposals should be self-funding. If a tax or other fund-raising measure is needed to implement a proposal, it should be accounted for in the language of the proposal, and not forbidden by a higher level of government. Perhaps there can be a minimalist central funding authority in each community to administer the accounting of the money, but the actual funding mechanism should be part of the proposal. There should always be a fundamental bias against giving power to central funding authorities, and all such authorities should exist at the whim of their associated community website." [1]

Analysis

In an online forum discussing the future of the metagovernment project using Gname Loom, some of the participants appear optimistic about this umbrella organization and its member projects, but there is also tremendous criticism of its effectiveness in achieving the goals outlined in the Metagovernment project's Mission and Vision page. One participant, Patrick Anderson, voiced a concern that because there is no opt-out mechanism, metagovernment's goal of consensus building--with regards to funding--means that:

With traditional taxation, I am 'required' to help pay for that construction unless I can get a majority of others to complain that it is not needed because I already paid taxes into an untargeted "slush fund". I cannot opt-out unless I group with others to opt-out. If I 'win' by stopping construction, it causes others to 'lose' because they DID want to fund the project. [2]

A system of metagovernment relates back to general criticisms of direct democracy that have been around for thousands of years, primarily the notion of mob rule or mobocracy, only furthered by the aforementioned instance of opt-out vs. opt-in funding.

Plato in The Republic wrote that, "Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike." [3] Democracy appears to be a short-term system full of disorder and instability. Consensus building takes time during which solutions could have been implemented by a unilateral decision and corruption is possible with vote buying. Just as non-participation implies consent in metagovernment, consensus building implies compromise and the potential for minority opinions to be coerced into accepting the majority rule. See Anthony D'Amato's "Obligation to Obey the Law: A Study of the Death of Socrates.

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