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Trekking into the land of eDemocracy

5 March 2008

(Part 1 of 5: How I got involved with this crowd and Session 1: MySociety.org

This past Sunday was eDemocracyCamp, the barcamp kick-off to the Politics Online conference taking place in town this week.

How I got involved in this is a bit of a string-and-thumbtacks affair. While the internet is nearly a second home, I have never been that politically active. The only political thread I have been following online is the democratic primaries (full disclosure: I am an Obama girl). I found out about eDemocracycamp through the
blog of Leslie‘s boyfriend, who is an awesome graphic designer and had posted the design he made for the camp’s logo. I checked the even out and was intrigued. I noticed that they were looking for volunteers to help organize, and while I didn’t know much about eDemocracy or barcamps, I do know something about putting events together, so I said “why not?” and pinged Tim, the main organizer. And suddenly I was helping organize this thing.

Anyway, on to the event itself. It started at 9a.m. a fairly ungodly hour for a Sunday, but we had a strong crowd of fifty (rising to sixty later as people came and went). The food spread was impressive, if I say so myself, even if coffee was late. Tim set up a large grid with times (5 sessions, a long lunch, and long coffee break) and spaces (4) for people to come up and post sessions they wanted to host (or be hosted).

The first session I went to was Ideas to Steal from Us Brits hosted by Tom Steinberg, the founder of MySociety.org, a large collection of eDemocracy sites to encourage the UK public to have their voices heard in the political process.
WriteToThem takes your zipcode and lists your elected officals from the district and county councillors to Members of Parliment to Members of European Parliment, their affiliation, and a webform towrite to them.
TheyWorkforYou provides clear records of elected officals voting records, speeches, ‘party rebellion’ statistics, attendence, statistics, and expenses.
PledgeBank allows citizen worldwide to make pledges to do things for “positive community change” in exchange for pledges of others willing to do the same.
E-Petitions is a site commissioned by 10 Downing St that makes it easy for citizens to petition the prime minster, and ensure response while maintaining contact information privacy.
FixMyStreet is a novel site that allows citizens to flag exact locations of street problems, from abandoned vehicles to graffiti to potholes, and sends a message to the city/county council. As well, it shows recently fixed problems and problems that have been reported but not addressed.

MySociety code is open source and Tom urged some of us who were more technical minded to steal it. These sorts of centralized resources do not exist for the U.S. Tom noted that their survey shows that 50% of the people who use their site have never written to an MP before; it is their entry point into political communication. And MySociety takes advantage of that. Once a transaction is complete, MySociety offers citizens links to opportunities to escalate their efforts to the next level.

They also report on the response level of officials. Which makes risk-adverse politicians suddenly take an interest in responding to their constituents.

All in all, the MySociety system seems incredibly effective. We need something like that on this side of the pond. Now if only they hadn’t taken all the good domain names…

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One Comment leave one →
  1. sagarshankar permalink
    26 April 2008 1:59 AM

    Wow, posts like these really does let you stumble upon on gems. Thanks for writing about the eDemocracyCamp. Of real interest to me as an Indian, especially considering our rank on Transparency International

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