The Power of Participation

You may have noticed my last few posts were about institutions, management and leadership. I’ll continue to write more about these important aspects of innovation, but I want to take the opportunity in this post to recognize the power of participation.

Today, the pervasiveness of technology makes it possible for almost every citizen to actively participate in government. Both dramatic reductions in technology costs and new technologies that have recently become available allow individuals from diverse backgrounds to voice their opinions and engage in public dialogue. As President Obama points out in his Transparency and Open Government Directive, participation and public engagement improve the quality of government decisions. Participation improves government decisions because knowledge is widely dispersed throughout society and today’s technologies make more of that information available to government executives. The National Dialogue, sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration on behalf of the Recovery and Accountability Transparency Board, serves as a good example of the kind of public dialogue that can take place today.

That dialogue has concluded, but now you can participate in shaping President Obama’s Transparency and Open Government directive. The Office of Science and Technology Policy yesterday placed this notice in the Federal Register that members of the public are invited to participate in the process of developing recommendations that will inform the Transparency and Open Government Directive. Visit the Open Government Brainstorm to submit your ideas on the best ways to “strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness by making government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative.” You can also vote on ideas others have submitted, and the most popular ideas will rise to the top of the queue for possible implementation. When I visited the Brainstorm earlier today, there were already 166 ideas submitted and 4702 votes cast.

Equally important is participation in our broader civil society. Civil society is typically understood as the uncoerced collective actions of people around their shared interests, purposes and values that create public goods exclusive of traditional market mechanisms. Wikipedia is a great example of a social good produced by civil society. Those of us familiar with the open source software community would also recognize the Apache Web Server, the most widely used web server on the Internet, as another great example of a public good produced by civil society.

Yochai Benkler recognizes the significance of participation in civil society in his Wealth of Networks. Benkler introduces the term social production to describe the output of a civil society. He then goes on to examine how individuals and organizations participate in the production of public goods, then describes the economics of social production.

Today, whether through participation in government, or participation in civil society, participation is power. And technology places the power with you.