Seedlings of participatory democracy
Small progressive steps toward a participatory democracy have never succeeded in the past.2 Crossforum ranging offers a different approach. Instead of taking small steps toward the goal, it begins with a small instance of participatory democracy that is already achieved. The instance is therefore like a seedling — it is already complete in form and function, it only has to grow. The required form and function for a participatory democracy are roughly defined by C. W. Mills in his distinction between a public and a mass:3
In a public, as we may understand the term, (1) virtually as many people express opinions as receive them. (2) Public commununications are so organized that there is a chance immediately and effectively to answer back any opinion expressed in public. Opinion formed by such discussion (3) readily finds an outlet in effective action, even against - if necessary - the prevailing system of authority. And (4) authoritative institutions do not penetrate the public, which is thus more or less autonomous in its operation.
In a mass, (1) far fewer people express opinions than receive them; for the community of publics becomes an abstract collection of individuals who receive impressions from the mass media. (2) The communications that prevail are so organized that it is difficult or impossible for the individual to answer back immediately or with any effect. (3) The realization of opinion in action is controlled by authorities who organize and control the channels of such action. (4) The mass has no autonomy from institutions; on the contrary, agents of authorized institutions penetrate this mass, reducing any autonomy it may have in the formation of opinion by discussion.
The seedling must be qualitatively complete in respect of all four criteria, above. It must be quantitatively complete in all but the third, namely the degree of effective action. This necessarily depends on the level of participation. More precisely, it depends on the extent of the largest consensus among the participants, measured across all forums. Consensus is therefore the axis of growth, and the extent of the largest consensus is taken as the measure of seedling size. The ultimate goal is a mature size that approaches a substantial fraction of the general population. Long before that, however, effective action may be expected in one form or another.
This section provides instructions for crossforum rangers. Rangers must work in teams of at least two. If you are new to crossforum ranging, you may want to partner with an experienced ranger. To locate other rangers, follow the discussions listed at:
Setup for new rangers
Follow these instructions to set up for your first practise run. Tip: you may want to open a second browser window or tab, so you can keep these instructions in view.
- If you're not already logged in to this pollwiki,
Tip: when logging in, consider using the "
Remember my login on this computer" option. Then it will keep you logged in, day after day. . You will have to create the account, if you haven't already done so. Your username is based on your email address, so be sure to choose one that you're comfortable with, for that purpose.
- Go to your position page. Usually it won't exist yet, and you'll see a '
- Press the '
create' tab. Then press the '
Save page' button. This gives you a new, empty position page.
Don't see a '
create' tab? Then you already have a position page, which is OK. So just skip this step.
- Vote for an experienced ranger on the pollserver. Just ensure the candidate field has the correct username, and press the '
You don't have to vote for Mike-ZeleaCom, of course. Click around and vote for anyone who can take you on a practise run. (Don't worry, you can always change your vote later. If you do change your vote, simply repeat the steps that follow.)
Tip: as for the pollwiki, when logging in to the pollserver, consider using the "
Keep me logged in" option.
- After voting (or changing your vote), click on the small dot next to your chosen candidate's name (on the left). This takes you to the candidate's position page.
For example, if you voted for Mike-ZeleaCom, you would end up at this page.
- Click on the '
Compare to mine' link, on the right side of the candidate's position page. This takes you to a diff page.
- Click on all of the checkboxes (
frag 2, …) in the diff page. (Usually there is only one checkbox.)
- Press the '
Patch' button. If the patch works (usually it does), you are taken to a revision history of your position page. From there, click on the '
user page' tab to see the page content. The content should be the same as your candidate's.4 (Don't worry if you disagree with any of it. You'll be changing it soon, in the practise run.)
You should already have completed the setup above. You and your partner will have identical position drafts. For the practise run, you will both follow the method of discussion refit in a dead thread, mostly just to get the hang of the collaborative drafting technique. Here's the step-by-step instructions:
- Find a refit thread that is inactive and unlikely to come back to life. The previous posts to the thread should provide good examples of the kind of dialogue to expect in a refit attempt. For example: http://rabble.ca/babble/western-provinces/possible-strategy-ginger-group-bc-new-democrats.
- The experienced ranger modifies the text in some way, and saves the modification. She then posts to the thread, announcing her improvement, and appending a link to the latest diff between her text and the new ranger's.
- The new ranger follows the link and examines the diff fragments (
frag 2, …). If he has any questions about them, he posts his questions to the thread, and the other gardner answers.
- Once he understands the modifications, he clicks the checkbox of each fragment that he wishes to accept (if any). Once all the acceptable fragments are checked off, he presses the
Patchbutton to transfer them to his own position draft.
- He then makes corrections or modifications of his own, if he wishes.
- He then clicks on the '
Compare to candidate's' link, near the top right of his position page. This takes him to a diff page, showing the latest difference between the two texts.
- He then posts to the thread, pasting the URL of the diff page. Above it he explains briefly what he has done.
So it continues, from ranger to ranger, till both are working reasonably well together and comfortable with the tools.
(I) (K) (L) \ 1 | 1 / \ | / 1 (A) (B) (P) (O) \ | / | 1 / (R) \ 1 | \|/ | / 1 \ 1 \ | 1 (M) | / \ \ | | | / (E) (F) \ \| | 4 |/ | 1 / 1 \ (Q) | (C) | / 1 (S)-----(T) \ 3 | | | / \ 3 \ | | 3 |/ \ \ | | (H)-----(G) \ \ | (D) | / 1 1 2 \ \| \ 1 | / (U)-----(V)-----(W) (N) \ | / 4 \ 6 / \ | / \ / 8 \|/ \ / (J) \ / (X) 8 --- 14 ----
Each voter group is normally discussing their differences with the delegate/candidate in a separate forum, or thread. So group J(D,C,H) is in one forum, while H(E,F,G) is in another. Note that delegate H is necessarily in both forums. So recruitment of non-ranger, cross-forum delegates is crucial to the method.
D is a ranger. She's helping to keep the discussion alive at the root. Meanwhile F and G are rangers working in a 2nd forum, disconnected from the first.
Here's the plan: all the rangers together identify H as the most promising delegate. F and G then vote for H, and simultaneously invite her to come and hammer out issues with them in the 2nd forum. H then comes to be participating in two forums. (This makes sense, because it means J won't be overwhelmed by all the chatter further up the tree, as it grows.)
Repeat. The rangers move to wherever support and new growth are needed. Eventually the seedling is strong enough to grow on its own.
Connecting knowledge and practice
This section [which needs work] is inspired by the observation that people discussing the technology tend to be talking about solutions without reference to problems; while those discussing the politics are talking about problems without reference to solutions.5
We switch metaphors now, and think of participatory democracy as a structural arch. It has a knowledge span on one side, where the general tools and practices are built up as technology and methodology; and a practical span on the other, where ordinary people grapple with political issues in particular instances. Crossforum ranging may be seen as a method for emplacing the keystone that connects the otherwise disconnected spans of knowledge and practice.
On the side of knowledge, the disconnect reveals itself in the fact that the developers habitually discuss their general solutions — project X is developing this tool/practice, project Y is developing that tool/practice — but almost never do they discuss a problem of application. They promote solutions and debate the relative merits of them without reference to any actual problem of participatory democracy. So you almost never hear a developer say, for example, “We were doing a little bit of participatory democracy over there, and we ran into this problem...”
Meanwhile, on the side of practice, the grassroots folks who would come to grips with the political issues affecting them are instead engaged in discussing the problems they face — the government did this, a corporation did that, and this or that is wrong — without considering the possible solutions that might set things right. So you almost never hear a forum participant say, “I was thinking about this problem, and I came up with a possible solution...”
All of this is merely to reiterate, from two different perspectives, that participatory democracy is not a fact. But because crossforum ranging can supply that fact on both sides, in the instances of single seedlings, it may serve to coordinate knowledge and practice at these instances. Or at least that possibility may shed light on a general disconnect, that might not otherwise have been viewed as problematic.
- Discussion refit - the injection of technical links into an online discussion in order to make it serviceable for e-democracy.
Notes and references
- ^ The idea of crossforum ranging was first floated in a Babble thread, with contributions from (in order of posting) JAnne Davies (Protrucio), 'epaulo13', 'trippie', Michael Allan and N. Beltov. It was originally named guerilla gardening, after the urban activist movement of the same name.
- ^ The failure of the approach of taking small steps toward a participatory democracy was noted by 'trippie' in the post http://rabble.ca/comment/1168858/you-can-have.
- ^ C. W. Mills. 1956. The Power Elite. New York. p. 303-304.
- ^ Filling an empty position with a patch was Thomas's idea.
- ^ The idea of crossforum ranging (then called "guerilla gardening") as a keystone connector of knowledge and practice was originally discussed among (in order of posting) JAnne Davies, Michael Allan and Alex Rollin in the thread: http://groups.google.com/group/votorola/browse_thread/thread/36cd6c5fa0941452.