Santa’s Little Helpers: Wikidemocracy in Finland

06:25 in Guest Blogger, Vierailijabloggaaja, yhteiskehittely by Tanja Aitamurto

Guest Blogger: Sami Majaniemi, from Verkkodemokratiaseura

Wikidemocracy was recently deemed dead on arrival in a high-profile column published by one of the  leading newspapers in Finland. Contrary to the political pundit’s point of view, following the  developments at the grass roots level reveals a buzzing landscape of activity in and outside of the  internet: New forms of societal participation are constantly popping up, some gaining popularity, some  fading away, some morphing into new ones. Indeed, rumors of the death of wikidemocracy are premature.

A few months ago we started an experiment in democracy development to see if a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs could help the political establishment in developing a vision for the future direction of the country. We set out to build “a shadow” Government Programme in Wikipedia style. Now that the official Government Programme of Finland has finally been put together, and the new government has been formed, the time has come to see what the amateurs have achieved and how the Wiki Government -project will continue. After all, one of the goals of our experiment is to change the style of decision-making in such a way that people are not only invited to vote once in every four years but can interact with the elected representatives and civil servants in a continuous fashion.

The Wiki Government Programme contains the wishes and the goals of both individuals and over 40 organizations ranging from large trade unions and academic think tanks to environmental special interest groups and Fortune 500 companies. The material was mainly gathered from the web sites of the organizations which had published their wish lists for the official government negotiators.

Registered users were also able to directly record their policy goals in the wiki. Voluntary moderators then organized the material by diving the wish lists from the various sources into suitable categories and by aggregating similar wishes. Currently, price tags of the various policy goals recorded in the Wiki Government Programme are being determined for budgeting purposes.

Co-Creating The Budget

Just as the Wiki Government Programme is constantly modifiable so it is also possible to join the crew to help co-create a working model for new type of societal participation. Currently, an active area, where fresh ideas are needed, is collaborative budgeting. Decorating all the policy goals of the Wiki Government Programme with price tags is currently in progress. While at it, we could also test new ideas as what comes to expanding the concept of budgeting.

For example, in addition to evaluating the monetary value of the policy goals, we could also use other measures. Why not also calculate the CO2-footprint of each policy suggestion? How about associating also the Gini-index, or a ‘Happiness factor’ with the suggestions?

In addition to money, the CO2-budget, for example, could be utilized as a constraint that could direct the choices of people and politicians when choosing between different options. In many instances, evaluating these alternative budgets could be achieved with a little help from the research community as far as the science goes (CO2-footprint), and from the people with respect to the perceived effects (‘happiness’, ‘satisfaction’).

Both the Wiki Government Program and the Collaborative Budgeting exercises could be improved in many ways. Do you have an idea that you would like to see implemented? Ultimately, the goal is not to create just a cute demonstration but hopefully something that will evolve into a serious tool to be utilized by the government officials, politicians and ordinary people.

We challenge all the readers to give us feedback on how to take things to the next level and how to involve even more people in the collaborative decision making and planning.

To contact us you can email Sami Majaniemi at majaniemi at physics.mcgill.ca or you can go to the web address http://fi.opasnet.org/fi/Suomen_hallitusohjelma_2011 (in Finnish) and use the email link at the bottom of the page. The log of the recent developments of co-budgeting can be found in English at http://en.opasnet.org/w/Co-Budgeting