I came across this article that details a very interesting experiment: in California, State Assemblyman Mike Gatto has set up a Wikipedia-like page that will allow for the actual crowdsourcing of legislation. Gatto’s specific bill deals with probate law.
The actual legislation is here. As best I can tell, you have to be a registered user in order to actually log-in and make changes. All drafts are logged, meaning that even if someone were to destroy the entire work, the moderator (presumably Gatto or someone on his staff) could log back in and revert to previous changes. Registered participants include Gatto, attorneys and other tech experts. The page itself looks something like:
It looks like a work in progress – highlights, crossed out words, etc. If you are drafting legislation, this is exactly how things are supposed to look.
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time such an experiment has been tried in America, but not in the rest of the world. Iceland engaged in crowdsourcing to write their constitution, and the results were incredible: over half of Iceland’s 235,000 electorate submitted suggestions, and the constitution was approved in a non-binding referendum by a 2/3 vote. The implication here is obvious: if you engage the public in the drafting of laws, they have more buy-in – and are more likely to approve the final product.
My first thought on this legislation: this is cute and a way of generating media attention (not in a bad way at all – actually, I thought it was fantastic that another legislator was showing that he was so eager to get citizen input), but it didn’t have any real practical uses. After all, what if the final product was something that Gatto couldn’t support or wasn’t politically palatable?
That being said – the more I think about it, the more I like it. The participants are obviously experts in their field who know what they are talking about. Assemblyman Gatto appears to maintain control over the final product, and as such retains a necessary measure of control over whatever gets written, since it will ultimately appear in his name. The wiki nature of the crowdsourced legislation allows for progress to be monitored and allows for any outside observer to literally see how legislation is made. I don’t know if this will necessarily translate into more transparency in government, but it is certainly a great effort.
So much of what we do in government is symbolic. People feel disconnected from their government and like they don’t have a say in the process. Efforts like this show people that their efforts are extremely necessary, valuable and wanted. I’m very curious to see what the final product is and what sort of success this measure will have.
Any other thoughts? Let me know in the comments!