There is a great debate going on in the UK on the possibilities of Internet to improve democracy.
It all started from the idea from Gordon Brown of having a large-scale debate about a “british statement of values”. OpenDemocracy responded to the challenge and launched a discussion on how to have a National Conversation.
Why is this important? Because it spells out clearly the difference between web2 and its perception by government.
The questions posed by the government were:
– how to make sense of large numbers of web contributions (if they occur) ?
– how to ensure both that there is a good input and that it is fairly representative and is secure from ‘capture’?
Most of the public blogosphere feels distance from these questions.
Anthony Barnett of ourkingdom says here :
“while the Minister’s fears are understandable they may be misconceived.
The web is not just a version of ‘The general public’. Voting does
indeed disaggregate everyone into private, anonymous individuals, whose
‘x’s are then counted.” He then suggests some very important points on “How to use the internet to assist a national debate” which I recommend to read and keep.

Paul Johnston of “The Connected Republic” says here:
“it is also clearly wrong to think that any conversation however
brilliantly managed is going to generate consensus. So I do not think
online conversation is going to deliver a perfect set of answers.
Rather much of the value has to lie in the process itself.”

The PodNosh blog says here:
“I agree with Paul about the web being a great place to generate ideas,
but these ideas will come from those who choose to join the debate.
they won’t reflect public opinion and in truth a wide ranging debate on
all areas of public policy can already be found on the web. All the
government would need to do is to seed it with some key (and
rasnparently from them/it) questions and stay in the conversation, not
aloof from it.”

I share this distance from the questions, which are however very common from policy-makers. We (web2 people) still failed to convey what this is all about. This discussion and disagreement is a good place to merge the gap.

Finally, I think that for supporting large-scale discussions, VISUALIZATION tools are very important. Tools such as debatemapper , or the bbc project for sensitive debate.

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