I was lucky enough to be contacted by one of the new MPs of the Italian government, Paolo Coppola. He was one of the “administrators 2.0” from local government in Italy (but also a professor in Computer Science). He asked Marcello Verona and I about ideas to open up his parliamentary work (also based on our experience with CommentNeelie.eu).
The hangout soon took the form of a brainstorming about what would an ideal “MP 2.0” look like. The best way to frame this for me is: if it was a MP, what would MySociety do?
Some ideas emerged. First, it is great that MP starts to open up parliamentary work after winning the elections, not (as usual) as a short-term tool to gain a positive image in view of the elections. Open engagement is a long-term process, needs time to gain trust.
Secondly, there is no predefined set of tools, but rather a set of values that can be applied to any problem/ issue of the parliamentary activity. It’s about “thinking open” for each activity. One example: he receives 50 law proposals per day from fellow MPs, and there’s no way he could read them all. What about posting them online and letting people signal the most relevant and explain why (in plain Italian)?
It was particularly stimulating to hear his views on the problems of scalability and on the overall disappointment with the tools available. We all agreed that current technologies don’t scale well: engaging is still to time-consuming, you need a lot of human effort to sift through the contributions, and very little high-quality content emerge. The best ready-made solution is still letting people signal and filter the most relevant comments, as in Ideascale and Uservoice. More advanced solutions such as opinion mining, visualisation, network analysis, are far from maturity.
Myself, I am a fan of quora-like platforms, or symmetric Q&A, with a particular attention to reputation-based system to filter information (like Quora PeopleRank algorythm).
Overall, my recommendation is to move not in the direction of direct democracy and total transparency, but on gradually opening up each step to leverage open collective intelligence. A MP has to take decisions of his own, but has to be accountable and should take advantage of openness to attract micro-expertise which he does not have.
I am particularly against total transparency such as the web streaming of the negotiation between Grillo and Bersani. Politics needs private moments to negotiate: they need to be recognized as such. It’s not about secrecy, but the right to one-to-one discussion. If you want total transparency, you call for secrecy that you don’t know. I am in favour of transparent secrecy, the recognized space for one-to-one negotiation.
At the end, we left the meeting with a very provocative statement for the situation in Italy: we realize that WE LOVE POLITICS!
Look forward to continuing the conversation and hearing your views on this: what would MySociety do?