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Group Work: Go Beyond Deliberative, e-Democracy

Anyone interested in deliberative and e-Democracy must read A Democracy of Groups by Beth Simone Noveck at First Monday. She argues:

In the same way that the rise of gunpowder changed the face of warfare and the invention of the railroad enabled industrialization, we will look back on the way new technology revolutionized the ways groups work and the potential to work in groups. If we encourage it, this could be the beginning of a fundamental democratic overhaul of our legal and political institutions, giving rise to collective institutions that engage more people in new forms of participation.

Of deliberative democracy she writes:

…the scenario of national scale deliberation is oblivious to the temporal reality of busy people in a complex world.

Of e-Democracy she writes:

Electronic democracy theorists have either focused on the individual and the state, disregarding the collaborative nature of public life, or they remain wedded to outdated and unrealistic conceptions of deliberation.

She argues new online visualization and social networking technological tools make:

… it possible for people to see the groups to which they belong and to participate in them more effectively by sharing tasks via a computer network. The new computer screens replicate and often improve upon group socialization in real life. Through collective action, whether purely online or enabled by technology off-line, groups can not only come together to form virtual communities and build social capital but they can also make decisions and solve problems as legal actors….

We should institutionalize citizen juries to consult on every piece of proposed legislation or regulation. Because technology enables the exchange of reasoned ideas through the visual interface, groups can “deliberate” new more efficient, less time–consuming and more effective ways.

Recognizing the work of decentralized groups will tap intelligence and resources from the periphery, engage more people in the life of the nation, build affective bridges and bonds across groups and contribute to creating a more pliable and resilient political culture that does not depend only on rigid hierarchies and dysfunctional power structures. But the power of groups should not be limited to engagement in what we have conceived of as traditional politics. Rather, we want to harness the emerging phenomenon of group life to promote collective action in economic, civic and cultural arenas: the practice of democracy with a “small d.”

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