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Building a Global Civic Infrastructure?

We were intrigued by this recent post from the Governance Lab @ NYU summarizing an essay by Prof. Douglas Shuler (one of our members) on the possibilities and challenges of building a global civic infrastructure.  While the question of how we can build national civic infrastructure has been on our minds for a long time here at NCDD, imagining a global civic infrastructure is truly a daunting task, and this post captured some of the key issues we face in getting from where we are today where we want to be tomorrow.  Read about it below or check out the original post here.


govlabAn essay in this month’s ACM Interactions by Douglas Shuler, author of Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution (MIT Press, 2008) focuses on key challenges for interaction designers to establish a global civic engagement platform which he labels a “World Citizen Parliament.”  The core challenge and  question that informs Prof. Shuler’s essay:

“Like it or not, the ability to deliberate might be the key to humankind’s continuing existence. Sometimes people can’t or won’t reason together and the problems they could address together (such as climate change) become worse. Wars, even, can be seen as the result of failed or thwarted deliberations. In a large sense, the lack of widespread and meaningful deliberation in society reveals a severely underdeveloped resource: humankind’s civic intelligence. This proposal is a call for action in the face of unprecedented opportunity and historical necessity. It is intended to help address the question that needs to be asked: Will we be smart enough soon enough?”

The response he proposes is the creation of a global civic infrastructure  comprising “a non-centralized, heterogeneous, loosely-linked network of people, online and offline resources, institutions, deliberative and other collaborative systems”.  To establish such an infrastructure, Doug Shuler sees the need to overcome seven challenges:

  1. “Deliberative Emergencies”: The first challenge takes the form of the urgent issues now facing humankind. These are issues which generally grow worse when there is no agreement about how to proceed. And without viable deliberation, no agreement between stakeholders is likely to be reached. It is ultimately the success in addressing these deliberative emergencies that will determine the project’s success.
  2. Social innovation: The second challenge reflects the inevitability that a World Citizen Parliament is primarily a social innovation and social considerations must play a dominant role in all aspects of establishing one.
  3. Reinventing Research: The third challenge suggests several ways in which present approaches to research may discourage projects like this. Can research norms and practices be transformed in ways that would make it more relevant while remaining rigorous and vital?
  4. Hyper Project: The fourth challenge is building a coherent project that is really a hyper-project, a project of projects. Ideally this project  would encourage millions of experiments and projects. But what can we do to ensure that the lessons learned in one can be used by another and, in general, how should we leverage our successes?
  5. Interaction and Interfaces: The fifth challenge is actually designing the interaction and interfaces that support this project. While this project  suggests the important of six other challenges, this challenge is critical — and of particular significance to this community. If the systems aren’t compelling, accessible, and rewarding — or they don’t work or aren’t used — the project is doomed.
  6. Project Sustainability: The sixth challenge is addressing and assuring the project’s sustainability. To be successful at this enterprise, it will be necessary to obtain the resources we need. And in the absence of ongoing and reliable funding, this is no trivial task.
  7. Building Civic Intelligence: The seventh, final, and probably most daunting challenge is building civic intelligence. The goal of this project is to  help make individuals, and especially groups, actually smarter in relation to our shared problems. This is the conjecture that motivates this project: “We won’t successfully address our problems if we don’t increase our civic intelligence.”

The essay ends on a cautionary note:

“Deliberation has the potential to address conflicts and complex shared issues in legitimate, thoughtful, and non-violent ways. As the 21st Century looms before us, citizen engagement is not optional nor merely a good idea. Unfortunately, it is not at all clear that systems that support citizen-to-citizen deliberation will ever be effectively established when the environment is dominated by the power of governments and commercial interests.”

Original post from the Governance Lab @ NYU: www.thegovlab.org/building-a-global-civic-infrastructure-seven-challenges-for-interaction-designers

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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  1. John Spady says:

    Nice post Roshan!

    I know our own National Dialogue Network efforts will benefit from an awareness of these challenges and the innovations from a supportive and collaborative community to address them.

    Douglas Schuler’s original document on “Creating the World Citizen Parliament” can be found at this link:
    http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2451867

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