Representational Democracy is Dead

Today Caucus votes in Australia as to who will Lead the Labor Party – our current Prime Minister Julia Gillard, or our ex Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – and ultimately be Prime Minister. I’ve put together a video to talk about how I think representational democracy is dead, and how Media failed the Australian people….

Today Caucus votes in Australia as to who will Lead the Labor Party – our current Prime Minister Julia Gillard, or our ex Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – and ultimately be Prime Minister. I’ve put together a video to talk about how I think representational democracy is dead, and how Media failed the Australian people.

sooner or later, my ramblings end up on my iTunes podcast – video or audio.  Please subscribe and rate?  😛

Democracy is Linear

Representational democracy is where you vote for a Member, and hand over all your responsibilities to them until the next election. In Ancient Times, every village would vote in a Representative who would go to the next biggest town and vote on the village issues. Very linear. Issue->communication->vote in Village->run to town-> argue the points-> outcome.

Democracy could be Digital (non linear)

Pericles said: “It is true that we (Athenians) are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not the few, with equal justice to all alike in their private disputes.”

Democracy was supposed to be all people acting as Government for all the time. That was Direct Democracy. Well actually, they didn’t have computers or the internet or a Platform, but still it was everyone gets a shot at running the community for a year each.

We don’t live in a linear world anymore. It’s now possible for every Australian to vote on every issue and collaborate on the outcome. Not just the Icelandic Constitution on Facebook but also fixing park benches as a group on FixMyStreets. Who needs councils? 😛

Government as a Service

This representational democracy placed Government in a Service role. We have an issue, Government provides a service and fixes it, we pay taxes for that. Cumbersome, with poor oversight, and no understanding of the big Q Questions/issues, but plenty of big A Answers/white papers. What if we had an issue and used Government platforms to find and source and crowdfund a solution? If we crowdsourced the implementation of the solution?

Government as a Platform

Social Politics using social media platforms gives Government the opportunity to provide a Platform. In the same way that peer to peer banks just provide the platform (profiles and transfers) rather than act as mediator bankers, and the same way that eBay just provides the platform (profiles and transfers) rather than actually makes and sells products, Government could provide a platform for Australians to participate in direct democracy. I raise an issue, and educate my fellow Australians and form collaborative working groups to address those issues, using the Government platform.

The Cult of Personality and Adversarial Politics

Representational democracy works or fails on the fact that our politicians are human and singular. With a toxic boss, it’s fails. Even with a great boss, it’s adversarial. Adversarial models fail in a social collaborative world. Competition is atrophying, collaboration is arising. Frenemies at best… The Attorney General reveals just how crippling a toxic boss can be in this interview at ABC Insiders. (not embeddable, sorry).

Crowdsourced politics and collaboration

Crowdsourcing works or fails on the fact that the voters are human and many. There will be other issues with Government as a Platform – an imperative need to educate and communicate amongst them. But it will push Human Evolution along a few steps.

Media failure to communicate

If Kevin Rudd was as toxic as everyone says (even his supporters say he “has changed”) and the Media knew about it, why was he continually heralded as a ‘great media personality’ and popular on Sunrise etc. Conspiracy of silence. Shocking.  It’s time we heard the real truth about Kevin from James Button on SMH.

On Monday, a Fairfax journalist, Katharine Murphy, wrote that Rudd’s swearing and ranting on a recently leaked YouTube video only confirmed what everyone in Canberra knew about his character. “Who knew that?” she wrote. “Well, all of us. We were there – the political staff, bureaucrats, colleagues, journalists, the public who got that side of Rudd through the accounts we all wrote – piecing it together. It wasn’t that long ago.”

Strangely, the information age seems to have made grasping the truth of things harder. The shrinking of the broad base of political parties; their failure to tell stories that inspire and ring true; the increasing lack of penetration of the serious media; the rarity of deep analysis, told in a compelling way; the 60-second YouTube videos that portray Julia as robotic or Kevin as a knockabout bloke who swears a bit too much; the distrust and distraction of we the people: all these promote misunderstanding. They are death to an engaged politics.

Damning indeed. Given that social media wasn’t used at all by Government, it’s hardly surprising that all that people know about are YouTube videos.

Government failure to use Social Media

Twitter isn’t about the few million on Twitter. It’s about using those few million to inform and ripple to the 22 million that are connected to them. That is the essence of social media – it’s the Exposure/Reach, not the Circulation. Opposite of traditional media. Yet social media channels are not used by Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd except as adhoc testomonial statements. There’s no polling, no collaboration, no communication back to people and no distribution (links, retweets etc). Just straight “here’s my press release” statements and the odd jokey statement.

But all government think social media is good for is heckling and stupid videos. Tho the one above is pretty good 🙂


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  1. Just responding to the points you’re talking about in your video.

    It’s a great idea to use social media as a tool to rally your troops and create engagement. But creating meaningful engagement is a time consuming process. Sure you can create a petition and get them your backers to sign it to create pressure or be indicative of support, but how much ownership is the crowd that follows going to have over a petition.

    I think as humans what we really value, at least it’s what I value, is the time and attention of others. Sure you can create an email form and mail merge a response to include my name at the top… but is that really any different to saying Dear sir/madam, the recognition of my own identity is pretty much the same, except in the former I’ve entered in my personal details to receive that personalisation…

    Social media is a medium, our attentions, our trust, and the time we have are all in their own ways limited commodities.

    1. Good lord, Gov as Platform is not petitions, I was specifically thinking of Brazil, who put up 11 million dollars for crowd sourced local council projects. Not petitions! :p

      1. Crowdfunding is an excellent example as the projects can be encapsulated in a couple of pages of detail and voted on based on a ‘like for like’ basis. There are X dollars & Y projects. Each project is independent and costs Z. Therefore you can only fund X/Z projects.

        However government policy doesn’t work in the same manner.

        Let’s take parental leave. A proposal that every parent should be entitled to 12 months paid parental leave after the birth of a child has to be considered based on the impacts on the community, on business (small, medium and large), on population growth rates, on immigration, on economic impact, on the tax impact as well as on the direct dollar cost.

        Add the dependencies and interactions on other policies and suddenly you go from having a containable issue to a wicked problem – one which is extremely hard to encapsulate in a few pages stating, if we do X the impact is Y, if we don’t do X the impact is Z.

        That’s where direct democracy begins to fall down. Athens did not have direct democracy – only land owners (male, wealth and most fairly intelligent) were allowed to vote. Slaves, women and labourers missed out.

        With representative democracy a much greater range of people get to vote, however they don’t get to vote on every decision.

        That’s partially because many of the decisions being made are very complex and require full time professionals (we call them politicians and advisors) to grasp and understand – and even then they often don’t understand them sufficiently.

        There is certainly enormous scope for public works and legislation to be suggested and even voted on directly by the public – however there may be a cost where unengaged or underinformed communities make decisions that are not in their best interest… and only have themselves to blame – either for not engaging or not taking enough time out of their lives to become an expert on the consequences and ripples of a decision.

        What governments do need to do, however, is open up decision making processes to external scrutiny as completely as possible (privacy and national security considerations aside) and involve citizens as much as they are able and willing to be involved in all stages.

        Where achievable citizens should be able to participate in voting – perhaps in a non-binding plebiscite – but there’s issues with making this mandatory (does the public want to read thousands of pages of legislation each week and make decisions – foregoing their leisure time) or with making it voluntary (where only the most passionate, not necessarily the most affected, vote).

        So a long way to go, but no real time limit. Democracy will evolve and, to some extent, away from representative models, but I don’t expect it will end up totally, or even a large extent direct.

        1. I’ve heard that argument before – none of us are dumb as all of us. And I’m not convinced. We – humanity- have collaborated on some pretty sophisticated issues in the past and done just fine. The whole of the internet would be excellent example of that including LAMP (foundation technology of Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl).

          A platform that took all the social objects (truly Gov 3.0 not 2.0) and brought them together so that people could see the impact of any one decision on the others would be awesome. There are also a lot of games that teach this stuff (serious games) such as the Macdonalds game on iphone where you run a maccas with decisions on cheap products vs expensive, climate impacting solutions or cheaper ones etc.

          “That’s partially because many of the decisions being made are very complex and require full time professionals (we call them politicians and advisors) to grasp and understand – and even then they often don’t understand them sufficiently.”

          Crowdsourcing can fix the problems of a small group of people working full time on something. We have experts that could collaborate on part of the solution. Checking in and out of problems e.g. SourceForge and working on them. There is plenty of scope for big problems not just small ones. World Hunger is currently a “serious game” that is getting a lot of funding an airtime as millions collaborate to solve the issues. If we can crowdsource banks, equity investment and health, why not policy?

          No one person can understand all the issues – not even a politican. Crowdsourced, Gov as platform fixes that.

  2. The opp that social media and the Internet as a whole represents for self-governance is perhaps a powerful motivator for those in government to monitor and control the flow of information?

  3. You really explained this well. I am grateful for this very informational post. Lot of things I don’t yet understand though. I am glad you shed some light on representational democracy.

  4. You really got a solid point there. The last video is really funny but reflects the issue well. When is the exact election in your place? I hope the winners will practice true democracy.


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