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The Future of Public Participation

I'll be speaking on Wednesday morning at the International Association of Public Participation conference in Montreal, Canada. My topic will be the future of public participation, and I'll be riffing on the effects of the intersection of collaborative technologies, empowered networks, and the DIY culture. I'll post the highlights from the talk when I'm back.

In thinking about public participation in its various forms, however, it strikes me that enabling broad participation isn't enough. Some people, perhaps most, won't have the time or the inclination to be active parts -- or even substantive passive parts -- of the bottom-up world. As more power shifts to these emergent groups, however, this means that the the "netroots" (to use the Daily Kos term for the active Internet-empowered political base) will have a disproportionate influence over political and social outcomes. Abstractly, this is no different than the narrow constituency of consultants and elite power-brokers exerting control in the pre-Internet era, but few of them tried to make the assertion that they spoke for "the people" in any real way.

In an environment where these tools of "citizenship 2.0" have the potential to give power to large sections of the populace, actions taken by the small portion that take advantage of such tools could easily come to be seen by the media, by the non-active citizens, and eventually by the netroots themselves as representing the will of the people. For this not to become a crowd-sourced dictatorship, alongside the development of the tools of citizenship 2.0, we need to be developing the culture of citizenship 2.0.


This election has given us back politicians who welcome citizen participation genuinely rather than as a claque.

Governor-elect Deval Patrick and Sen Barack Obama are both politicians who invite everyone to the table and mean it. They may even be wise enough to leave a place for Elijah.

I published a diary annotating part of a Boston Globe interview with Patrick that speaks to this theme at


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