I recently made mention of five "radical" ideas for overhauling our government at all levels. The ideas are examples of applying private sector energy and innovation to public challenges. As promised, I will be highlighting these in more detail, shining a light on their tremendous potential. Here I look at what is the first online rewriting of a major constitution called reThinkCali.com.
More than 30,000 people can't be wrong
In 2008, Californians voted to reform the state's system of political redistricting by moving the decision making from the legislature to a Citizens Redistricting Commission. More than 30,000 citizens applied for the 14 available seats. Of this outpouring, LA native Anthony Rubenstein observes that, "those numbers are powerful evidence that Californians are eager to participate in meaningful ways to rethink this state."
Rubenstein, a serial social venture and policy entrepreneur, is the man behind reThinkCali.com. He describes this new online community as "an innovation of the public square that lets all hear and be heard." What Rubenstein has created is an online engine powered by the best of Wikipedia, Twitter, and Facebook letting people channel their energy and ideas to solving California's problems. "We developed a crowd-sourcing engine for framing the policy terrain - geek-speak for mass groups solving large, complex problems by dividing them into small manageable chunks - similar to what Wikipedia has done with knowledge."
Target: Re-tweeting the California Constitution
One target of reThinkCali.com is the dysfunctional California Constitution. Thanks to continuous amendments allowed by California's ballot initiative process, the state's basic legal document is a 65,000 word mish-mash of funded and unfunded mandates contributing to the bankrupting of public coffers and dead-locking the statehouse in Sacramento. The U.S. constitution, in contrast, is a comparatively svelte 8,500 words. In the words of Mark Paul, author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It, and deputy director of the California program at the New America Foundation which is helping to administer reThinkCali, "the California Constitution is a document at war with itself."
Now, visitors to reThinkCali.com, can become e-delegates in a first-ever virtual Constitutional Convention, designed to discover and empower the many voices seeking political reform.
For Love and Money
Applying the MIT Media Lab's insights that active social network users are motivated by respect and reward, the site will recognize those whose ideas receive the most support from their peers, and reward the user or users who develop and promote them. Through a series of challenges and games beginning with the Constitutional redraft, gifts and scholarships are being offered to those behind the most thoughtful and widely supported solutions.
You show up, register using your Facebook or Twitter profile ("anonymity is the only thing we don't permit" says Rubenstein), and begin engaging. There is no cost to participate and given that it is the Internet, not only Californians can join. Of the users Rubenstein expects to thrive in the community he says: "reThinkcali is not just non-partisan, it's trans-partisan. We're trying to reach beyond the usual partisans on the left or right - they're already engaged. We're after that vast alienated and talented mass that has turned away from the public square in disgust. They're the real silent majority."
Since the viral nature of the internet makes it simultaneously powerful and unpredictable, community members will have the power to vote undesirable content down and turn their backs to anti-social behavior. Consensus will push the best solutions and voices to the top. "On the other hand," quips Rubenstein, "if the users let a few spam ads for Nigerian bankers or counterfeit Viagra slip through into their rewrite of the State Constitution, the document couldn't be worse than it is now."
No David Axelrods or Karl Roves Needed
Rubenstein is no political newbie. In 2006 he was founder and Chairman of Californians for Clean Energy, the force behind Proposition 87, a failed bid to institute a royalty (charged to oil companies who extract oil from beneath California's lands and waters) directed at bolstering California's clean and renewable energy. Two years later he took on T. Boone Pickens by leading the fight to defeat Proposition 10.
When asked what stops reThinkCali.com from being captured and or tied to the agenda of what he deridingly calls "Big Poli" (his term of disaffection for what he views as the political-industrial complex) Rubenstein responds that, "what's different here is the users themselves are the gatekeepers. There are no David Axelrods or Karl Roves shaping the message for better or for worse."
reThinkCali.com is seeking to be both constructive and disruptive. Rubenstein hopes the dialogue will "do for the public square what iTunes did for the music business. I'd like to see Big Poli go the way of the record store. Sure, there are still record stores, they're just no longer the force they once were."
I'm persuaded. I've agreed to Chair the Advisory Board for reThinkCali.com and I hope you'll join in too.
What other great ideas have you seen for innovating the way we govern ourselves? Share them with me.