The Shadow Government Network

A Proposal for Open, site Continuous Citizen Participation in Government

Introduction

At the dawn of the 21st century, salve democratic governments face increasing pressure to address issues of accountability and performance. Citizens have diminishing influence on their elected officials in the face of expanding bureaucracy, sickness professional lobbyists and corporate sponsors. While elections are important to the operation of democratic governments, it has become obvious that the ability to influence government between elections is a significant and growing measure of political power.

Goals (and anti-goals)

This proposal is intended to restore some measure of political power to the citizens.

The Shadow Government provides a functional and usable tool, based on available technologies, so citizens can once again influence the operation of their government. Activist individuals (those willing to write and speak on a subject of interest) are given the opportunity to network, meet and debate with other activist individuals on whatever level they feel comfortable. If they have purely local interests, they will find nodes in the network that shadow local government offices and deal with their issues. If they are comfortable operating on a global scale, they will find issue nodes that transcend national borders.

Interested individuals (those with some concern about a subject, but not quite the level required to actively participate) can find those points of interest within the network, and congregate with the activists that are discussing the issues they find relevant. The intent is not to “technology-enable” existing government offices or provide “eGovernment”-like services. The intent is to provide the citizens a common space where they can find one another, guided by the issues that are of direct personal concern. By structuring the meeting space in such a way that they shadow existing government structures, perhaps the public debate will influence the actual operation of those structures.

Generally, the Shadow Government hosts only meta-data, in a structure based on the actual operation, as opposed to an idealized view, of government and politics. We cannot agree on a universal language, or even terms within a language to refer to issues (compare “death tax” and “estate tax”) – but one thing we citizens have in common is the overall structure of the governments. This may be the only thing we have in common, so it can provide a common framework. There is an additional advantage to this approach, in that government offices that embrace this additional level of participation can easily “plug in.”

Key Features of the Shadow Government

  • Mirror the existing hierarchical structure of government
  • Cross-reference each government office and the issues that it handles
  • Public reference that collects links (perhaps via an enhanced trackback protocol) to material posted on the Internet that is relevant to each office
  • A general, unedited format (raw list of all material presented)
  • A mechanism for multiple editors to format and comment/editorialize on the lists and present a personalized (biased) view of the material. Each editor is required to provide a profile (reflexivity – see Danah Boyd) before establishing their formated version.
  • A mechanism to display the difference between each edited version and the raw material
  • “Fact sheet” on each office (budget, history, key personnel, contact information, etc.), in conjunction with existing Wiki-based network resources
  • Subscription format based on both offices and issues in raw or edited form (syndication feeds)
  • Navigation by both government structure and issue
  • Click-through office hierarchy (united states -> federal -> executive -> department of homeland security -> transportation security administration -> office of aviation operations)
  • Click-through offices across governments by issue
  • Search by issue (wetland preservation), office (what does the TSA do?) or key personnel (what does bob smith do?)
  • Track changes in government structures so information is not lost or unlinked
  • Multilingual

Candidate Pilots

  • Washington, DC, USA (established, unrepresented English-speaking area, 570,000 persons)
  • Afghanistan (new, democratic government, 25 million persons. Pashto and Dari native languages)
  • Cuba (established, non-democratic government, 11 million persons. Spanish native language)

Technologies

Submission API

  • Submit links to relevant material
  • Metadata
  • Title
  • Author
  • Keywords
  • Threading
  • Language neutral
  • Some level of flood/spam protection
  • Verification that the material is published – a spider

Decentralized database

  • Shadow DNS
  • Allows new segments of the shadow government to be developed and plugged in to the greater network
  • Multiple data stores
  • Language Neutral
  • The “Government Map”
  • Manages the relations of offices within government structures
  • Definition challenge – to find the relations
  • Update challenge – to keep the map current
  • The “Issues Map”
  • Tracks issues handled by the shadow government, and the nodes in the Government Map that are addressing those issues.
  • May evolve by tracking keywords?
  • Sub-maps – special interests, corporations, and individuals should be able to identify “nodes of interest” in both the Government Map and the Issues Map and create a personalized, dynamic and focused map of things they consider relevant.
  • As a gun-control issue is debated in Congress, the NRA should be able to provide readily accessible links on their website that, in effect, say “ping Congressman Frank’s office on this issue.” Both pro-gun-control and anti-guncontrol can use the NRA submap to engage the debate at the nodes the NRA has determined are important to the issue.

Proposed Structure
Independent, non-governmental, non-profit organization.

Legal
Based in countries with strong speech- and press-protection.