I’ve been lucky enough over the past year and a bit to be collaborating with the Open Source Applications Foundation on the Chandler project. One of the real pleasures of this work (and there are lots of others) has been in getting to spend a little bit of time with Mitch Kapor, whose intelligence, insight, and general mensch-like qualities I truly respect.
Mitch gave a speech the other day at the Web 2.0 conference where he talked about some of the things that are broken with American politics and how open source technology projects show some examples of process that could point the way towards fixing some of the problems. It’s a great speech, and it makes me even more glad I get a chance to work with Mitch and the rest of the terrific OSAF staff.
Also from open source we have the idea of transparency. Not only can you see the source code, but you can see every single bug in Bugzilla. You can see the notes from every meeting we have at OSAF.
Transparency is not a new concept to self-government. In fact it’s an essential component. Yet our government practices have become increasingly opaque. For example did you know the final draft of the Patriot Act was introduced simultaneously with the vote?
Do we see with who and when are Congresspersons and their staff are meeting? Are transcripts of lobbyists meeting with government officials made public? No, too often the real reasons for legislation, the real beneficiaries are obscured behind thicker doors. And in recent years, government information is increasingly less available in the name of security.
Our politics is not transparent and it needs to be. I am heartened by the community of bloggers who have begun to hold politicians and the big media which cover them more accountable.
So, yes, I think technology can help in the form of decentralized tools, greater transparency, and principle-based communities which use them. The challenges are to develop both the tools and the community practices in a synergistic way.