Saturday, July 31, 2010

Towards a Leeds Declaration on Online Deliberation

The following sketch for a "Leeds Declaration" was the basis of my presentation at the "Strategies for Extending Deliberation" panel discussion at the recent Online Deliberation Conference at the University of Leeds in the UK. The organizers (myself included) had hoped to actually finish (and ratify by some means) a declaration by the end of the conference but that didn't happen. While it may still happen I thought it would be reasonable to publish my thoughts in some form on the web.

How do we take advantage of this historical opportunity to play meaningful roles in the work (now in progress) of designing tomorrow? Perhaps a jointly developed document could help inform this effort?

The Leeds Declaration:
Building an Enlightened and Empowered Citizenry [A DRAFT] July 2, 2010 / Version 0.1
This DRAFT template is based to some degree on the original idea to promote a “Citizen’s Assembly.”

All over the world attempts are being made to trivialize citizenship and reconstitute citizens as (everyday) consumers and (sporadic) voters. At the same time, real power is in many ways being transferred to large corporations and other unelected organizations such as the World Trade Organization. We, the organizers and attendees of the Online Deliberation Conference at the University of Leeds, July 2, 2010, hope to help counter that trend with this declaration.

Realizing the growing and critical importance of citizens and civic society in addressing humankind's common problems, we the undersigned propose the initiation of a prolonged and multi-pronged focus on deliberation — online, "offline", and, most importantly, the relationships between the two. We realize that this is an extremely complex project that will require years of complex, nuanced, creative and thoughtful negotiation and collaboration. We are aware that this project will have to address an extremely broad range of social and cross-cultural factors. We, however, believe that beginning this discussion in an explicit and open way is preferable to many other varieties of globalization that lack this transparency.

Moreover, we realize that precisely defining an ideal system in advance is impossible. For that reason, we propose to begin a principled, long-term, incremental, participatory design process that integrates experimental, educational, community mobilization, research and policy work all within a common intellectual orientation: specifically to provide an inclusive and pluralistic intellectual umbrella for a diverse, distributed civil society effort.

Civil society historically is the birthplace of socially ameliorative visions. This effort is intended to help build a more effective platform for these efforts, to help address humankind's shared problems — such as environmental degradation, human rights abuses, economic injustice and war — that other sectors — notably government and business — are seemingly powerless to stem.

[The proposal contains the follow main tenets or themes that the proposal declaration is founded upon.]

  • Need for Deliberation and Citizen Engagement

  • Obstacles to Deliberation and Citizen Engagement

  • Collaborative Emergencies

  • The Internet as a Critical Platform

  • The Importance of Civil Society

  • An Emphasis on Social Innovation and Civic Intelligence

  • Building Across Boundaries As Well As Within Boundaries

  • New Venues, Transformed Venues

  • Many Audiences, Many Stakeholders

  • Diversity of Deliberative Spaces and Approaches

  • Support for the Deliberative Community

  • Building on Current (and Building Additional) Knowledge

  • Suggestions and Recommendations to All Sectors...

All sectors of society would be affected by a more enlightened and empowered citizenship. Although no one group will be responsible for the design, development, maintenance, and use of a more engaged and effective deliberative culture, we are directing our recommendations to specific sectors. This declaration should contain suggestions to (at least) these groups: the academic and research community, parents, teachers, and other educators, the government at various levels (the responsibility to respond to citizen input social innovation -- in addition to technological innovation -- should be funded), the media, the funders, the NGOS and to the civil sector in general.

Finally, the last line in the declaration should make it clear that the declaration must be addressed to people everywhere — all citizens of the world.

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