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[Nettime-bold] The Field of Dreams Aproach (FDA)
Colin J. Williams on 7 Feb 2001 04:14:33 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] The Field of Dreams Aproach (FDA)


You are right, the FDA has not been a notable success to date.

You point to some examples which you feel have worked, the
C4LD in Toronto and the anti-MAI campaign.  I'm not familiar
with either the GKD or the GDG discussion.

Both C4LD and the anti-MAI campaign derived from a feeling
that people would lose something as a consequence of a proposed
government action.  The first was led by John Sewell, a former
councillor and Mayor of the City of Toronto.   He is a man with
a long-time interest in municipal affairs and land use planning in
particular.  He was able to persuade many people that the structure
of government resulting from the amalgamation of six municipalities
into the City of Toronto would be less democratic than heretofore.

He waged a campaign of confrontation and minor  civil disobedience.
He made no effort to seek to modify the Harris proposal to meet
some of the democratic objectives.  The important thing to note is
that the campaign was waged in meat space as well as in cyber
space.  It was certainly successful in the sense that there was an
increase in popular involvement, perhaps 0.2% of the city's people
participated.   However, it is difficult to point to one period or
comma in the legislation which was changed as a result of this

Since it was national, and to a degree international, the campaign
against the MAI (a Charter of Rights for transnational corporations)
was much more dispersed.  Here again, public meetings were an
important element in the campaign.  Citizen involvement, as a
proportion of the population was probably less, but the outcome
was more in the sense that the MAI was postponed.  It is now
part of the WTO endeavours and will likely be a component in
the proposed FTAA.  This is to be discussed in Quebec City in

Further analysis is needed, but it is my guess that the important role
of the Internet was to provide administrative support for these
campaigns, rather than to stimulate people to action.  It was a tool
of mobilization and coordination.

I agree that facilitation and animation is a likely necessity to encourage
public participation.  However, in the case of the Broadband discussion
list, the process was animated at the start by some specific questions
from a member of the government's task force.  There has been no real
exploration of the issues raised.  At the start, there was some
discussion on the makeup of the task force, the process being followed
and the limited mandate assigned to the task force, but this petered out.

There has been no exploration of such basic questions as:

The big difference between a discussion about making broadband
service more widely available and a discussion about the MAI is
that there is no obvious ox which faces goring, except perhaps
the telcos, if we embarked on a vast fibre build.  They would
not call many to the barricades.

Yes, we must soldier on, in the hope that the right formula will
come to us.  Some dispassionate, but not too academic analysis
is needed of the efforts made thus far.

Jason makes some interesting points in a subsequent posting.
He suggests that if people are to contribute their time and thought
to a discussion, there must be some reasonable expectation that
the outcome of the discussion will have some effect.  I would
suggest that there must also be a feeling that someone's interest
is adversely and perhaps unfairly affected.

He also points to a weakening democracy in the United States.
We don't have to go to another country to illustrate the problem,
participation in the November 27 election was seriously down.
We expect those we elect to the Parliament to be able to influence
the course of events.  The Auditor General points out today that
our M.P.s have little opportunity to review massive expenditures
Instead, they concern themselves with the trivia of hotels and golf
courses.  Things have become so concentrated in the PMO that
it is questionable whether the cabinet can much influence

He suggests that the feeling of powerlessness could lead to revolt.
My view is that there must also be a widespread feeling of
significant hardship.  Most people have a job and the hardship is
limited to certain groups, such as the first nation peoples.  Those
in control have a fine ear for the signs of revolt and will not likely
let it occur - it would not be in their interest.

Jason goes on to suggest a web page for every politician.  Most
politicians, even at the city level, now have email addresses.  The
business at hand is also widely available on the web.  It has been
my experience that my M.P. tends to respond to email messages.
His replies take longer than I would like and usually do not say
what I would like, but they do, by their content, make it clear that
someone in his office has read my message.  Thus, to some
degree, there are tools available today.

Jason says:

The technology is there but it will only work if it appears to be listened
to by "the powers that be".
I suggest that it is also up to the citizen to do his part and
to use the tools which are there.


Colin W.

Michael Gurstein wrote:

I've been thinking about issues of on-line participation and democracy quite a
lot recently and so I guess, have a lot of other people.

What I think is clear is that the Field of Dreams approach--build it and they
will come is just that, a Field of Dreams... lot's of folks are building them
(on-line processes for consultation/participation)
but not many folks are using them...

The question is how to draw some useful conclusions/direction from the
participation (or lack of participation) in these
and on a different level, to ask the question does the lack of (low level of)
participation overall mean that this
approach doesn't work and should be abandoned.

My personal conclusion is that we are just at very early stages in this process
and we are just testing out different technologies--physical, social,
emotional--for how these things can, or can be made to, work.  We are collecting
examples of how they won't work (Fields of Dreams) but there are also some
interesting examples of how they can be made to work--the anti-MAI and anti-WTO
C4LD in Toronto, even GKD and the GDG discussion are very good examples...  The
failed examples are too numerous to even try to list...

Some personal observations:
    * if you want specific kinds of outputs, you need to work at them and this
doesn't come for free... If someone wants to use ICT's for consultation it is
not enough to just set up an email list and expect the consultation to flow...
It needs care and nurturing--facilitation and animation--time and attention
    * web consultations work even less well than email consultations except in
highly constrained spheres or environments
    * to a very considerable degree silence is consent.  Around any single issue
or area of concern, there will be a rainbow of responses--from those with a
passionate interest to those with only the vaguest knowledge.  If the issue
matters enough to them, people will begin to pay attention and respond.  If
those with the passionate interest are diverting the process then they will
elicit a response from those with a less passionate interest and so on... This
happens on the net just as it does IRL...
    * we have no idea at this point how to link Net democracy/participation into
Real Life democratic participation... what has been done in this area to date is
the political equivalent of the DotCom craze/crash people threw a lot of
unsustainable models at the problem and when they weren't sustainable they
crashed... it doesn't mean that E-Commerce (E-participation?) is a dud, only
that figuring out how to make it work is going to take more effort/resources
than people originally expected
    * we need some theory on participation/democracy on the Net and we need some
significant re-analysis of current theories of participation/democracy in the
light of the Net as participation prosthetic.

However, IMHO the technology is fundamentally supportive of democratic
participation.  It has the capacity not only to facilitate communications,
information/knowledge sharing, and multi-logues but also to enhance and extend
these and thus by any definition they can only lead to greater democratic
participation (political disintermediation) rather than less.

There are of course, issues of access, but probably even now in developed
countries and in many parts of developing
countries, more folks have more access to broader political and participatory
processes via computer communications than through any other available means.

(I have a feeling BTW that a lot of those who are saying, well it hasn't worked
so let's give up on it, are pursuing other and fundamentally anti-democratic or
anti-participation agendas rather than anti-technology ones...

Mike Gurstein

----- Original Message -----
From: Colin J. Williams <cjw {AT} sympatico.ca>
To: CPI-UA Universal Access <cpi-ua {AT} vcn.bc.ca>
Sent: Sunday, February 04, 2001 2:19 PM
Subject: [CPI-UA]: Reform Democracy for the Internet Age

A Don Tapscott, a Toronto guru, offers advice to President
George W. Bush and looks to the new president to lead the
way so that Bush will assure his place in history.

As he sees it, an interactive democracy would increase civic
engagement.  With politically engaged citizens, we would
see a flowering of civic-society organizations, businesses and
social relationships.

He gives the ICANN process as an example of electronic
democracy and claims that elected representatives and
lobbyists would both feel threatened if a move were made
in this direction.

He gives no attention to the problem of ensuring that everyone
has an opportunity to participate in the process.  Is the legislator
to spend his/her time reading a list server for guidance?


Colin W.

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