Colin J. Williams on 7 Feb 2001 05:59:22 -0000

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<nettime> The Field of Dreams Aproach (FDA)

     [orig To:; and CC:, dotforce 
      <>, CI <>]


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:

   * Are there significant and identifiable social benefits to be achieved by
     sprinkling about $1 billion across the country?
   * If there are public benefits to be gained, how do they compare with the
     benefits from other economic (spending our way out of a recession) or social
     (feeding or housing people or restoring the health system) expenditures?

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.

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