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I lead Force Five Partners, a marketing analytics consulting firm (bio). I've been writing here about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

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August 22, 2006

Legi-Wiki?

Via Slashdot, I saw the recent Fortune article on the US Patent Office's new wiki for helping with the patent review process (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/08/21/8383639/index.htm?source=yahoo_quote).

Prompted by the work I've done in recent years with public sector clients, I've been wondering for a while about the suitability of a wiki for the legislative and regulatory process (pick your level of government).

As Louis Brandeis said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant".  A wiki that made the legislative process fully accessible and transparent would certainly meet that objective.  Precisely for that reason, many would oppose such an idea.  And, deals are essential to reaching consensus in politics.  Not everything can be, or should be, watched at the line-item level, by everyone, at any stage of the process, all the time.  I fear if we did so we'd be paralyzed, because in a society as complex as ours, reaching a consensus is so hard.  (Arguably, we mostly don't reach a consensus today at the Federal level, we just agree to live in different states and we pass bills for what we spend and don't want to pay for onto our kids.)

But maybe we could start at late stages of the process, once bills have been developed via traditional means.  We could give read-and-comment rights to members of the public, reserving write permissions for legislators and their staffs.  We could have alerts so when language changes, members of the public have a chance to weigh in (so we can avoid bridges to nowhere, no matter how essential they may be to legislative consensus -- there had to be a better way to spend that money, even in that district).

Or, maybe we start earlier in the process.  Instead of writing your congressman, maybe you could edit his legi-wiki.  Once he had ideas hashed out collectively by his constituency there, he could do a better job of representing it later in the process.

Reactions?  Where else are ideas like this being discussed?

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