In March 2012, the Finland Citizens’ Initiative Act went into effect, giving citizens the right to propose legislation to the Finnish Parliament. To facilitate this, a group of non-profit entrepreneurs launched web platform Open Ministry.
The platform supports a new era of open governance. As Journalist Susan Fourtané noted:
“Today, companies are crowdsourcing everything from designs of cars to marketing slogans. Why shouldn’t governments follow suit?”
Through the web platform, citizens can propose and vote on new legislature online. The proposed legislation must gather support from 50,000 citizens of voting age within six months to be considered by the parliament.
This approach empowers citizens to have a say in their governance, and more. Science and technology writer David Hill pointed out:
“More than that, Finnish voters can back an initiative online rather than being physically approached by solicitors. Not only does that make it more convenient, but voters can study the initiatives in more detail and research information before they sign up, something that is much harder to do when someone is pushing a clipboard in your face to sign.”
The initiative involves collaboration both between the government and the people, as well as among people, with volunteers running the platform and converting proposals into legal form. Journalist Susan Fourtané noted:
“In the meantime, The Open Ministry’s team has been actively working with organizers / campaigners in planning the initiative campaigns for the fall. A group of volunteers from different professional backgrounds evaluate and select proposals that citizens send through the Website. Later, the final selection is passed on to volunteer lawyers who draft the proposals into legal form and terminology.”
Several banks and telecom providers have supported the initiative by providing free access to their verification APIs, thus enabling Open Ministry to verify the identity of voters. This partnership was crucial to the Open Ministry being accepted by Finnish policymakers, and provides brands an opportunity to support their consumer’s passions.
Thinkers believe that the transparency that is inherent in Open Ministry platform can lead to greater accountability for government officials and increase of trust in officials. Stefaan Verhulst, an academic in law and communications, wrote:
“Finland’s program forces representatives to officially take a stand for or against proposals demonstrated to be important to a large portion of the population. “As such, Open Ministry could lead to not only more immediate direct democracy, but greater accountability for government representatives.”
Joonas Pekkanen, founder of Open Ministry, shares similar views, which have been summarized by Good News Finland:
“Open preparation and decision-making ensure that real causes and opinion leaders will be heard. When the processing phases surrounding decisions and background documents are open to everyone, trust in government officials and representatives will grow.”
In October 2012, the first citizen-proposed law, a ban on fur farming, entered Parliament with the support 55,000 citizens. Thinkers are watching developments to gauge the success of the initiative.
Matthew Ingram, a writer at GigaOm, pointed out:
“The laborious process of putting together a comprehensive piece of legislation — which would require hundreds of pages, legal footnotes and cross-checking with existing laws if it is to succeed in any real way — may simply not be compatible with existing crowdsourcing methods”.
While some question if crowdsourcing can be effective in creating serious legislature, some question whether the current definition of legislature is still relevant in today’s world. Academic Stefaan Verhulst wrote:
“Despite the promise of crowdsourcing towards more participation, transparency and accountability of the law-making processes several challenges remain. More importantly, broader questions exist on whether these efforts aim to fix a process designed for a previous era or should go beyond what we currently mean by legislation.”
Thinkers highlight the progress of the initiative to Finland’s open culture and history of collaboration between citizens and government. David Meyer, a writer at GigaOm, noted:
“Nordic countries tend to have relatively close societies where people are enthusiastic about pitching into civic life… Tech-driven democracy fans in other countries may not find the environment as conducive to crowdsourced legislation right now, but on the other hand they just got themselves a model to study.”
Though the code for Open Ministry is freely available open source community GitHub, people believe initiative may fall victim to pranksters if replicated elsewhere. Fruzsina Eördögh, writer at The Slate, noted:
“While Open Ministry may be spam- and hacker-proof, there are no signs that it is prankster-proof. Maybe the residents of Finland don’t seem the type to vote on bogus legislation, but the same can’t be said for citizens of the United States. In July of this year, two writers from the satire Internet site Something Awful got more than 62,000 people to like a Facebook page in order to “exile” rapper Pitbull to Alaska.”
People now call for an open democracy and thinkers believe in a ‘writeable’ society. Joonas Pekkanen, founder of Open Ministry, observed the shift in people’s expectations:
“Citizens have begun to call for a more open, transparent and participatory western democracy in place of the old rigid system.”
“…we live not in a passive society–a read-only society–but in a writeable society where we have the power to change our communities, to change our institutions.”
This shift in people’s attitudes is evident in the number of open governance initiatives in Europe, Brazil and even the U.S.
In France, WeSign.it allows people to create petitions online. In Iceland, a Constitutional Council allows citizens to offer direct feedback, re-write and vote on new proposed legislature. In Latvia, Mana Balss (My Voice) enables citizens to propose topics for politicians to debate. In Russia, WikiVote! enables citizens to write the laws and vote on the different versions. In Brazil, e-democracia enables citizens to highlight issues, draft solutions and debate with other citizens. In the US, Petition.WhiteHouse.gov enables citizens to highlight issues to the government. On a corporate front, IBM Many Bills is a “visual tool explorer” that aims to simplify legislation for the public. * (MSLGROUP’s People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform and approach helps organizations tap into people’s insights for innovation, storytelling and change. The People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform also enables our distinctive insights and foresight approach, which consists of four elements: organic conversation analysis, MSLGROUP’s own insight communities, client-specific insights communities, and ethnographic deep dives into these communities.
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