Ana Campoy at Quartz: “Mexico City just launched a massive experiment in digital democracy. It is asking its nearly 9 million residents to help draft a new constitution through social media. The crowdsourcing exercise is unprecedented in Mexico—and pretty much everywhere else.
as locals are known, can petition for issues to be included in the constitution through Change.org (link inSpanish), and make their case in person if they gather more than 10,000 signatures. They can also annotate proposals by the constitution drafters via PubPub, an editing platform (Spanish) similar to GoogleDocs.
The idea, in the words of the mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera, is to“bestow the constitution project (Spanish) with a democratic,progressive, inclusive, civic and plural character.”
There’s a big catch, however. The constitutional assembly—the body that has the final word on the new city’s basic law—is under no obligation to consider any of the citizen input. And then there are the practical difficulties of collecting and summarizing the myriad of views dispersed throughout one of the world’s largest cities.
That makes Mexico City’s public-consultation experiment a big test for the people’s digital power, one being watched around the world.Fittingly, the idea of crowdsourcing a constitution came about in response to an attempt to limit people power.
Fittingly, the idea of crowdsourcing a constitution came about in response to an attempt to limit people power.
For decades, city officials had fought to get out from under the thumb of the federal government, which had the final word on decisions such as who should be the city’s chief of police. This year, finally, they won a legal change that turns the Distrito Federal (federal district), similar to the US’s District of Columbia, into Ciudad de México (Mexico City), a more autonomous entity, more akin to a state. (Confusingly, it’s just part of the larger urban area also colloquially known as Mexico City, which spills into neighboring states.)
However, trying to retain some control, the Mexican congress decided that only 60% of the delegates to the city’s constitutional assembly would be elected by popular vote. The rest will be assigned by the president, congress, and Mancera, the mayor. Mancera is also the only one who can submit a draft constitution to the assembly.
Mancera’s response was to create a committee of some 30 citizens(Spanish), including politicians, human-rights advocates, journalists,and even a Paralympic gold medalist, to write his draft. He also calledfor the development of mechanisms to gather citizens’ “aspirations,values, and longing for freedom and justice” so they can beincorporated into the final document.
Mexico City didn’t have a lot of examples to draw on, since not a lot ofplaces have experience with crowdsourcing laws. In the US, a few locallawmakers have used Wiki pages and GitHub to draft bills, says MarilynBautista, a lecturer at Stanford Law School who has researched thepractice. Iceland—with a population some 27 times smaller than MexicoCity’s—famously had its citizens contribute to its constitution withinput from social media. The effort failed after the new constitution gotstuck in parliament.
In Mexico City, where many citizens already feel left out, the first bighurdle is to convince them it’s worth participating….
Then comes the task of making sense of the cacophony that will likelyemerge. Some of the input can be very easily organized—the results ofthe survey, for example, are being graphed in real time. But there could be thousands of documents and comments on the Change.org petitionsand the editing platform.
The most elaborate part of the system is PubPub, an open publishing platform similar to Google Docs, which is based on a project originally developed by MIT’s Media Lab. The drafters are supposed to post essays on how to address constitutional issues, and potentially, the constitution draft itself, once there is one. Only they—or whoever they authorize—will be able to reword the original document.