Lorelei Kelly at TechCrunch: “As it stands, Congress does not have the technical infrastructure to ingest all this new input in any systematic way. Individual members lack a method to sort and filter signal from noise or trusted credible knowledge from malicious falsehood and hype.
What Congress needs is curation, not just more information
Curation means discovering, gathering and presenting content. This word is commonly thought of as the job of librarians and museums, places we go to find authentic and authoritative knowledge. Similarly, Congress needs methods to sort and filter information as required within the workflow of lawmaking. From personal offices to committees, members and their staff need context and informed judgement based on broadly defined expertise. The input can come from individuals or institutions. It can come from the wisdom of colleagues in Congress or across the federal government. Most importantly, it needs to be rooted in local constituents and it needs to be trusted.
It is not to say that crowdsourcing is unimportant for our governing system. But input methods that include digital must demonstrate informed and accountable deliberative methods over time. Governing is the curation part of democracy. Governing requires public review, understanding of context, explanation and measurements of value for the nation as a whole. We are already thinking about how to create an ethical blockchain. Why not the same attention for our most important democratic institution?
Governing requires trade-offs that elicit emotion and sometimes anger. But as in life, emotions require self-regulation. In Congress, this means compromise and negotiation. In fact, one of the reasons Congress is so stuck is that its own deliberative process has declined at every level. Besides the official committee process stalling out, members have few opportunities to be together as colleagues, and public space is increasingly antagonistic and dangerous.
With so few options, members are left with blunt communications objects like clunky mail management systems and partisan talking points. This means that lawmakers don’t use public input for policy formation as much as to surveil public opinion.
Any path forward to the 21st century must include new methods to (1) curate and hear from the public in a way that informs policy AND (2) incorporate real data into a results-driven process.
While our democracy is facing unprecedented stress, there are bright spots. Congress is again dedicating resources to an in-house technologyassessment capacity. Earlier this month, the new 116th Congress created a Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. It will be chaired by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA). Then the Open Government Data Actbecame law. This law will potentially scale the level of access to government data to unprecedented levels. It will require that all public-facing federal data must be machine-readable and reusable. This is a move in the right direction, and now comes the hard part.
Marci Harris, the CEO of civic startup Popvox, put it well, “The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking (FEBP) Act, which includes the OPEN Government Data Act, lays groundwork for a more effective, accountable government. To realize the potential of these new resources, Congress will need to hire tech literate staff and incorporate real data and evidence into its oversight and legislative functions.”
In forsaking its own capacity for complex problem solving, Congress has become non-competitive in the creative process that moves society forward. During this same time period, all eyes turned toward Silicon Valley to fill the vacuum. With mass connection platforms and unlimited personal freedom, it seemed direct democracy had arrived. But that’s proved a bust. If we go by current trends, entrusting democracy to Silicon Valley will give us perfect laundry and fewer voting rights. Fixing democracy is a whole-of-nation challenge that Congress must lead.
Finally, we “the crowd” want a more effective governing body that incorporates our experience and perspective into the lawmaking process, not just feel-good form letters thanking us for our input. We also want a political discourse grounded in facts. A “modern” Congress will provide both, and now we have the institutional foundation in place to make it happen….(More)”.