Friday, September 01, 2006

The California Challenge I: Blogging and Open Source Policy Making

Part I of a two-part series. Something to labor over this weekend.

I know the old saying about keeping your mouth shut and having people wonder if you’re a fool rather than opening it and confirming. But that’s never really stopped me. And, since what I’m about to discuss won’t really be taken seriously, please indulge me with that slight smile and raise of the eyebrow I often get when I launch into something like this.

We want to try to use this blog for something more than just info-dissemination, not that that’s not key and worthy. We’d like to use it as well as an experiment in what we’ll call “open source policymaking.”

What do we mean? One of the more interesting themes for some bloggers right now, such as Dana Blankenhorn, is advocacy of open source politics. Here's how Dana describes it:

“Open source politics, policy based on Internet values and myths, can deliver the rapid changes we need to deal with our real problems – the environment, energy.

Those who have been on the Internet for any period of time know what those values are, intuitively:
Give first. Share knowledge.
Collaborate. Work together.
Come to consensus, not just a narrow majority.

Open source is an approach to governance that is based, like the original New Deal, on an attitude. It's not a set of policies, but a method for finding policies and bringing them forward.
As with the Internet, it's based on some simple ideas that work:
Open communication
Transparent consensus
International cooperation

What would an open source politics look like, and stand for?
Consensus. Rather than fight like dogs to win narrow majorities, open source people know that only consensus moves us forward. Let's find where we agree and go there first, and if we must fork, then be open to it.
Practicality. An open source politics is not didactic. It doesn't set forth policy solutions, but a process toward finding them. In this it borrows directly from FDR's original New Deal.
Science. The scientific method is at the heart of an open source politics. This puts it in direct opposition to the 'faith-based' approach of the current excess.
Commons. Open source, open spectrum, and open intellectual property regimes have at their heart the idea of a commons. You grow knowledge not by walling it off and making money off yesterday, but by freely building it toward tomorrow. .”

Now you don’t have to agree with everything Dana says about “open source,” but the concept seems worth developing. Let’s take a particular policy problem (can you guess from this post’s title?). Rather than wait for powers-on-high to generate “top down” recommendations that inevitably lose the “bottom-up” perspective and insights (and almost inevitably prove less relevant to practitioners), let’s try the “open source” approach, instead.

Let’s bring our readers, some of the best, most experienced minds in criminal justice policy, into continuous discussion and revamping of real corrections/sentencing policy problems. Let’s see if we can generate, percolate (in Kim’s terms), ideas and proposals that might actually be as effective and do-able as those bestowed from the top down. IOW, let’s see if we can develop this “open source” concept into a creative new way of injecting public ideas into policymaking.

Chris Anderson in his recent The Long Tail talks about how much his argument gained from the feedback he got on his blog for his ideas. Similar people with similar backgrounds and interests refined a concept that is now energizing many segments of our economy. Why can’t we do the same here with corrections and sentencing policy? Why can’t we use the force of interactive, reiterative expertise and interest to energize one of the most important areas of government function? Don’t worry about the details, we’ll work them out as we go along. That’s the deal. Just get your thoughts, your revisions, your replacements ready.

Our first assignment? Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let’s go right at the Matterhorn. In the next post, I’m going to put forward a proposal for addressing CA’s current corrections/sentencing policy intractability. You’ll read it, analyze it, tear it apart or just chink off bits and pieces, then tell us how it can be better. And someone will do the same to you. And then someone else will go after them. And you’ll respond and so on. In the end, if we’re all focusing on the goal of producing something do-able, not just being nonconstructive (and we’ll definitely be policing that), we may just have something CA can use. Or it could go nowhere. Or be a big mess. Like that’s a reason not to? . . . I guess I may have just confirmed that “fool” thing, huh?

Anyway, we’ll leave this with yet another cliffhanger here. Enjoy the holiday. And then we’ll get started next week.

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