Sunday, 25 February 2007

Three views of e-democracy

Sunday night here. Muggy, humid Auckland. What's new? Well we are hardier, and perhaps a little more chastened, having had a bit of a shake up, earthquake wise, something the rest of the country seemed to find either amusing, or our own fault. If you excuse the pun.

They Work For You
My week was also a busy one. It started last Monday with my having a go at explaining They Work For You to Kay Gregory on TVNZ Breakfast. You can see/hear it here.

As I've said before, the great thing about this spot,is that you get 5 minutes [sometimes less] to say something useful, usually about a topic that, by itself, doesn't really lend itself to brevity.

In this case, explaining the New Zealand version of the UK open source classic web 2.0 experiment on how to mash up lots of pieces of parliamentary information, and then reassemble them as a way of monitoring, or critiquing, or even cheering on parliamentary MPs' in their daily business in the parliament.

Its a great site - and as I say on the tele, strangely compelling - you do get a real sense of the purpose of Parliament in general, and what different MP's are up to, including yours. And if you don't know who that is, that's the first thing they sort out.

I also love the fact its a citizen based initiative. It's modelled on the UK original, which began as a My Society project.

The New Zealand version is built, maintained and managed by Robert McKinnon, an expat kiwi who used to write financial software for his day job, but who is now freelance in the citizen democracy open source field. He is London based, but not, as far as I know, from Tooting.

The open source connection is important here. The UK guys made their API available for their site late last year, with the New Zealand version a stunning example of the kinds of energy this releases.

Robert has been in touch since the Breakfast TV spot to say, over time, he intends to add some social software features to the website.

He wants to reproduce some of the concepts he sees operating in He'd like users to be able to browse events, say which events they are watching or attending, and see what their friend's are watching or attending.

For theyworkforyou in New Zealand, he sees users tagging whether they are watching a bill, blogging about a bill or submitting on a bill. Then, he hopes, "In aggregate, we could see how many people are monitoring each bill, or each ministerial portfolio, or each MP".

He is currently trying to finish the bill listing updates and some voting analysis.
I think he is a total star, and I wish him well!

[Note: All the data on the site right now is available from various government sources. One of them is the new site for the New Zealand Parliament. To be fair to everyone who worked on that site, a monster effort of collaboration, I should point out that it too, albeit from the standpoint of the "official record", is on the side of the e-democracy angels, at here.]

Currently they are experimenting with a tool which gives the public the ability to make a submission online to two select committees,The Commerce Committee and the Justice and Electoral Committee.

The former is currently taking submissions on the Copyright Bill. And yes, this is the one which is trying to sort out the thorny issue of format shifting.So you might want to have a go.

Internet NZ
Also, out on the stumps weeks was the Internet Society of New Zealand, with Board members, et al, on a bit of a nationwide road show.

On Tuesday last, they rolled into Auckland, and fronted up to an open meeting to discuss their current lobbying priorities, the next two years strategic plan, and, while they were at it, gave a very candid account of their budgets, and upcoming spending plans.

Being the manager, or guardian of the .nz domain space allows them , so I understand, to pick up a wholesale levy on all NZ domain names. Accordingly, they have robust cash flow, and a definite sense of purpose on how spent it.

As those who have followed their activities in the last 12 months, will know, a lot of this is lobbying government on the telecommunications regime, especially around unbundling the local loop, et al. They have also taken strong positions on the current Copyright Bill.

On that score, by happy serendipity, they too have been urging people to use the online select committee submission tool to the Commerce Committee, mentioned above.

As well as the lobbying work strand, the are also working on their basic remit of maintaining the local domain space, including ensuring the technical architecture of the Internet remains robust.

Those two work strands sounds like "mothersmilk" statements.

However, the meeting did provoke an interesting discussion, some of which was aided and abetted by yours truly - and that was around, while congratulating Internet NZ for their sauces in getting into the ears of government and the regulators, perhaps it was time they spent some of their considerable energies [and budgets] getting the public onside with the issues of peering, network neutrality, next generation internet, telecommuncation investment portfolios etc.

In short, not only was their vision statement , We work to keep the Internet open and uncaptureable , the ships biscuit, some of the issues facing the local internet infrastructure were so important, wasn't it now time for Internet NZ to make sure the 3 million people in NZ who use its pathways, started realising that like all public goods, the internet infrastructure needs lots of vigilance from everyone to make sure it stays that way.

Having forced these poor guys to listen to me, I felt it was only right I bowl up to their site and pay the $20 membership fee. I suggest you do the same.

Widening the view 2007
Lastly, just in - a brilliant combined e-mail/text message , web site call to arms, and invite, from the redoubtable Mairi Gunn, Blackbox Productions, Vice Pres Women in Film and TV.

She, and many of her colleagues in the local NZ documentary industry, are on a mission - to put together a series of meetings/hui on creating a sustainable local documentary infrastructure, which isn't wholly under the control of the local television networks.

To get there, in March 2007 , they , WIFT New Zealand , in partnership with the Screen Innovation Production Fund (SIPF), will hold a series of one day hui entitled Widening the View 2007: Creating a Sustainable Future for Documentary.

Monday March 5 in Auckland - Auckland University of Technology

Tuesday March 6 in Dunedin - Burns Hall

Wednesday March 7 in Wellington - St. John's Church Hall, corner of Dixon and Willis Streets

There is a great web site, here.


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