Iceland let the general populace participate in the drafting of its new constitution via social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
The country named 25 citizens as a Constitutional Council to help create the new constitution. The Council turned to social media outlets to make the process transparent and to gather input from the public.
The country held a referendum asking voters six questions about the draft on Saturday, October 20th. Nearly half of Iceland’s 235,000 eligible voters took part in the referendum. When asked whether they wanted the new official constitution to be based on the crowdsourced draft, 66% voted yes.
The six question referendum:
- Do you wish the Constitution Council’s proposals to form the basis of a new draft Constitution?
- In the new Constitution, do you want natural resources that are not privately owned to be declared national property?
- Would you like to see provisions in the new Constitution on an established (national) church in Iceland?
- Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution authorizing the election of particular individuals to the Althingi more than is the case at present?
- Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution giving equal weight to votes cast in all parts of the country?
- Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution stating that a certain proportion of the electorate is able to demand that issues are put to a referendum?
The parliament now has to decide whether or not it’s going to turn the draft into reality. The constitution is scheduled to be finalized before the next election, in the spring of 2013.
Iceland’s banking system collapsed right at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, taking the country’s government with it. The new leadership opted for more free speech and government transparency after secretive dealings in the previous administration were largely to blame for the banking debacle.
The council has made the whole deliberation process open. The public can be present at weekly council meetings via live online broadcasts on their website and Facebook page throughout the various debates and discussions. Public discussion has been taking place on the council’s Flickr, Twitter and YouTube accounts as well.
Technology is being used to bridge the gap between citizens and politicians. With the crowdsourcing approach, proposals are public and open and politicians are forced to listen instead of sweeping them under the rug.
The initiative could be a model for people power in other parts of the world where politicians monopolize policy decisions, seemingly resulting in an escalating, ceaseless tirade of conflicts and crises.
While I believe in more transparency in all aspects of government, I don’t know that America could ever emulate this model. Sure in a small, well educated nation like Iceland, this seems ideal… but the United States, with a population 977 times as large as Iceland, this idea would not be feasible.
However, it is an inspirational approach which I believe would be well suited to local government and possibly even as a means to gather direct input from the population on certain state issues.