Creating Collaborative Law, Part I

In her 1999 commentary on her very successful Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon wrote in The Outlandish Companion how she discovered and explored the world of collaborative authorship. She describes how in the mid-1980s she started using CompuServe bulletin board forums to bounce around ideas about her first book, test passages and eventually discover the agent that signed her to a contract with Delacorte Press that launched the series so successfully.

While Galbadon rightly takes credit for the ultimate success she’s enjoyed with Outlander, she also acknowledges how important it was for her to be able to leverage existing technologies to find the right environment for success with her writings.

As you may recall from last time, we introduced Wattpad. Wattpad offers an interesting way to collaborate in a very social way to write new stories and even books. The creators claim that “Wattpad is a place to discover and share stories: a social platform that connects people through words. It is a community that spans borders, interests, languages. With Wattpad, anyone can read or write on any device: phone, tablet, or computer.” This means that people who don’t even know each other can read, write and review in a social, collaborative manner.

In a top-level sense, the “final” version our nation’s constitution benefited from a similar approach. A group led by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (the Federalists) sparred in a very open and public way with an opposing group (the Anti-Federalists) led by Patrick Henry, John Hancock and others. The two groups were using social media of the day in the form of newspaper essays, pamphlets and letters to debate in public their positions. In some cases (e.g., Massachusetts and Virginia), the public debates using published letters and essays informed state-level ratification of the original Constitution.[1]

While the Framers of our Constitution did not seek public comments on their initial “signed” creation in Philadelphia in 1787, they did in effect solicit input for what was truly a dynamic document in those early months of ratification. One could easily claim that the Bill of Rights, introduced for ratification in 1789, was an addition to the original Constitution that emerged as a result of public interactions, including a great deal of debate and disagreement!

Together, the Federalists, the Anti-Federalists and their publically-inclusive debate of both documents pointed toward a socially interactive collaboration that produced our amazingly resilient Constitution. In a non-biological way, the Federalists, Anti-Federalists and their public audiences interacted in the contemporary social networks to coevolve our Constitution and Bill of Rights, if you will.

The results were that we ended up with both the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, setting the stage for what became the framework for an adaptive form for governance that’s lasted over 225 years. While it’s not really correct to call our nation a democratic republic, that is in effect the process that guided the early evolution of the Constitution…anyone and everyone could impact its development until it was ratified by the necessary nine states in 1788 (per Article VII).[2] Through the amendment process, accommodated by the Constitution, we could continue to interact at all levels of government through existing social networks to produce more adaptations!

How might similar socially-based techniques like this work in the development of lesser law and policy today? Imagine that some of today’s most contentious laws such as health care had been developed in an inclusive, publically debated forum rather than one party essentially “ramming” it through based simply on a sufficient majority in both houses. We don’t suggest that health care reform was unnecessary but rather that it was not developed as collaboratively as it could have been. Possibly, politics could have been mitigated with a more knowledgeable public involvement and interaction.[3]

In our next piece, we’ll describe some of the mechanics involved in how such an approach could have been applied. For the time being, we wanted to draw some meaningful comparisons to the technologies of two periods (today and the late 18th Century) and show how good things can happen when people want to get along for good reasons. Make no mistake: there was a significant distance between the two factions debating the development of the Constitution and its eventual ratification. We have to ask why we can’t apply similar philosophies of willingness to eventually agree on things that aren’t as critical as the ratification of our Constitution.

Bottom line: there is a great deal of debate ongoing in our nation about better collaboration between the two “ruling” parties to create law and policy that better reflect the Center of America. Such collaboration is at the heart of the American Promise of equal access to opportunity. In keeping with Fulfilling the American Promise in the Connected Age, we intend to explore how new, socially-networked technologies can help get us back on the road to the same kind of collaboration that produced the marvelous Constitution that has served us since our foundations. Until next time…

Originally posted by Carl and Chuck Hunt, 4/4/2014.


[1] Beeman, R., Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. Random House, NY, 2009.

[2] The authors acknowledge using a slight amount of literary license in titling the last post, dated 3/25/2014, “A More ‘Democratic’ Democratic Republic’”…we understand the United States is by most definitions a federal republic. Throughout our history, the function of democracy has played a limited but important role in our existence as a nation, but in the end the United States is republic form of government, with the states federated under our great Constitution.

[3] We don’t seek to dismiss blame from the “loyal opposition” – the health care law was rammed through partially because the other side wouldn’t engage, even though both parties clearly recognized that the status quo was unacceptable. Would the opposition have contributed to the process under “normal” non-polarized circumstances? Perhaps not. Should the majority have sought to put pressure on the minority until it came to the table given the sweeping universal impacts of the law? Perhaps so. History will tell us if the President’s party was right to ram healthcare legislation in any event.

2 thoughts on “Creating Collaborative Law, Part I

  1. Thanks for you kind mention of my books and myself! I’d like to correct what may be a slight misapprehension, though: what I did when writing my first book, OUTLANDER, and the Compuserve Literary Forum, was by no means “collaborative authorship”–the term seems to suggest that I sought people’s help in writing the book or allowed other people to contribute to the writing. Neither is true. What I did was simply to talk to people about what I was doing–in the context of an online community of readers and writers who _all_ talk about what they’re reading and writing. I was very fortunate to have a number of our members who were publisher writers tell me their own stories and offer advice on finding an agent–and by good fortune, one friend introduced me to his agent– who became my own first agent.

    (I did not “bounce ideas around”–I just told people what I was doing, in the course of conversation.)

    I really don’t think that online networking of this sort amounts to “collaborative authorship,” and wouldn’t like to give your readers the wrong impression. A full account of how I came to write OUTLANDER, and how it got published, is indeed provided in THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION–though the account (in various lengths) can also be found in the “Resources/Interviews” and “Resources/FAQS” section of my website:

    • Thanks for the insight, Diana. It’s good of you to weigh in and keep us straight! It’s also important to know how valuable social media has been to your efforts in outstanding story-telling. We hope to tell a similar story on the importance of what has served as the social media of the times for the creation and preservation of our great nation, a role in which you have also contributed with the continuation of your wonderful series. Best regards from FAPITCA.

      – Carl

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