Harnessing the Tools of Collaboration, “Section A”

– Creating Collaborative Law, Part III, Section A

NOTE: Due to the length and technical nature of this post, there are two sections: A (this post) and B (a more technical discussion that immediately follows this post in sequence).

We’ve recently written a lot about collaboration and cooperation in producing common good for America. We’d like to think it’s straightforward to see what collaboration has to do with creating effectively implemented law and policy. After all, people have to interact with each other, whether in full agreement or not. How else do we achieve some level of cooperation and willingness in order to find ways to produce a meaningful common good that extends beyond the individual self?

Americans have been collaborating for centuries to produce what has become today’s United States of America. We’ve found ways to cooperate and produce the freest and most participative forms of economics and government known to history. However, many of us sense something is different now – collaboration and agreement have become difficult to achieve. The current environment for equal access to opportunity in America is diminished from what it was even 20 years ago.

We’re going to explore the current environment by posing and attempting to answer two key questions that reflect on our ability as a nation to Fulfill the American Promise in the Connected Age:

  • How can technology impact our potential to collaborate? (discussed in this 2-part post)
  • Why are we reluctant to embrace new opportunities to collaborate (politically; discussed in next week’s post)?

Technology has created an almost limitless fabric in which to communicate. In the “days of old” a political leader [1] relied on newspapers, local surrogates and a whistle-stop or two to communicate a message. Today they can almost drench the electorate with information right from their offices. [2] In fact, the trick now is to figure out how to wisely engage the electorate to avoid confusing or irritating them.

But it’s really a two-way street. It’s now easier than ever for information to flow from the constituent to the political leader. Sometimes the data come from sources outside their jurisdiction and leaders must discern the relevance from that perspective as well: does it apply to the local constituency or the national…or both? Different income groups may attempt to fill cyberspace with specific positions. This can generate a bias that even the most objective implementations of technology are hard-pressed to overcome.

Applying technology to enhance a collaborative process is messy at best, much like freedom and democracy are described through the ages. Unfortunately, while the tools and technologies are in fact emerging, we’re a long way from having the will and experience necessary to harness the full potential of this two-way street (really super-highway) of information; there are currently too many barriers, social and technological.

Most in the Center feel we must overcome these barriers and build meaningful and accurate information environments to support enhanced collaboration between voters, political leaders and the rest of the nation. Carl heard an interesting insight about the reality of these barriers in a talk given by United States Senator Chris Coons (DE) this past weekend during a community meeting in Lewes, DE.

Senator Coons pointed out that the media, congressional staffers and lobbyists often work aggressively to keep our congressional legislators from talking to each other and sharing information that might lead to collaboration. This is a disappointing insight about the reality of the barriers, particularly coming from someone recognized as one of the most collaborative and objective members of Congress. This begins to address the second question we posed above, but it also informs the way we want to respond to the first question.

We’ll address the technical aspects of the initial question we posed above in a separate piece that immediately follows this one, what we are labeling Section B. As an introduction to Section B, however, we’ll note that the new tools to which most Americans now have access offer the potential for much greater participation and inclusiveness than ever before; these new Connected Age tools can bring us together in ways no human has ever experienced. But, as most technology solution consultants do these days, we propose to start small — a thought experiment that might suggest an eventual prototype.

Imagine a community, perhaps a town like Lewes, DE (2,841 population, 2012 statistics) which wants to go beyond the usual public hearings and city boards to rigorously test proposed legislation affecting an important city function: say zoning from commercial to residential. This can be a divisive issue at the best of times.

There are clearly multiple stakeholders and positions involved when it comes to zoning any community, particularly one which prides itself in striving to balance history, tradition and diversity (as reflected in the Lewes Core Values). How might we better use Connected Age collaboration tools to pose relevant questions, model processes and outcomes and project solutions that lead to balance and preservation of core values?

We’ll answer that question and further address our initial question about technology in Section B of this post. See you after the break!

 

[1] Many call these “leaders” simply politicians, but we’ve decided to emphasize (perhaps challenge?) the positive and present the function of leadership to persuade our elected officials to behave like leaders in a political and social sense, serving on behalf of the nation rather than themselves.

[2] All too often this is politically dogmatic information rather than objective insight about how new law and policy actually support perpetuating American freedom, security and opportunity.

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