Social Democracy

Sign o’ the times. The White House has opened a “community moderated virtual town-hall meeting” meaning you can ask questions, as well as vote for the questions that have been submitted by others; the President pledges to answer the most popular questions, in this case on the economy.

I can’t help bragging about a very similar project we are doing in Europe with something called Straight-To (or Direktzu if you prefer Goethe to Shakespeare) coming out of the experience of a bunch of students who wanted to make german Kanzlerin Angela Merkel more accessible to everyday people.

On one hand, some pols are seeing the power of a direct relationship to the voting masses, but at the same time, there are thousands of others who are seeing this as a threat to their role as the intermediaries between popular desires, beliefs and emotions and governments policies: one might say their own destinies depend on being the brokers of this relationship.

But as journalists before them, they are perhaps beginning to realize that this role was really made up of two components:

a) the Gatekeeper

In this role the politician is a person who “provides access” to policy makers, represents a need in front of the appropriate deliberative bodies – in a word s/he acts as the vehicle whereby an issue can (or cannot) travel through the system. Obviously, this role can also function in a negative sense, the gates be locked out and the issue can be prevented from becoming such inside the Palace.

b) the Interpreter / Mediator

In this role, pols are the ears and eye of political power – they are their field personnel, deployed across the country or region as sensors of public opinion and sentiment and have the ability to “translate” them into political action items; they also provide a much needed mediation between the various facets of an issue, designing a path to resolution.

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click to visit the page

Ultimately it is a question of “adding value” and politicians should consider this an alarm bell inviting them to abandon all hopes for the a) role and instead to invest in honing their skills for the precious b) role. I suspect those who do not will find themselves sidelined.

I almost  headed this post “Democracy 2.0” before realizing how passé that would be, now that everyone is adopting the “Social Media” moniker.

Whatever the title, the writing’s on the wall. Opinions?

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5 thoughts on “Social Democracy

  1. I think if one’s role was purely that of a gatekeeper or an intermediary, then there really wasn’t miuch value in that role to begin with. The fear of losing their purpose in life will only stem from an acknowledgment of their utter uselessness. However, even if there are more efficient, direct channels of communication, it’s time for the ‘mediators’ to innovate a little bit, and add more value to their roles than mere ‘message delivery’.

    A bit like the PR world I suppose. If as a PR person you’re seen or you act as nothing more than a vehicle to deliver material to journalists, you’re really quite a disposable connection. But if you add value, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re the one and only contact point.

    In fact, President 2.0 here is only doing what’s common sense. The tools are there. Why not use them?

  2. In a democracy politicians should primarily be representatives, shouldn’t they?
    However, up until now the problem was that the feedback channels for politicians to know what opinions they had to represent were limited to basically three options: votes, opinion polls and the edited opinion of the media. That’s pretty thin given the long periods between elections.

    With social media coming into play the feedback channels have widened tremendously. People can talk back, and with a system such as “straigth to” or direktzu (e.g. http://www.direktzurkanzlerin.de/)they can do it in organised and efficient way. That’s great news for citizens, but also for politicians. Many of them do have personal websites promoting their proximity to citizens and their willingness to engage in a direct dialogue with them, but in reality they simply can’t deal with the number of messages clogging their inboxes. With the right mix of technology and community dynamic social media can cut through the clutter and organise the citizens’ will democratically, so that it can be directly addressed by politicians.

    It just makes so much sense that I would expect this direct dialogue to become a standard expected from any politician, in particular those who have to deal with large numbers of citizens.

  3. Mai and Georg: perhaps I should clarify. There is the Politician (capital “P”): s/he calls the shot s/he’s got the true power, OK? I have little doubt that the Leader of any political system greatly benefits from a direct and strong connection with electors. Then there are the politicians (lowercase “p”): these vastly outnumber the ones with capital P but serve in the roles I described. How will their role change? AND Do we believe that an oligarchy of a very small number of empowered Politicians is a good evolution of our representative system? What would be the checks & balances in place to make sure none of these turns into the next Saddam or Kim Jong Ii ?

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