Due to efforts by local political activists there is, on the Targu Mures city council at least one councellor (if not three) who believes in transparency. He live streams the city council meetings with a mobile device and then makes the recording available online. The transcriptions of the meetings are also available in PDF files published on the municipality website. I don’t know what kind of engagement, if any, this creates with the populace. Do people watch these videos? Do they comment on them?
The live streaming is not welcomed by the other council members, they view is as threatening and would prefer it wasn’t there. Though I agree with the idea of trasparency, I felt that the way this “transparency” has been introduced is defiant and has a protesting quality to it.
I was wondering if there was a way to make the ripples of his efforts reach further. To reach further into the community of Targu Mures and to become an interesting experience for the other council members. This is what came to me. What if:
- Good Publishing: te council meeting was published in a more meaningful and accessible way. Instead of just dumping it online (in a video or transciption PDF) what if it was transformed into a list of Agenda Items. Each agenda item would be described briefly so tha citizens could review the list without having to wade through all the information. It could then be possible to go deeper into each agenda item:
- Read a longer description about it.
- Read the part of the transcription which relates to the agenda item.
- View the part of the video which relates to theagenda item.
- See the positions of each of the counselloers relating to it in the meeting.
- Find links to other documents and resources which relate to the subject matter.
- Link to other council meetings during which the agenda item was discussed.
- Agenda Rank Voting: every citizen could partake in a simple online voting interaction in relation to the agenda items that were discussed during a meeting – such as: rank the three most important agenda items for you and possible object to one agenda item.
- Councellor Voting: every citizen could partake in a simple online interaction in relation to the contribution of councellor members during – such as: who was the most well spoken councellor? who was the most intellectually coherent councellor? who was the most compassionate councellor? who was the most ill-behaved / least contributing / disruptive councellor.
- Point Ranking: the voting would be integrated into a kind of ranking system. The more citizens vote, the more points there a on the table. Points would be distributed between councellors based on their own positions (as presented during the council meeting) on the agenda items. The result would be a ranking of councellors in each council meeting that reflected the degree to which they are in tune with and represents the positions of the citizens.
- Integrity Validation: voting would be cross-checked for internal integrity. If a citizen tried (for example for political reasons) to give a councellor a vote for intellectual integrity, but her top 3 ranked agenda items do not align with the position of the councellor … then her vote would be flagged for integrity and that would be included in the point score algorithm.
Such a participatory environment could be further enhanced in different directions:
- Accumulated and publicly available councellor rankings may become some kind of reerence for councellor performance and social status. If it offers substantial content (such as a thorough record of public discourse) it may be adopted and refernced in mainstream media.
- Such public exposure may incentivize councellors to seek better ranking, to become more attentive to public opinion and to relate to it differently.
- Councellors, who are less political and more passionate about actual good governance, may want to have a platform where they can better express their independent positions.
- Expanding the “agenda items” into a public platform where citizens could continue to discuss, together with experts and politicians, agenda items.
- A question might arise about how agenda items are set in the first place? What if the citizens could not only respond and comment on a predetermined council agenda, but there could be a social process during which the agenda is continuously discussed and created through social participation.
- Citizens may become better informed. about the workings of the city council.
- Citizen groups may form to discuss and develop agreed positions on agenda items.
- Activist may become better informed and able to interact with the populace.
- Alternate opinion leaders may emerge through a participatory process. A citizen who consistently votes and comments and contributed to an agenda item may gain actual political capital in the community. Citizens may gain some of ranking … not unlike repeat reviewers on Amazon.
- Councellors may discover that trasparency is not there enemy. That knowing the populace better may be helpful in governing. Ultimately, they may come to recognize that governing on behalf of their community is better then trying to manipulate and control their community behind hidden doors.
The foot in the door that was created into the Targu Mures city council can be an opening to a more meaningful and constructive public discourse in which representative may learn to better represent and citizens may learn to better participate in shaping governance and their society.