First 100 Days: Harness the genie of citizen engagement

February 10, 2009

dontapscottheadshotDon Tapscott is chairman of the think tank nGenera Insight and the author of 13 books on the impact of the Internet on society. His latest book, Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing your World, discusses the Obama campaign and its implications for democracy. The views expressed are his own.

When President Obama announced last month that he’ll ask ordinary Americans to help him change America, it didn’t take long for the influencers inside the Washington beltway to ring the alarm: What happens if ordinary Americans actually come up with some new ideas to run government? Will things get out of control? Will they become bullies who will force Obama and Congressional lawmakers to bend to their will?

To me, they sound a lot like the traditional marketers who are worried that they’re losing control over their brand. Both marketers and lawmakers are struggling to adjust to a digital world where consumers and voters now have powerful tools to talk back, and even influence the brand or the policy. So let me give the Washington lawmakers the same message I have delivered to the marketers: Let go. You can’t control everything. The genie has slipped out of the bottle and she’s not coming back. And I think this is a really good thing.

For far too long, we’ve been living in what I’ve called a broadcast democracy. Voters only count during election time. They have little or no influence in between elections, when the lawmakers and influencers are in charge and citizenry is inert. The “you vote, I rule” model was all that was possible, until recently.

What the system has lacked until now are mechanisms enabling government to benefit from the wisdom and insight that a nation can collectively offer — on an ongoing basis. I’m not proposing some kind of direct democracy, where citizens can vote every night on the evening news or Web sites. That would be tantamount to a digital mob.

What I am proposing is a way to allow citizens to contribute ideas to the decision-making process – to get them engaged in public life. When citizens become active, good things can happen. We all learn from each other. Initiatives get catalyzed. People become active in improving their communities, country and the world.
This is long overdue. These days, the policy specialists and advisers on the public-sector payroll can barely keep pace with defining the problems, let alone craft the solutions. Government can’t begin to amass the in-house expertise to deal with the myriad challenges that arise. Governments need to create opportunities for sustained dialogue between voters and the elected.

Courtesy of the Internet, public officials can now solicit citizen input at almost no cost, by providing Web-based background information, online discussion, and feedback mechanisms. Government can now involve citizens in setting the policy agenda, which can then be refined on an ongoing basis. Such activity engages and mobilizes citizens, catalyzing real-life initiatives in communities and society as a whole.

When Obama launched Organizing for America, his dialogue with citizens, the idea was to channel the unprecedented grassroots campaign that propelled him to victory into the hard business of changing America. Organizing for America will “talk about and work on the pressing issues facing the country,” said Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe. Obama “believes in grassroots politics,” said Organizing for America’s executive director Mitch Stewart. “He’s going to be your partner. He’s going to listen.”

The first test of the idea came at the weekend, when thousands of meetings of Obama supporters took place across the country. What’s not clear yet is how the president intends to use the Internet to tap into the public’s thinking.

There are lots of Internet-enabled ways to engage America, from policy wikis, citizen juries, deliberative polling, ideation contests, and virtual town halls. I call one of the most promising the digital brainstorm. This is an online way to bring together policy officials and citizens in a real-time, moderated session, to exchange ideas and identify new policy issues and strategies and to mobilize the citizenry.

Here’s how it would work. The president would say, “We’re going to have a national discussion on revitalizing our cities. It starts on Monday at noon and ends the same week on Friday at noon. Anyone can participate through the Web 2.0 discussion community we’ve set up. If you don’t have Internet access, I’ve partnered with corporations, schools, libraries, community computing centers, and shopping malls to give you access. We’ll post background papers. We’ll organize the discussion by region and also by interest groups. There’ll be a business discussion, a discussion of public transit users, and so on. As you participate in the discussion rate the ideas that you come across and the best ideas will rise to the top. I’ll participate daily and give my views. At the end of the process we’ll explore our options for further action.”

The goal is to have a conversation in which people become engaged in political life; think about issues; get active in improving their communities; and mobilize society for positive change. Politicians and citizens alike would become more informed and learn from each other. And collectively we would take a step away from broadcast and toward participatory democracy. As an exercise in government 2.0, it could show that power can be exercised through people, not over people.

I’m currently working with government leaders in several countries to conduct brainstorms of all their citizens. Interestingly, the main topic of choice is climate change, using a question such as “How could our country more effectively contribute to the fight against global warming?” or “How could we reduce carbon emissions in our country?”

If Obama really wants to change America, he should hold digital brainstorms for all Americans, and he should make sure the young people – the Net Geners who have grown up digital – are involved. He’ll need a social movement of young people to bring about real change. This can only happen in public – not through backroom negotiations. Only through open struggle and conflict can a real and lasting change take place.

You can follow Don Tapscott on Twitter @dtapscott


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That is exactly what he is doing. He is the first chief executive in history that actually engages at a grassroots level. He is trying to correct an incredibly complex and damaged financial system, and trying to get help to desperate homeowners, and small business owners. I think he believes in the essential decency of the american people, and wants to serve that tradition of hard work, and accomplishment. The plan deserves time to work. The people elected him with a strong mandate. Change is expensive, but at least he is trying. Which is alot more than I can say for his predecessor.

He has opened up the presidency to all types of accomplished folks, men and women; by raising a fortune on the internet, and getting elected by those donors.
Yes, you really can.

Take your ideas to the people. Build it, and they will come.

Posted by phoenix1 | Report as abusive

It is imperative that the best ideas are actually implemented in a timely manner. If they simply become fodder for more partisan politics then the Internet becomes simply another tool to disenfranchise the citizenry, now in realtime…

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

Excellent idea. What a great way to utilize the power of the internet.

Posted by Linda | Report as abusive

That’s a great idea in theory, but it wouldn’t be hard to manipulate the system to artificially promote the idea the adminstration wants to see implemented. That would give participants a feeling of particpation while also making them more accepting of a policy they don’t like. There would be no one to hold accountable if the “majority of on-line voters” prefered a stimulus plan.

Posted by drewbie | Report as abusive

What’s the point of being able to solicit opinion at low cost? The soliciting has never been the difficult bit – that’s why newspapers have letters columns. But sieving all the rubbish you get back through your websites is going to require hiring LOTS of people to edit and collate it, which is going to make the whole process very expensive and very inefficient. (If a hierarchy several layers deep of civil servants were capable to spotting and passing a good policy in the first place, they wouldn’t need you to propose it now, would they?)

I don’t know the details of what President Obama is proposing, but what you describe sounds very similar to the electronic petitions feature that Number Ten Downing Street’s website has had for several years. This of course, while fun for a while, rapidly settled down into the predictable morass of petitions to abolish traffic speed cameras, nominate TV celebrities for high office, and almost nothing else. At least old-fashioned paper petitions, delivered on a hand cart, were self filtering in that people only collected ten thousand signatures if they felt really passionately about something.

I think that the fundamental mistake that everyone seduced by technology makes is to assume that people actually WANT to be involved in the tricky and thankless business of running a country. They don’t. They just want someone to blame.

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

Interesting topic. This debate forum on Reuters as well as those on many online publications is actually a precursor to what the author is suggesting.

If you read such forums and contribute, what you see is that there are a lot of people with too much time on their hands spewing all kinds of inane opinions and suggestions. Even well educated people seem to have no comprehension of gathering their thoughts and presenting coherent, useful perspectives. A lot of digital diarrhea is not going to help us much.

Although, it is also clearly important that the top-down information flow as it is now is both flawed and irritating. I think the leadership needs input from people who are outside of their ordinary traveling circles and the Internet does hold promise there.

Perhaps the best way to make use of it though is to have intelligent staff combing these already existing discussions in search of intelligent life and sending invitations to participate in policy discussions.

At the end of the day we elect leaders to weed through the available resources and CHOOSE the best available. That leadership responsibility still is and will always be a requirement of effective social organizations.

Posted by Jonathan Cole | Report as abusive

As the author of the original article let me say — great discussion. Regarding the comment: “it wouldn’t be hard to manipulate the system to artificially promote the idea the adminstration wants to see implemented.” Possibly true — but politicians do have the right to influence voters. Trouble is voters are getting smarter and when they can collaborate “manipulation” get’s tougher.

For more of my thoughts check out twitter — dtapscott. Also http://GrownUpDigital.con


Don Tapscott

Posted by Don Tapscott | Report as abusive

One of the online legal services, Lexus or Westlaw (and this is ten years ago) introduced me to the concept of “knights”, the editors who decide what gets filed where: such and such a case stands for what idea? What is the holding of this case? This case is an example of what basic legal idea? The editors are very important if you are not to have a huge bowl of mush. organizes huge bowls of mush. The basic system is to propose policy and then vote on other proposals (“the best rise to the top”). The winner in the most recent attempt was health care–government should provide health care. Even that degree of clarity (?!?!) was only accomplished by stepping in early on in the process to restrict the voting to fourteen policy areas. So, for instance, the war in Afghanistan, which their organizers said in interviews a year or so ago, was never their enemy–only the one in Iraq–was not brandished in the membership’s face so as to invite criticism of this most bizarre example of Obama’s whimsical approach.
The reason we have politics is that markets of information need policing. That’s what government does, in economics terms. There is no market for information on how to police markets for information. Politics makes the policing decisions. If law is a machine, as I dearly like to think, it is a machine with seven billion moving parts–the people who talk about policy.
I suppose I’ll say the weakness with online policy formulation is that it is one-way and incredibly rigid compared to chatting with someone on the side of the street.

Posted by Christopher Rushlau | Report as abusive

I agree we need more bottom-up information flow. I hope Obama is listening to someone other than his current advisors. The Financial Times of London has a great article on why the newest bailout program will fail:

hopefully, Obama will get his act together and fire his current advisers as they will turn a bad recession into a full blown world-wide depression. What’s needed is the toxic assets taken off the major banks balance sheet—-forget about pricing the assets now.

Use the Swedish and Swiss model which has been proven to work. Then on a short term basis—nationalize the bad banks ie Bank of America, Citigroup etc, fire the managers and remove the board of directors. After this recapitalize the banks with good money so the banks can again lend money. After the banks and financial systems has been stabilized then inject a massive amount of capital to fuel investment in the markets. It is investment that drives growth and creates jobs but it will never happen until the broken financial system is fixed. Be bold Obama—show the world you can lead.

Posted by mark jamison | Report as abusive

“I’m not proposing some kind of direct democracy, where citizens can vote every night on the evening news or Web sites. That would be tantamount to a digital mob.”

Hi Don.

No, what you’re proposing is a form of patronising powerless digital ‘involvment’ which would simply allow the usual suspect political elites and dynasties to continue to monopolise power and the decision making process while creating useful impressions of sharing them. What you are proposing is a bolt on online ‘ Creepocracy’ , the re- invention of the role of the useful idiot in the digital age.

Why cant we trust the ‘digital mob’ to directly vote on issues like the stimulus bill, bonuses for bankers and whether its time to bring the troops home?

Because the ‘ digital mob ‘ cant be trusted to arrive at the right decisions? or because the very idea of widening the decision making process in this way would seriously threaten our corrupt business-as-usual politics?

Posted by desik | Report as abusive

Hi All

President BO (Barack Obama) is doing a great job so far in relation to participatory democracy via the net. He did that already during the primaries as well as the campaign.

Not only with Americans, but with other heads of states who are as unafraid as he is can create an online debating forum that we can all view whereever we may be at any particular time in our world.

Our former president, Nelson Mandela did all he could to promote participatory democracy through the good old human touch. President BO has the advantage of also being tech savvy.

BO is a already showing signs that he will be a great president, with all his faults, for the aim is not to have perfect people lead us, but perfectly honest people. On the online townhall meetings, BO can reach even twice the number of people.

But I also think to judge BO in comparison to the 43rd president is to set our sights low as to what we expect of US presidents. An American president is no less than a world leader. Former president Bush (or Dubya) was as aloof and uncommunicative as our erstwhile president Thabo Mbeki (the great denialist) here in South Africa.

It is not the people who are lucky to have great presidents, but rather, it is the listening presidents who are lucky to be elected by great people to lead them. In other, great presidents lead, and let the people govern. That is to say, the citizen is the boss.

Time for the boss to call the shots. That is what president BO is trying to communicate to Americans and the world at large.

I wish him success and may God bless the world.

I care.

Posted by Sipho Mabaso | Report as abusive

“Too many chefs in the kitchen ruins the soup.”

Obama needs to Right Now put the Money in the Hand of US Small Business, something the last administration’s failure shows with the $18.4 billion of wasted capital in Banker Bonuses for Wealth Destruction. That ‘Waste of Capital on Banker Bonuses will not be recycled productively in the economy’, it is going directly to pay down WEALTHY BANKERS PERSONAL MORTGAGES and saved them from forced sale of Ferrari’s. We can only wish this was exaggeration, it is not.

A bunch of opinions are just a bunch of opinions, the Leader must now Lead.

The only Grassroots Obama should be doing now, is Funding the United States Core Grass Roots of Small Business. Small Business that has been PUNISHED by Wall Street during the last 6 Years. Now when the US NEEDS THOSE JOBS as the ONLY SOURCE of potentially rapid new employment, the money that should have gone to SMALL BUSINESS is being squandered by a bunch of lazy wall street jackasses.

If you allow Siezure of US Small Business’s Capital by a Wall Street Machine that forgot what fuels its fire, well then you have exactly what we have.

It is not about changing government its about Letting Americans Small Business Run their Affairs after a error by Banks disrupted the entire Economy.

It is time to start to BREAK UP the BIG BANKS.

There is nothing more to discuss.

Facts are Clear Enough.


You are strangling the American Entrepreneur with the full weight of the US FEDERAL GOVERNMENT and an unbalanced Banking System that does not recognize the value of Small Business Activity to Economic Stability. They’ve been spending too much time watching a Stock Ticker or packaging garbage residential mortgages to grow any worth while new industry or small business with structured enterprize finance.

JP Morgan Chase or Citibank are as useless to US Small Business as a Horse Drawn carriage is to a formula one driver.

Posted by James Reginald Harris, Jr | Report as abusive

Our nation is like a log floating down a river with a colony of ants on it. The president-ant stands at the front and yells “I’m stearing”! Good luck, Mr President.

Posted by Colin | Report as abusive

First, great article. Secondly, I think our new President is doing just that – looking for ways to leverage the creative potential of millions of average Americans. Look at the new White House Website – a world of difference between it and the Bush era – it actually has a “Contact Us” link that is easy to find. What a concept!

I have to disagree with the commentator who suggests that people don’t want to participate in Gov’t. Sure there are those… but I’m sure there are millions like me who would use a “National Suggestion Box” to offer their ideas and insights. And every once in a while there would be a real gem to be gleaned.

Posted by Mich | Report as abusive

It’s time to recognize that Washington(representative body) has made themselves obsolete, they are selfish, out of touch, devoid of leadership skills, in need of refresher courses, a bit senile, and should join chaney in a wheel chair procession to the irrelevant hinterlands.

I love the authors insghts /parallels to obama’s. Full employment has eluded generations past and should be the brain trust occupying washingtons(leaders)(congress & senate’ time instead of the childish high paying ancient non productive squabbling.

They like wall st have lost track and are overstating there importance at the expense of the citizens by being overpaid, which enforces for them the illusion of being above the law.

I challenge the president to empower the people via the internet, by not only encouraging & soliciting all creative ideas in a massive think tank, but to harness this tank, and put all the people to work via the internet, even if initally it’s just a source of delinating instructions for them to do simple things and get unemployment wages. Doing something is better than joining a line somewhere biting ones finger nails. We must stop crying and pursue greater employment beyond what we have ever dreamed possible before.
Believe & achieve is our destiny, since creation is our source.

Posted by Mel Dier | Report as abusive

I love the idea, but is anyone in government doing this? If regular people who want to know can’t get involved they aren’t very successful in sharing their ideas. I really want to support my country and try to do that. Yet the 495-beltway might as well be an Iron Curtain as often I see them after election.

Posted by pauldone | Report as abusive

Well –

I have decided to start a new political game. A virtual parallel country/world, called the

I am now looking for ideas, help, money, and more to create a movement to really elect vs select our politicians and our future.


Posted by james | Report as abusive

Look at the way Obama handled the first shot at answering voted on questions. By far, the most popular questions centered around the prohibition of cannabis and Obama’s answer was simply: Obama doesn’t want to legalize it. No explanation or justification for this ridiculous policy (I guess it is pretty obvious that he has none beyond “it would freak out too many old people who swallowed the long stream of government lies and distortions”), just a pat dismissal. We vote, they rule indeed.

Posted by aaron | Report as abusive

I agree that all ideas are needed. But I wish we had a government that cared more about it’s citizens than what’s in it for them. Our governement has been taken over by foreign banks.

Posted by Sheila | Report as abusive

Government 2.0 – great idea and I don’t think you could have a better person or President to introduce it than Obama! It’s funny how life always ends up going full circle. The U.S. had such an unpopular, old school President for eight long years and now has one of the best symbols of hope and change. If anyone can lead the way in Internet-enabled ways to engage citizens, it’s Obama. Furthermore, as big business capitalism looks dead in the water, I also want to be positive about the changes this could bring to our society, namely better corporate citizenship. Here’s to hoping for change all round…

Posted by JJP | Report as abusive

And now for a section we like to call… “Really?!”

“That is exactly what he is doing.” Really?
“He is trying to correct an incredibly complex and damaged financial system, and trying to get help to desperate homeowners, and small business owners.” Really? Giving 900 billion dollars out with little oversight and a second round of bailouts to Wall street firms to pay more bonuses with no oversight helps you?

“He has opened up the presidency to all types of accomplished folks, men and women; by raising a fortune on the internet, and getting elected by those donors.
Yes, you really can. ” Really? Apparently being accomplished means being a tax cheat or a lobbyist. I mean really.. you have a tax cheat that even democrat congressmen said would never have paid his taxes had he not been nominated coming up with a plan to save the economy. Perhaps he didn’t have any spare change we could believe in to pay his taxes. Really.

“The plan deserves time to work.” Really? I propose feeding 3 billion children a day for 10 years using the Sally Struthers 72 cents a day can save a child plan. That will save our economy. It’s a plan and it deserves time to work. Ridiculous you say? Obviously you haven’t given it time to work!

Take discussions from Bush about the war on terror and it’s urgency, and fear mongering. Now replace war on terror with economic disaster and you have what Obama is now doing.

Change you can believe in. Really.

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive

So in this article it sounds like lawmakers are worried that the president is actually going to get the input he’s asking for! God forbid the people that elect these guys have a say in what they do or “bully” them into doing a better job to fix a broken system. It’d be terrible if we got some change in a government that delivers poor results consistently.. that’d be awful.

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive

I think people SHOULD be kept from direct policy decisions. That’s the entire point of America being a representational democracy.

Online comments can be easily solicited by citizens via the feedback tool on major websites, like the White House’s, and through email. Having interacted with this campaign many times in the past, I’m confident those channels are listened to by this administration. It may require us, as citizens, to push the effort button rather than having someone come get us. But, I see that as a good thing as well.

What I DON’T want is the nebulous People dictating policy. Democracy is all well and good, but mob rule has never made good policy decisions (i.e. Do you REALLY want six million people without a shred of background in science having the president’s ear on global warming?), and the Founding Fathers recognized that when they set up our government the way they did.

Posted by R.D. Hammond | Report as abusive

The idea this author is proposing I already implemented in 2005 in Costa Rica. After having expresidents involved in corruption scandals, the risk of electing the wrong people during 4 years was a scary thought. I was a victim of bad economic policies in the past, and being harassed by corrupted politicians who stole taxpayers money and who did not like me not to attach their policies when I worked for government, that did not allow me to live a normal life. So I became “auditor citizen”. It meant that I would propose ideas to improve things. But also I would audit them.

Presidents and boards, are just employees and taxpayers are the boss. Unlike feudal system, democracy is not about centralized power, it is not a one way communication process.

Criticism helps to spot problems, proposals help to solve them. Unfortunately cold war theocracy ideologists feel offended when you question a system or an idea, and they call them “country bashers”. Cold war theocrats believe politicians are gods, and that leads to denial of problems, a good way to guarantee disaster in their own nations.

In a game of chess you might like to have someone who would criticize your strategy, so you won’t make mistakes. Are critics your enemy? They are enemies of your ego, but friends of your sense of achievement.

Posted by Pablo | Report as abusive

Let’s keep this discussion focused on Don’s ideas, rather than the pros and cons of the new administration. There are other venues on for that debate.

Richard Baum
Global editor,

Posted by Richard Baum | Report as abusive

The idea of setting out to make change by asking Americans what they want from America using a vehicle such as the internet may be a good first step.

However, it may be even better to set about changing America by asking the rest of the world what they want from it.

After all, one of the biggest reasons that relations between America and the rest of the world have been so strained is simply because it has a history of doing exactly as it likes, and behaving as if everywhere outside the borders of the “good old USA” is a land of wind and ghosts.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

The vast majority of “average americans” have no time for such things. That is why we elect officials to make these decisions. I don’t want my opinion solicited and would be greatly fearful if any sort of policy was determined by the masses. Especially the masses that post on message boards.

If I go to my doctor, and she creates a website to poll the masses about what might be ailing me, i am probably going to die. The president, like all before him, has surrounded himself by experts. In voting for him we are voting primarily for his ability to choose these experts properly and know when to listen to them. The problems facing government are much too complex for the average person to make an informed decision about.

There are plenty of opportunities for the public to engage itself in local politics in meaningful ways. Leave the big decisions to those who have the resources.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

Great concept. The only problem is that the information gets filtered through all the cronies, politicians, lobbyists or whoever else is overseeing the process. Heres one simple and easy to understand idea – Give every American a $10,000 check instead of building another bureaucracy and sending bailout money to those who caused the problems. People could spend or save the money any way they wanted. That would create an instant economic stimulus in all sectors. And unlike the internet allowing all citizens to propose a plan, the cash would allow every citizen to vote with money on what they planned to consume or save or pay down debt. Canada is doing something similar by allowing tax free $5,000 investments to recapitalize banks with ZERO money given to financial institutions from the government. Sounds a lot smarter than what we’re doing.

Posted by CC Prez | Report as abusive

Why thank you, Bob; for duplicating my entire comment. I must be doing something right, to elicit such a reaction. I welcome constructive comments and criticism about my ideas.

Perhaps people will begin to realize that you have to make your own success in the world.
I am amazed that people still look to the government for help; we should be hopeful that they stop their criminal and fraudulent practices. If you think that you can do better, Bob, why don’t you run for office?

I am sure the local constituency would be thrilled.

Posted by phoenix1 | Report as abusive

All this is well and fine if you believe that the purpose if the US government is to run our society.
I suggest that this is fundamentally incorrect. In my view, the purpose of government is to protect people’s rights to their lives, their property and allow them to pursue the things and happiness they choose to pursue. This is the only moral purpose of government. Any other governmental activities, which all rely ultimately on the governments legal monopoly on force, actually violate the rights of people. This is not just or right!
Let us deal with fundamentals, not the myriad of actions our government has wrongly taken on over the last 150 years. Social Security, public education and all the rest redistribute income/wealth and literally “steal” from our citizens.
Our government has become the single largest violator of human rights imaginable. Severely reduce its functions right now!

Posted by James | Report as abusive

Great idea Mr. Tapscott, two points:

1) Your nine months behind me as I formed a think tank of emerging economists and technologists in August of 2008 that has a polished concept and the technology is near completed, say 60 days.

2) More importantly, government isn’t listening and they have the funding from the public and our group doesn’t. I had direct connections with President Bush. He didn’t want to execute. Neither does David Axelrod at least with the true innovators and Patiots. Instead, the Obama Administration will source this to the same types of clueless, wasteful beaurocrats that will take 2 years to complete, have bugs and errors and be half the solution the public is asking for and at a cost of $100 M when my team has almost completed the project at a cost of less then $100k (mostly my personal invested funds).

Posted by Jason C. Rines | Report as abusive

[…] the full post here and then join the […]

Posted by Grown Up Digital » First 100 Days: Harness the genie of citizen engagement | Report as abusive

[…] the full post here and then join the discussion. Tags: […]

Posted by Wikinomics » Blog Archive » First 100 Days: Harness the genie of citizen engagement | Report as abusive

There’s already a site like that and it’s great. It’s called White House 2. Google it.

Too bad government won’t pay attention to it.

Posted by dpb | Report as abusive

Here’s a great example of what I’m talking about in the article… from Grown Up digital:

In December 2005, the government of Canada teamed up with IBM to implement Habitat Jam, an online forum that brought together over 39,000 people from 158 countries in a three-day online discussion about urban sustainability. A “jam” is a “massive online discussion that develops actions out of a multiplicity of perspectives and expertise.”30(IBM began online “jamming” in 2001 as a means of engaging its 300,000-plus employees in every facet of the company’s operations—from corporate values to concrete solutions for growth, productivity, and innovation.)

With Habitat Jam, more than 600 actionable items were brought forth by participants, with more than 4,000 pages of rich dialogue on the problems, challenges, and opportunities of urban development. Ninety-one percent of Habitat Jam participants noted that the process brought together people who otherwise might never share ideas and information. Kevina Power Njoroge, a Canadian who lives in Kenya and helped with the Jam, says that when problems are complex, it helps to engage youth because they can suggest solutions that haven’t been explored. “As well,” she said, “because many of the poorest communities of the world are in the majority youth, the best way to the problems, challenges, and opportunities of urban development.

Ninety-one percent of Habitat Jam participants noted that the process brought together people who otherwise might never share ideas and information. Kevina Power Njoroge, a Canadian who lives in Kenya and helped with the Jam, says that when problems are complex, it helps to engage youth because they can suggest solutions that haven’t been explored. “As well,” she said, “because many of the
poorest communities of the world are in the majority youth, the best way to engage the greatest number, in the most meaningful way, is through a youth peer-to-peer model—youth engaging other youth.

Massive digital brainstorms could be applied to virtually any issue and can provide an essential tool for reengaging young citizens—via the classroom, home computer, or mobile phone in a democratic process of idea-sharing and priority-setting.” THE NET GENERATION AND DEMOCRACY Pg: 263

Posted by Don Tapscott | Report as abusive

With Mr. Tapscott’s curiously edited comment the newest, let me add a story from the Governor of Maine, whom I spent a morning with after buying a “job-shadowing” opportunity at a charity auction. He said he was trying to get all the 1-800 numbers that government uses to dispense information to citizens organized, so that the operators (customer service people) would have access and expertise in answering questions accurately. He envisioned a hierarchy, like we encounter when we call our internet service provider with a technical problem. The first line of defense sometimes has to get the back-up squad to help, the supervisors, and the supervisors may need further help, from way-high-up experts. MSN calls them “escalation” people. So the Governor ended up saying he imagined a senior 1-800 operator whom all the other operator’s managers would go to, and I have to imagine a big spider in the middle of a web connecting all the operators–the smaller spiders and the tiny little spiders–networking, right? This one Big operator would be vital to the whole system working, and this Big one operator would know everything there was to know about government.
You end up seeing the point, whether it was the Governor’s intention or not. Technology only accelerates catastrophes–like a big hammer smashing your finger worse than a little hammer–when things have already gotten out of control.
Replacing a human hierarchy–the Costa Rican commenter mentioned feudalism–I think of the Daley political machine in Chicago up into the ’70’s–“the city that works”–with a machine….imagine picking up your telephone and saying into it, “I have a pain in my ear; is there anybody out there who can help me?”
You’d probably be better off walking down the sidewalk where you live and asking every person you pass the same question.

Posted by Christopher Rushlau | Report as abusive

It is quite curious that someone would worry about chaos from ideas raised by the public. I’d had posted suggestions to the and had not gotten any indication that someone actually reads them.
I had proposed openning up the patent application process, with assistance from the government to allow the 10Milion idled minds to become creative and productive…
I also proposed to turn the DTV conversion into a stimulus vehicle by supporting the merchants in honoring any form of the coupon towards any purchase of DTV items with a credit of $40, or more, and with special incentive on a version of basic DTV to be available for under $60, with the $40 discount on a coupon, or application for a coupon.
How and why ideas like these could create chaos is beyond me?

Posted by Steve Yang | Report as abusive

Using the internet to help our elected representatives create a more open and responsive form of our (American) government (with citizen’s immediate feedback) is no longer an idea waiting in the wings; it is a fact. You are using it (the internet) and seeing its possibilities while it is in its infancy.
The internet is, for some vocations, very destructive technology. In communications between individuals, groups, and nations, all over the globe, the internet and the World Wide Web are changing, drastically, the ways in which we communicate about and see our problems.
This is affecting newspapers, television, radio, EVERYTHING!
Politics as usual? It cannot happen as easily anymore.
You are going to see a war over the internet, between the citizens of our world and those who would like to plunder our wealth in great secrecy. They know that the web is thousands of times more powerful than TV or Radio ever were.
They must control it or obey the dictates of those they represent.
President Obama fully realizes the power of the World Wide Web, that is why he is using it.
The power of information.

Posted by haywoodwhy | Report as abusive

Once someone is comfortable in their position, often they will only try to do a better job if prevailed upon by outside forces to do so.

Having worked for government, and having seen first-hand how resistant it was to ideas that made sense offered by its own employees, it is difficult for me to see why they would listen to our ideas.

Businesses listen sincerely to customer feedback only if they are afraid of losing business. The outside force in that exchange is money and the threat of losing it.

When working for government, I saw leaders give wonderful, inspiring speeches about tapping into our human potential (ideas). This was during the Clinton years, when improving government was all the rage. I’m sure the leaders were sincere. The problem was not with them – it was with the middle and lower managers who could not be dislodged and who often feared that too much employee empowerment might reveal their incompetence. The leaders were much too busy being leaders and giving speeches to undertake a top-to-bottom review of management, complete with actual dismissals. Yet, that’s the only way real change could have taken place.

In reality, the biggest problem was an entrenched management weighed down by too much mediocrity within their ranks.

Relevant communication requires that both parties have a stake in the outcome of the communication. Politicians MIGHT have a stake in listening to us, but the bureaucrats who are the representatives of government in our daily lives have no compelling reason to listen to us. And even if they do sincerely listen, it is almost certain they won’t have the power to implement our ideas or address our concerns. If you threaten them with penalties for not listening, there is a good chance they’ll simply make a show of listening without it actually mattering.

The idea that we might have input – via the Internet – into the workings of our government is a beautiful one. But as with any suggestion box, whether it’s worth a damn depends on who is reading the suggestions. From my experiences (and those of the many other government workers I spoke with back then), I would say the prognosis isn’t good for this particular ‘suggestion box’.

It’s worth noting that management did make a better effort to listen to the public, and even the employees, when our bureaucracy was expanding its powers.

Posted by Jahfreeka | Report as abusive

[…] If Obama really wants to change America, he should hold digital brainstorms for all Americans, and he should make sure the young people — the Net Geners who have grown up digital — are involved, says Don Tapscott, author and chairman of the think tank nGenera Insight. (Source: 09/02/10/first-100-days-harness-the-geni e-of-citizen-engagem…) […]

Posted by First 100 Days: Harness the genie of citizen engagement | | Report as abusive

If you’re serious about citizen involvement, why not use the internet to implement direct democracy? Why should we settle for letting Congressmen and Senators “represent” us if we can use 21st century technology to introduce and vote on legislation ourselves?

Posted by Matthew Graybosch | Report as abusive

Just let me know when this is going to happen. I’m psyched!! I would love to have my ideas “float” to the top!

Posted by Mary Goveia | Report as abusive

representative democracy is stupid and was a solution to a distribution problem faced by direct democracy when populations/distances got too large. the internet does away with this distribution problem so we can go back to direct democracy now.

Posted by Sash | Report as abusive

The ideas on Obama’s own website during the campaign regarding technology were more visionay than this

Posted by Ed Porter | Report as abusive

Its about time that the citizens have an opportunity to voice their views, opinions, and possible solutions. It falls into the idea that more heads are better than fewer. If we have the population lending a hand with decision making, we will arrive at better solutions in less time, then leaving more time to act on the solutions. A good example is getting the pulse of the public’s general feel for how we are reacting to the down economy. Just knowing the public demeanor and involving the public would be a great way to find our way out of this economic mess. Why stop there, get the opinion of peoples of other countries and see how their opinions differ or are the same as ours. Government 2.0 is a good evolution of society.

Posted by Emanuel | Report as abusive

I think this is a great idea. As a Senior Citizen and retired, I spend more time and concern than at any time during my life thinking and contemplating about current events and especially what is going to be done with all the money proposed for the Stim plan. I fancy myself a wildlife photo journalist and spend a lot of time in the woods near my home,where I see a lot of projects that would help to protect the natural beautiful arena of river shore lines and parks. The areas I travel offer wonderment and enjoyment. If an internet interface vehicle for communiting with those responsible for the distribution of some of the stimulus assets, I would seek their assistance in funding a few projects that would benifit all of us and help the environment and various creatures that share the space with us. It is only a dream, but it is fun to think that a real live person with responsibility just might want to ask some questions about the idea.

Posted by D.D. Peace | Report as abusive

If you give a man a fish – you feed him for a day: If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime (provided Global warming doesn’t kill all the fish).
Point is – America has now come out of the dark ages (Bush era) and into the Light (Obama era) with more participative government and expanded the use of the internet to engage American’s and “let them think they are contributing ideas and better suggestions than typical politicians”. The real slow down to a more engaged government is the insane levels of bureaucracy that exists to get anything done. So the Amercian people must do a “work around” the government. Just start posting and collaborating on the best ideas for the country and thanks to guys like Dan Tapscott (who can sound the horn and get folks motivated) we the people can MAKE the CHANGE HAPPEN. WE can go around the government and actually start the new businesses and act upon the best ideas without even using a politician. The politicians are useless.. mindless.. money grubbing scumb that only care about their next big fundraiser or speical interest. America is corrupt and Big Business runs the show (Congress) so the less “We the People” think that govt is going to actually do something the better and faster America can get itself out of this depression. We need to think and create our own jobs and industry (services) and change the way we buy energy. WE need to support electric cars and conserve everywhere we can in order to make it through the depression.
And yes this is a depression and the sooner we accept that and change our attitude about it the faster we can move on and pick ourselves up , dust ourselves off and start over again.

Posted by Jeff | Report as abusive

Well, a “digital brainstorm” is certainly a better use of the internet than the shopworn tack of assembling a list of “Most Popular” articles, which can only instruct the next generation that Paris is a sexpot, not a city-state…

Posted by Liz R | Report as abusive

Men of power are quite reticent to relinquish their power once they have it. Marijuana was a threat to their power because it opened up the American psyche to new viewpoints. The internet has done the same. Their reaction to marijuana was to make it illegal and imprison anyone associated with it. That’s why today, the U.S. has the proud distinction of having only 5% of the world’s population, but imprisons 25% of the world’s prisoners. Half of these are non-violent drug offenders, free thinking men and women. If you think that they can’t or won’t shut it all down, think again. SWAT teams are becoming more active. The U.S. has more law enforcement than any nation on earth and the numbers are growing. Prosecutors develop thier careers on convictions, guilty or innocent, based on just laws or unjust laws, it doesn’t matter. Internet laws are growing exponentially, with vague definitions, lending themselves to very wide interpretations by prosecutors and judges. The disease of J. Edgar Hoover is spreading across this country. When they get a search warrent to go into your house because of some suspicion, you will be guilty by default. There won’t be a thing you can do about it. This has been happening all across this country and appears to be getting worse, creating fear in everyone, albeit more unconscious at present. The mainstream press downplays the extent of the problem. There is no public protest as the Bill of Rights is shredded. I don’t see a new form of government on the horizon, but rather, an old form, called fascism. History tends to repeat itself, and unfortunately, we are the pawns of history.

Posted by Jeffrey Gray | Report as abusive

The Borgen Project has some good info on the cost of addressing global poverty.

$30 billion: Annual shortfall to end world hunger.
$550 billion: U.S. Defense budget

Posted by Abel Tsegga | Report as abusive

I am really happy Obama is president, but I do wish he allowed more of the public to make the decisions. I think he will do just fine though.

Posted by JordanCash | Report as abusive

[…] According to the Obama Administration, these stories show why a recovery plan is needed. The administration is not only fulfilling its goal to collect stories and build support, but is also garnering the attention of national press such as The New York Times and Reuters. […]

Posted by Obama Administration Rallies Support through Americaís Stories « Communiqué PR Strategic Public Relations Blog | Report as abusive