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How the Crowd Wrote a Constitution: Learning From Iceland

BY Lisa Goldman | Thursday, July 26 2012

Following Iceland's 2008 financial meltdown, popular protests let to an examination of national values and, ultimately, a decision to write a new constitution for the small country.

Political science professor Silja Ómarsdóttir at the University of Iceland was one of 25 people chosen to write the country's new constitution — the first since the original was delivered from the Danish king 200 years ago, when Iceland was a colony of Denmark. In this video, she describes the remarkable process by which a small (population 319,000), homogeneous, consensus-driven country sourced ideas and wrote from scratch a constitution that would reflect national values and restore faith in the country's leadership and legislature.

One of the more incisive observations Ómarsdóttir makes near the beginning of her lecture is that in the months immediately following the financial crisis, the conversation — on the news and in the legislature — was entirely dominated by men. With this remark, she segues in to a detailed, fascinating description of how she and her fellow constitution writers made the discussion more inclusive and representative in terms of gender, age and socio-economic background. People were contacted and asked to identify the values they wanted to represent their country and their responses were used to create a word cloud.

Once the first draft of the constitution was ready, it was posted online with detailed explanations of each clause and hyperlinks that led to more information and a place where readers could leave feedback. Some of the suggestions acquired in this matter were later added to the constitution.

Ómarsdóttir rejects the term 'crowdsourcing' to describe the process of writing Iceland's new constitution. She makes many references to seeking consensus, which is a major Icelandic characteristic; but in the end, she confesses, they learned that true consensus was impossible to achieve. The final draft of the constitution was sent to a vote and the constitution drafters went with majority rule.

Silja Ómarsdóttir: Iceland’s constitution co-author from PopTech on Vimeo.

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