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The Way We Interact With Govt is About to Change

BY Editors | Thursday, October 30 2008

[We got this email from Community Counts founder David Colarusso last night, and asked him for permission to post it here. Eighteen months ago, David was a high school teacher living near Boston who had a simple and common-sense reaction to the CNN/YouTube debates: the public ought to be able to help choose which video questions were asked of the candidates. On his own, he built a platform for community engagement around the presidential campaign that was eventually embraced by us, the New York Times editorial board, MSNBC, and a coalition of more than fifty blogs, called 10Questions. He's now in law school, and continuing to work on innovative efforts to reinvent American democracy in the Internet Age. We're going to be featuring more voices on the coming transition in the days ahead--stay tuned. The Editors. ]

For the first time ever, I'm sending out an email blast to my ENTIRE contact list, and on top of that, I'm asking for a favor. At the very least, I'm asking that you visit http://www.BigDialog.org/, view a single question, vote it up or down, wait one week, and repeat. It will probably take more time to read this email. So why not just click through now? Not convinced? Well, here's why it's worth your time.

The way we interact with Government is about to change, and the shape of that change is up to us. The Internet is not just a way to raise money or mobilize supporters. It's a way to shrink the distance between people and politicians. For the first time in history, it's possible for hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people to have a single conversation. I'm not talking about the elimination of traditional news media or the implementation of a direct democracy. Expertise is important, and there will always be a need for professional journalists and public servants devoting all their energies towards government. I'm talking about adding a complementary channel, a new seat at the table.

BigDialog.org and its "Ask the President-Elect" forum is a first step. The eCitizen Foundation (a Massachusetts non-profit), MIT's eCitizen Architecture Program (MIT-ECAP), a growing coalition of web communities, and I are asking you to pose and prioritize text and video questions for the President-Elect.

It's about setting a precedent for open dialog, but it's not just about asking questions. You'll be able to vote on the responses. We won't ask if you agree, only if you thought the questions were actually answered. It's a structural incentive to compel real replies. In an age of alleged media bias, it's important that we're able to ask critical questions of our leaders without them questioning the questions--it's the people's questions for the people's representatives.

Why BigDialog? The short answer, because we're committed to changing the discussion, not just gaining market share. I've spent the last 18 months working on projects like this because it seemed a no-brainer. The ballot box isn't the only place our elected officials should be held accountable, and technology is presenting new means of interaction to supplement the old. If we succeed in getting a replies from the President-Elect, I intend to turn over communityCOUNTS, the platform behind BigDialog and last year's 10questions, to a non-partisan not-for-profit group for continued development. It's not perfect, but it's a start.

If you've read this far, thank you. You're either a good friend, family, or someone who likes the ideas behind this. Whatever the reason, you've earned the honor of being asked an additional favor. Don't just vote on the questions. Ask your own. Make a video, upload it to YouTube and link it to the site or if that's too much, just type a question. And if you really want to get on my good side, tell all your friends. Heck, offer to video their questions. Take your Flip camcorder of cell phone and do man-on-the-street interviews. Forward this email. . .

It's all about the numbers. You can make this happen.