Discourse as the ideal format for an open governance / government 2.0 forum?
I feel that Discourse is poised to become great: It’s a well-made, collaborative, discussion friendly venue that could work as a platform to get people involved with their communities.
Discourse can easily become a means to have people discuss and critique on what needs to be done in their local community.
In December 2012 me and a few friends began the process of starting a hackerspace. This is an offshoot of a bunch of pet projects we’ve been working on together since 2010. Our ‘company’ has been developing under an open governance system where what we work on is dependent entirely on what everyone decides is good to do. We are effectively a collaboratively governed system.
One of our core ideas is to help develop a culture platform that encourages collaboration. We want to develop and gather systems that help cement the community driven mentality and allow for better usage of the network of people that get involved. Just like in open source projects, if you don’t have a way to get great minds interested in your project, you have very little chance of leveraging the power of collaboration.
Hackerspaces as a governance model testbed:
The hackerspace idea was a no-brainer because as far as models for a collaborative governments go we couldn’t have asked for a better example than the makerspace movement. They already have the openness that allows people to focus on what interests them.
The funny thing is that past a certain point, efforts to empower a hackerspace blur between local hackerspaces and local communities in general.
With all this kicking around in my head, what really got my gears spinning was what @ChrisHanel wrote on how Discourse could act as a middle ground between a privately run blog, and a publicly ran forum (from the discussion from Using discourse as blog software):
[quote=“ChrisHanel, post:8, topic:2510”]
I think we’re seeing more and more [of] that as web design has evolved, there is a valid point to looking at more hybrid systems that exist somewhere in-between the standard pillars of purpose. Some of that evolution comes about by using systems built for a different goal in mind, or seeing them grow into something outside of its original parameters.
I think there’s something to be said for understanding the difference between a ‘blog’ and a ‘forum’, purely from a design aesthetic. In a sense, a blog with comments is just a forum where only a very exclusive group of users can start new topics and everyone else is limited to short replies. Or, to put it another way, a blog is a forum where the moderator is who we are there to talk about, and the guest of honor has the microphone.
If you’re a content creator, and your goal is to engage on a level higher than simply having your content be seen, then it’s definitely worth a thought to step out of the post + comments format, and really brainstorm on what kind of conversation you want to have with your visitors, and if that conversation can and should continue on without your direct input. I don’t think that the standard answer of having a blog and a forum both listed in your site header really cuts it any longer, especially when the blog is the front and center of the site, and the forum is generally hidden away in its own login system and hierarchy.[/quote]
I believe that he has hit the nail on the head. An open discussion forum needs this out-of-box thinking.
The Emergence of Government 2.0:
I see great things on the horizon surrounding the area of open government systems. Tim O’Reilly (yes, of O’Reilly media) has been pushing for Open Government / Gov 2.0 for a while and there are wonderful meta-discussions on these issues on his google+ posts. He’s even released the book Open Government for free, as a tribute to Aaron Swartz.
For collaborative organizations to work well, there needs to be productive discussions on issues and projects, and not just workflow management that similar software services like Trello and BetterMeans offers. Of all the things we’ve looked at for discussion forums, even in it’s infant stages Discourse already seems to be the best way to let people freely discuss what is on their mind. We see it as the linchpin in a grand vision of a more involved community. Discourse can become a means for all the little communities to have voice.
The biggest thing that discourse provides is a means to keep discussions on topic in the same way that a meeting facilitator works. The ability to split topics of discussion off effectively remind participants on which topic is currently on the floor. I also can see admins acting as interlocutors to help connect various interest groups (independent Discourse forums) and other local communities in real life.
The nature of it being online and persistent is exactly what you’d need in order for almost everyone to get involved - just think of how many people are willing to use facebook, but can’t be arsed to go to even a simple school board meeting. I believe Discourse can change that.
The beauty of a Discourse like system is that, unlike normal meetings, off-topic discussions can still continue in side chains without polluting the main threads of discussion. Bureaucratic restrictions could be further lessened if Discourse implements a moderator system similar to how stackoverflow allows for long-term (invested) contributors to act as pseudo-admins. After all, the pseudo-admin setup is indirectly implementing the Open Enterprise Governance Model anyway.
Right now, the only thing that stands in the way of Discourse taking on this roll is the need for is a way to express interest beyond just liking a post. We would need a way to show not just who ‘likes’ an idea, but who is willing to support it outright - a sort of kickstarter where you pledge not just financial support, but volunteering and other more actionable items.
We would also need an adaptive way to show how interest is spread among the various groups to better allow people to pool resources. That is to say, a way to help individuals and entire hackerspaces / communities find others that they can collaborate and cross-pollinate with. And finally, a distributed hub connecting all these Discourse communities together in a much larger system.
Dreams of Discourse:
Discourse can easily become a means to have people discuss and critique on what needs to be done in their local community. You could have topics ranging from things as small as a photo of a crack in the sidewalk (who’s going to fix this?) to more far reaching discussions like the legalization of marijuana, or the establishment of a new zoning district. The beauty of having an open source government is that there is nothing stopping me from doing this.
Let’s code the future. Discuss: