Secretary of Interaction: A proposal for a new cabinet office

Secretary of Interaction: A proposal for a new cabinet office
: Steven Johnson says of the Deanspace enterprise that…

…almost all their tools to date have been about organizing people, and not generating ideas. There’s been a great explosion of bottom-up techniques, but they’ve all revolved around political process, not political values. It occurred to me in the last few days, talking to various reporters who have called to talk about Dean and Emergence, that the simplest way to think about this is to imagine what the Dean campaign technology will look like if he’s elected. What will the role of the blogs and the meetups be once he’s in the White House? That’s much less clear — and in a way, I think it’s the most interesting question to ask right now.

Of course, we love to link to that with which we agree. And I said sometime ago, to some controversy, that Deanspace had to be about organization and not about ideas, only I didn’t say it quite so eloquently. I said that in terms of substance, the Deanblog is necessarily one way and propagandistic and in terms of organization it is necessarily exploitative.

Steven’s asking the interesting question, whether for Dean or any of those trying to follow his pioneering path: Once in power, how could this citizens’ space operate (and, yes, it should continue to operate)?

There’s less need for organization.

But a wise President in power would try to mobilize opinion behind policy.

In one sense, there is more need for control — for it’s about policy now, not just politics.

But in another sense — the right sense — there’s less need for control — for it’s about the citizenry speaking. It’s now about ideas, not organization.

Or put it another way: Perhaps once a President takes power, the citizens’ space around him or her can become less political and more about citizen involvement.

So what if a President appointed a Secretary of Interaction whose job it is to encourage an open exchange of ideas and understanding. (Or Congress could steal the beat and create an Office of Interaction.)

When policy issues arise, forget public hearings — long, boring rituals that, let’s be honest, have little influence and less involvement. Let’s instead insist that the policymakers create web sites with all the information they have and with the opportunity for citizens to speak.

We don’t have to do all that speaking in the guvment’s space; we can do it wherever we do it but because we’re all reacting to and linking to the policymakers’ space, we can track the buzz with Technorati and Trackback and such. They have to create that hub for this to happen.

But more important than the statistics is, of course, the substance: We get to add to the debate and the creation of policy.

There’s really no way to do that now, other than sending letters to Washington that are never seen again or blathering in the dark online or on letters-to-the-editor pages. It’s not transparent; it’s opaque.

But if by creating this policyspace, we knew that policymakers would end up tracking what we say — in their own enlightened self-interest — then we’d start to have more influence as citizens.

What is just starting to happen in media (with those in power reading and quoting those formerly out of power) and in business (you know that publishers are reading those reviews and rankings at Amazon) finally extends to government.

Yes, if Dean wins, I want to see him create Citizenspace. If anybody wins, they should create Citizenspace. That is the real lesson of Deanspace: We want to be involved. we want to be heard. We want to contribute. So let us.