Opening up government, because they're too slow to do it themselves
December 10, 2004 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Hacking open democracy. First came FaxYourMP, so technophobe MPs could be easily contacted by the 'net generation. Next were PublicWhip, DowningStreetSays and TheyWorkForYou (previously discussed here and here) to help voters keep tabs on what their elected representatives get up to in office. Coming soon are FaxYourRepresentative/WriteToThem, NotApathetic and YourConstituencyMailingList. (MI).
posted by grahamspankee (6 comments total)
Amazingly, all these sites are built and run by a fairly small bunch of loosely connected, independent part-timers and volunteers who believe in the abilities of both technology and open democracy to build a better society.

What most amuses me is that these sites are created and run on shoestring budgets by tech-savvy volunteers at the same time as the bulk of the UK government struggles to put all its services online by 2005 with multi-million pound projects run by expensive consultants. Although, to be fair, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister seems to be starting to board the cluetrain.

Some of these sites have been around for a while - I first used FaxYourMP about three years ago - but they don't seem to get the recognition their excellence warrants. I imagine several of those who built these sites are long-term MeFi members, both groups seem to share a similar interest in the crossover of open discussion and early adoption of technology, and if there are any reading this I'd just like to say thanks, your work is great.

Is this political hacking a peculiarly British thing or are there similar projects going on in your country?
posted by grahamspankee at 8:24 AM on December 10, 2004

This concept has been around for some time. I remember a site for contacting Canadian MPs via email-fax, called "Fax the Hill", was in operation as early as 1996 (although like many site from '96, it is now defunct).
posted by DrJohnEvans at 8:41 AM on December 10, 2004

I have to use Hansard quite a bit and it's rubbish. TWFY is a much nicer interface. It's a shame that information like what committees MPs sit on and what posts they hold is not on there yet but I hear they are working on it.

The Guardian's Ask Aristotle is also a useful resource.
posted by ninebelow at 8:49 AM on December 10, 2004

I'm glad this came up.

I'm curious -- do y'all think this is a viable form of participation in a representative democracy? The next big thing in politics? Will it get more people involved? Will the government learn to distrust and turn a blind eye to online activists because some might abuse or overuse the technology?

I ask because friends and I just started a similar (US-based) site, which will start up in January. I'm hoping -- and maybe it's a big hope -- that this is a good way to get people involved in a way they haven't been in many years. There are others in the US, but have they had an effect?

I'm curious about others' opinions. Take it further for me.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:04 AM on December 10, 2004

I think these kind of sites can only be good things, FaxYourMP for example has allowed me to send notes to MPs three times on subjects I felt strongly about, where previously I wouldn't have bothered or felt able.

You'll note that these UK sites are effectively neutral, they don't promote any particular party or lobby agenda, they just attempt to open up the data for scrutiny and to bring the communication channels between the public and the government into the 21st century.

There's always the danger that the newly open channels get used poorly and then, as you suggest, lose their effectiveness, but I get the impression that the same diligence that brings the project to fruition in the first place is used to police the system once it's in place.

What's your new site about, if you don't mind revealing all.
posted by grahamspankee at 10:21 AM on December 10, 2004

No, I don't mind, but I don't want to shill, either. (Which someone did on my behalf last week, unbeknownst to me, and using my own keyboard. It wasn't my fault, I swear.)

The new site is, initially anyway, in response to the FCC indecency complaint issue I linked to. I'm hoping that from there it can turn into a site to activate people from their desks because, let's face it, most people aren't very diligent about being participatory in the "real" world.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:39 AM on December 10, 2004

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