Iceland's open-door government

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After the recent economic crash, many governments had to overhaul both financial structure and fiscal regulation. The majority, including the US government, formed a plan of attack using the same bureaucratic and economic venues in use for centuries. Politicians come to the table with plans and ideas based on their own thinking and research. Some use these opportunities to filter in their own agenda, hidden in layers of jargon and political colloquial, to be reviewed and passed (or passed on) by a body of politicians behind closed doors.

With this kind of complicated maneuvering, those that want to know what is going on in their government and why changes are taking place often have to sift through pages of jargon to get to the meaning. The problem lies in the process through which political action takes place--a process largely hidden from the eyes and ears of the people. Why not open up to the people you are trying to help?

Iceland, on the other hand, has taken a bold and very public approach. Understanding that the problems of the present are the results from the past, they are rewriting their constitution by crowd-sourcing ideas and suggestions via the Internet. Through the use of social media like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube, Iceland opens the doors to everyone around the world to observe or participate. Anyone can send in suggestions or comments that will potentially be added to their constitution.

Why would the government do this? Perhaps to gain more ideas faster? Or to engage their constituents more effectively? Whatever the reason I find it interesting and worth everyone and anyone's attention. Any person interested―me, you, him, or her―could literally have a hand in shaping how a country handles healthcare, banking, or taxes. You can do it!  That's huge.

We already spend a lot of time on social media. Why not use some of the time you spend organizing your Facebook farm to help a real country reorganize? Tweet about legal reform and that tasty beverage you just consumed at the corner bar―then see what others had to say on the same subjects.

This has the potential to set precedent on how governments restructure and regulate. Or perhaps how politicians write and submit bills. The possibilities go on and on. With transparency, political systems can reinvigorated not just in how they run, but also in how they determine who helps run it. Business and industry have experienced this kind of revitalization through the Internet and with advancing communications technologies. Why not politics? If a young kid in Idaho creates a fantastic new iPhone app, why couldn't that same kid have a fantastic idea on healthcare data handling or business rules reform?

Thinking back to the founding of my own country, I wonder how Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the others would feel about opening up the discussion about democracy in a very real and very open venue? Perhaps there would be a deeper emphasis on government checks and balances or perhaps a sharper focus on the social reforms.

Whatever the case, the discussion is open and we invite you to contribute. How would your country be different if government was open in this way?  Do you think this is a recipe for success―or confusion? Vote and veto in the comments below.

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3 Comments

jcapp's picture
Open Enthusiast

I'm puzzled as to why there seems to be a general notion that the founding of The United States of America was not open? The founders were very much afraid of too much government. As such, they tried very hard to limit the scope of government, making it clear that our rights are not granted by the government, but rather, our rights are "unalienable", and endowed by our Creator". Further, "To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." Therefore, Government derives its power "from the consent of the governed."

If anything, over the last 100 years, we have lost some of the checks and balances that were intended to keep government "open." The epitome of the "closedness" of goverment was when congress was asked to "pass the health care bill so we could see what was in it." That, my friend, is what the founding fathers abhorred. It was their deep philosophical belief that laws were to be written in plain language so that the common man could understand and take an active part in Government.

craigharffey's picture
Open Source Evangelist

Jim - love your comments. As a model for a fresh start you guys had the opportunity to do things right and you did. We, on the other hand, remain firmly under the yoke of our titled masters and our rules and methods are still entrenched in back slapping and looking after the privileged few. See stories about MP's behaviour, fiddling expenses and the dirty tricks employed during the recent referendum on the Alternative vote for the proof.

Looking back, I cant help but think George III really screwed it up for us ;-)

craigharffey's picture
Open Source Evangelist

So more transparency in govenment and finding a means for the masses to effect change? - yes please.

But not sure an Icelandic approach works everywhere - let's not forget Iceland was staring at economic ruin, international relations were severly damaged and the government had resigned en masse to appease a public baying for blood.

Radical measures usually need a catalyst and this was present in Iceland after 2009. It seems to be working for Iceland's rebuilding, I just can see many other establishments wanting similar levels of transparency interfering with their cosy existence.