Do you think Iceland's draft constitution is a milestone for open government?

Posted 03 Aug 2011 by 

Jason Hibbets (Red Hat)
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Last week, the Iceland Constitutional Council, made up of 25 Icelandic citizens, presented a bill to their parliament outlining a new constitution. The bill contains 114 articles in nine chapters, and includes elements for a more open government. It appears that the population will be given the chance to vote on the new constitution after the Alþingi (national parliament) reviews the draft.

In April 2011, Iceland decided to rewrite their constitution by crowdsourcing ideas and suggestions from the Internet. We've taken a look at the draft constitution and there are several articles that create a more open government for Iceland.

You've got the standard open meeting laws, but then it goes into detail about open data, transparency for campaign funding, and open land. Below are a few highlights from the draft constitution (translated using Google).

  • Article 15, information rights, opens by saying, "Anyone is free to gather and disseminate information." The article outlines open data and public access to documents that public bodies collect or cover.

A blog post at DataMarket shows how excited supporters were to participate in the process and influence decisions concerning the use of open data:

"Therefore we feel proud–and partially responsible–that some of the core values of open data are now a part [of] a draft of a new constitution for Iceland." Source: Open Data coming to the Icelandic Constitution

  • Article 51 talks about campaign funding. Ultimately, it makes the government responsible for financing candidates to keep costs reasonable, ensure transparency, and limit campaign advertising.
  • Article 55, open meetings, requires that all parliamentary sessions are open to the public. However, it doesn't require committee meetings to be open. Each committee can decide on the level of transparency individual meetings require.
  • Articles 33 and 34 give guidance for environmental and natural resources. This is a new part in the Chapter on Human Rights, renamed Human Rights and Nature. I think this highlights how important environmental resources are in Iceland. It reflects their culture and in their own words, "is the foundation of life in the country." The draft says public resources are owned collectively and eternally by the people of Iceland.

Overall, the draft constitution seems well-structured, easy-to-read, and appears to include all of the things a government would need to function. Creating a city-lead council and crowdsourcing ideas and suggestions from not only citizens but the entire world is amazing. But will it work? The ultimate test will be if Iceland's parliament accepts the new constitution and then lets the citizenship vote on it.

No matter what happens next, I think this process can work for other nations. Iceland decided to hit the reset button on their government. Could yours do the same?

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3 Comments

jhibbets
Open Sourcerer
Here is some additional background on the creation of the draft: <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/09/iceland-crowdsourcing-constitution-facebook" target="blank">Mob rule: Iceland crowdsources its next constitution</a>
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Mario Alvise
You are great. While the rest of western countries keep looking at the sky hoping for a lightning to lit the fire you discovered it. You got to the heart of the causes of the crisis putting man, society not governments at the center. This awareness shoud be globalized, not stupid things to steal money and give false certanties. Think about that poor North Americans who woke up in the morning finding out they are much poorer than they were when they went to bed. You shound come in our schools and tell our students, at any level, how you got that consciousness, how it was, how it is and how you hope it will be in the future for you and your sons. You are the example that peacefull revolutions do exist.
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StarDisk
The U.S. Constitution puts the individual at the center and in fact could not have been ratified without the Bill of Rights. A very unique idea in the 18th century. The Founders knew that the hearts of men can be wanting and that is why the means to reform and control the government is woven into the Constitution. What is always going on in America is the reassertion of People's rights. It is good that Iceland's Citizens are able to assert themselves.
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Jason Hibbets is a project manager in Corporate Marketing at Red Hat where he is the lead administrator, content curator, and community manager for Opensource.com. He has been with Red Hat since 2003 and is the author of, The foundation for an open source city. Prior roles include senior marketing specialist, Red Hat Knowledgebase maintainer, and support engineer. Follow him on Twitter: @jhibbets

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