Monthly Archives: November 2011

Iceland’s Crowdsourced Constitution

The 25 elected members of Iceland's new-found Constitutional Council.

In a country still recovering from the recent economic global crisis, the rules are changing. Not just what they entail, but how they are mandated. For the first time in the humble country’s history, a draft of an original constitution is being created, and its being  done so with input from the general public using the internet and social media platforms.

When planning for writing up the new constitution began last year, members of Iceland’s government invited 950 randomly selected members of the general public in to come and brainstorm what the new constitution would include and how it would be planned out. The conclusion made through that meeting was that the citizens of Iceland should be involved through the entire the process rather than just functioning as voters to the end-product.

This meeting led to the conception of a webpage dedicated to the new constitution, and the decision made last November which resulted in the electing of 25 individuals to run a new process whereby the mandating would be run as an open crowdsourced project across a large digital spectrum including several social media platforms, with Facebook being a key component.

The facebook page used to document the process of mandating the new constitution.

One member of of Iceland’s constitutional council, Thorvaldur Gylfason, commented on the historical political change.

“I believe this is the first time a constitution is being drafted basically on the internet. The public sees the constitution come into being before their eyes … This is very different from old times where constitution makers sometimes found it better to find themselves a remote spot out of sight, out of touch.”

There are others, however, that do not share such sentiments of optimism, and believe that the process is of ill intentions. Benedikt Jóhannesson, a writer for the Iceland Review, considers himself to be one of these individuals, as he stated in an opinion article from the publication titled ‘Why Iceland Has No Hope’:

“The Icelandic constitution is old and needs mending. However, I have very deep doubts that the constitution had anything to do with Iceland getting into trouble. The proposed new constitution is flawed. The fact that it was passed unanimously by 25 people raises serious doubts on the process. Now, our beloved President says the proposed changes will increase the power of the President, while members of the constitutional conference say that it is not so. The text cannot be clear if such a dispute comes up.”

One of the heated issues that has recently surfaced in the process is the debates concerning the the laws on fisheries and quotas, something Iceland has and continues to take very seriously (and reasonably so given the countries history with confrontations over fishing rights). Jóhannesson and others skeptical of the way the process for the new constitution is being planned out argue that the countries fishing industry is one of the few things ‘going well’ for Iceland.

Regardless of stances taken on the event, it is very interesting to see how Iceland is willing to go this far to create a digitally tuned direct democracy for building their historical document. However, this should not come as too much of a surprise. After the country suffered from the global economic meltdown of 2008, they have made it a habit to become quite transparent in regards to the inner workings of their parliament and law-making by becoming a country with such a strong digital data compound.

It will be interesting to keep tabs on the use of social media platforms at such a national level. Will the people’s voice be successfully implemented into the country’s new law of the land, or will the process prove futile due to slacktivism and a general lack of constructiveness? Time will tell.

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