25 Ordinary Citizens Write Iceland’s New Constitution With Help From Social Media

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Iceland Web ConstitutionThe newest government in the world was designed with help from comments on the internet. God help us all. After Iceland’s economic collapse in 2008, the island nation decided it was time to write a new constitution, this one not based on its parent country of Denmark but rather made from the original ideas of its citizens. Iceland’s small population of 320,000 elected 25 assembly members from 522 ordinary candidates (including lawyers, political science professors, journalists, and many other professions), who in turn opened their process up to the public in an unprecedented fashion. The Constitutional Council was highly active on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, where they solicited comments and suggestions for the new government. On Friday July 29th, 2011, the Iceland parliament officially received the new constitution, comprised of 114 articles divided into 9 chapters. Set to be reviewed, and then put before vote for ratification by October 1st, the internet-assisted document marks a possible paradigm shift in governing. In the 21st Century, we’re writing our constitutions with social media. The future is a crazy place.

From the elections to the website, Iceland has gone to great length to make their citizens feel involved and enabled by the process of writing the new constitution. Candidates for the constitutional assembly gathered thousands of signatures to appear on the ballot, and discussed their views publicly on 50 radio show presentations. The candidates also wrote about themselves on public websites including Wikipedia and Facebook. After The Constitutional Council was formed, there was a constant upstream of their proceedings to Twitter, and Facebook, along with regular photo updates on Flickr. You can find videos of The Constitutional Council on YouTube, but they’re in Icelandic. Just to give you a taste, here’s the inaugural meeting…opening with a song!

In many ways then, the new Iceland constitution was the first to ever be born completely in the public eye. Sure, constitutional assemblies are often open to some sort of public scrutiny, but Iceland’s was broadcast on the internet. Council members regularly interacted with commenters, and every week the latest drafts of the various chapters (or the work related to their writing) were shared via a public website. Live broadcasts of the open council meetings were shown every Thursday via their site as well as Facebook. There was even a regular e-newsletter. Iceland used the web like never before to open up their process to the world and attract the attention of their public.

smile web

The Constitutional Council handed the proposed draft to the Parliament last week, but it's too soon to know if social media was the right answer for this challenge.

Yet the enthusiasm from the public hasn’t exactly been stellar (maybe they didn’t like the singing?). Despite the historic nature of the constitutional elections, little more than a third of Iceland actually voted (83,531 or 35.95% of the ~230,000 eligible voters). That election, by the way, was deemed invalid by the Supreme Court of the nation due to problems with voter privacy, and the parliament had to eventually appoint the same elected candidates to the Constitutional Council in order to get things rolling. It’s unclear how that debacle tainted the opinion of the council in the eyes of the Icelandic public. While the social media presence has been active during the writing of the constitution, the main website only garnered about 1600 comments. That’s certainly a lot for the Council to wade through, but I’m not sure you can call it a mandate from Iceland’s people – especially when you consider many comments were made from interested parties from all over the world.

The lessons we are to learn from Iceland’s new constitution, then, are a mixed bag. It’s absolutely amazing that an entire structure of government was made with help from social media and in total view of the world. Anyone from Reykjavík to Rio de Janeiro could watch and even give input to how Iceland should be governed. But that didn’t guarantee widespread public support nor even success. The new constitution is 700+ pages of ideals that may or may not be ratified come October, and whose ultimate benefit to Iceland is uncertain. Crowd-sourcing a constitution was a remarkably ballsy move, but it will take years before we know if it was a smart one.

1000 points to Iceland for being progressive, daring, and crazy enough to undergo this revolutionary approach to government formation. 1,000,000,000 points to whoever can find a way to learn from this example and successfully leverage the power of social media to truly make the world a better place to live.

[image credit: www.stjornlagarad.is]
[source: AFP, www.stjornlagarad.is]

Discussion — 9 Responses

  • wildzbill August 3, 2011 on 9:44 am

    Post a comment to vote?
    Only good if it verifies identity, else one group could overwhelm the process.
    Given that, it could be the foundation of a much swifter government, maybe even a government with ADD.

    So what would be a good way to run a company or country using the best of modern technology? Perhaps a polling process that also includes a weighing factor based on your profile. But would you give more credence to artists or CEOs?

  • Ormond Otvos August 3, 2011 on 2:17 pm

    It’s good for citizen participation, but it will skew views to the young, the academic and the technically adept.

    It will tend to leave out the views of the older and less technical, but possibly warier and commonsensical views of the people with no interest in the internet.

    How well connected is the entire Iceland population?

    Also, there needs to be a saucer to cool the heat of public passion. You’ll remember the Patriot Act being passed without review or debate after 9/11. The Icelandic Constituion might be a bit over reactive to bankers.

    If it’s available in English, it would be nice to link to it :-)

    • Aaron Saenz Ormond Otvos August 3, 2011 on 2:34 pm

      So, this is not in English, but Chrome will easily translate it for you:
      http://stjornlagarad.is/starfid/frumvarp/

    • einar Ormond Otvos August 4, 2011 on 4:48 am

      Ormond Otvos: The idea of a new constitution has been in debate for over 50 years. Over 90% of the public has Internet access. The progress has also been podcast on the radio, on television(mostly the state television), and throw newspapers. Ideas could also be given in person ore by sending letter. But most of the connection was throw the Internet, with they’re website, throw video media (mostly youtube) and other social media like twitter and specially facebook.

      This constitutional assembly main objective was to write a constitution based on the values and ideas made on the National assembly about 2 years ago where over 1000 people randomly picked came together.
      http://thjodfundur2009.is/english/
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Assembly_(Iceland)

      I also want to point out that the Icelandic Banking crises is the worsted crises the country has faced sins WWII. It was not only a credit crises but a economic depression. Its not every day that a countries currency louses 50% of its value.

  • Ormond Otvos August 3, 2011 on 3:15 pm

    Good link. On the top right, click for English! Thanks. Now to read it carefully.

  • Ormond Otvos August 3, 2011 on 4:26 pm

    So I read it. It’s vague, poorly translated (machine, obviously) and generally multicultural.

    Nothing to see here. Horse designed by a committee. Maybe a better translation will come along.

  • Ormond Otvos August 4, 2011 on 10:33 am

    Einar –
    Thanks for your reply.

    Actually, what I was talking about was not internet access, but internet use and interest.

    I live in a cooperative of 450 apartments. I supply, for free, wireless to the whole area, and yet there is a significant group, maybe even half of the families, who actively refuse even a free computer and internet access. They seem to regard the internet as just one more annoying intrusion, like pop music, or tv commercials.

    I also note that little more than a third of the eligible population voted. Do you have an explanation for that? Were most just convinced the process was producing good governance documents?

  • aubreyfarmer August 15, 2011 on 9:29 am

    If their Constitution does not plainly spell out that at no time in the future will the currency of the nation be controlled by private banking interest then it certainly needs to. Jewish ownership of the Federal Reserve in the US is destroying this country. It was also Jewish bankers that put such a hurt on Iceland. I am proud of them for their repudiation of the debt and standing up the the globalist scum that think they are going to wind up controlling the whole world through their corrupt banking practices. Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws!

    Attributed to Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744 – 1812). No primary source for this is known and the earliest attribution to him known is in Money Creators (1935) by Gertrude M. Coogan. Before that, “Let us control the money of a nation, and we care not who makes its laws” was said to be a “maxim” of the House of Rothschilds, or, even more vaguely, of the “money lenders of the Old World”. This is a play on an English proverb, Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.

  • Gary Akoyeh McGee May 24, 2012 on 12:50 pm

    With absolute conceit I will claim that 1,000,000,000 points mentioned. Here’s how: By leveraging the power of social media with sortition-based democratic tactics as opposed to election-based tactics and we can truly make the world a better place to live.

    Progressing toward a sortition-based democracy transforms passive citizens (that don’t vote) into proactive citizens (that subsume politics).

    http://letter-z.hubpages.com/hub/Sortition-based-Democracy-Proactive-Citizenry-and-the-Political-Gambit