Welcome to the Open MinistryMay 2nd, 2012 by Jack Reynolds
After casually revolutionizing the worlds of design, data-processing and translation, the crowd is now getting to work on the business of government. Iceland is preparing to implement a crowdsourced constitution, and this March the Finnish Parliament passed the Citizens’ Initiative Act. The Act allows any citizen to present a law to Parliament, providing they can get the support of 50,000 citizens.
Spotting the opportunity for a groundbreaking piece of online activism, Finnish entrepreneur Joonas Pekkanen assembled a team of volunteers, including web-development wizard Aleksi Rossi, and created the Avoin Ministeriö, or Open Ministry. The site allows Finns to submit proposals for legislation, which are then debated and refined by the site’s membership. We sat down with Joonas and Aleksi to discuss the possibilities for crowdsourced lawmaking.
I understand the first proposal submitted to the site was a bill to repeal the tax on dog ownership, and that it came from you, Joonas. Why did you choose that as your starting point?
Joonas: It is an obvious idea with a lot of support, and it is a good way to show what the site can do. Last time I checked it had a few hundred supporters, so it’s not anywhere near the 50,000, but it’s a start, and not bad for just a few weeks.
Will you continue to be personally involved in the drafting process?
Aleksi: There are two different things happening here. There is Open Ministry, which is the group of individuals that set up the site, which includes Joonas. But Joonas is also acting as an individual, who has now presented four or five ideas. This was first to show the capability of the site, and also to underline the fact that while Joonas is a part of the Open Ministry, he is also a citizen called Joonas who can submit his ideas.
Joonas: The point being that the Open Ministry doesn’t have opinions as an institution. The Open Ministry doesn’t present any ideas or have any opinions itself.
Do you have to exert any editorial control over the proposals?
Joonas: We were originally quite worried that we would have to moderate the content, but we’ve been very positively surprised that we have not had to moderate a single comment or a single idea. We’ve had some 130 ideas already, and obviously not all of them are good ideas. But there has been no illegal or derogatory material, or anything offensive or inappropriate. Obviously part of this is due to the fact that we ask people to sign up using their real name.
Aleksi: I was just checking the comments and users recently, and I found that out of over a thousand users, only one has signed up without registering and confirming their identity. He has only left one comment, and it is of quite low quality!
How is the project financed?
Joonas: At some point we will probably need some funding, but at the moment and in the foreseeable future, we try to be completely non-money driven, so there is no funding, there are no sponsorships, and nobody is able to donate any money at the moment. Maybe that will change in six months or so, but for the moment we try to be as effective as possible on a purely voluntary basis.
So what are you working on now?
Joonas: We have already executed these first ideas and put the framework in place, but the project is very much a work-in-progress. What we need right now is for individuals to start to do voluntary work and make things happen. For that we need experts to get involved. We need more lawyers, we definitely need more developers, and we need people who are able to talk with the media. We also need people to act as liaison for different citizen associations. We need to make sure that people are first informed, then engaged. There’s plenty of room for many types of individuals.
Aleksi: We’ve basically tried to create a playground for democracy. It will be interesting to see what happens next.