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Orgware virtual districts: empowering citizens to manage government (call for feedback)

Via Matt Cooperrider:

This new paper examines the potential for a social network platform that empowers citizens to manage government. It is authored by Britt Blaser, David Weinberger, and Joe Trippi, for submission to the Digital Governance Society of North America 2009 conference.


What the paper doesn't tell you is that this platform is almost built. There is a very un-beautiful and still-buggy installation at http://newgov.us.

I'd love to hear any feedback on the paper.

Matt Cooperrider

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Just noticed a new facebook friend's favortite quote:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. - Buckminster Fuller


I'm worn out now but would like to discuss how I believe we together ARE that model!

warmest regards,
I love that quote. I've got a copy of Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth with me right now. It orients my whole program.

I think I have a clearer understanding of Chagora now. It's a system for allocating micro-donations. Very cool. ORGware has some fundraising capacity built in, but nothing so sophisticated. Perhaps there is a possibility for direct collaboration.

We haven't gone open source yet, and are working furiously to overcome the hurdles that are preventing that. Are you planning an open source strategy? What language are you building in?
For technicals I can connect you with the developers since I'm not an expert in these areas. Rajeev already notified me he would be happy to talk to whoever.

On the vision... you're closer on the starting point but still haven't gotten to the next level... (be comforted... it generally takes a while)

Yes, the micro-donation aspect is crucial... particualarly on political issues in direct opposition to existing lobbying structures and incumbancy inertia (ask Joe Trippi!)

But you're missing the KEY NEXT STEP!

This leads to the use of this account for ALL the user's contributions political AND charitable for reasons I can make clear but are on my blog, the faq or somewhere or another probably more than once...

AND THAT HAS HUGE... let me repeat that.... HUGE consequences...

Because it also leads to a natural concentration of donors AND recipients (who go where the donors are).

with ramification for monetization... and then the ownership structure of the thereby created WHOLE becomes itself a mechanism with inherent qualities for moderating excesses of both government and private entities.

This is a civilization fundamental...

A DISTRIBUTED NETWORK OF EMPOWERED DECISION NODES (sometimes called people) FOR ACTION IN THE COMMONS (in U.S. common legal parlance refers to legal non-profits charitable and political but this is an area for attention ultimately). A commons that has been crippled by primarily changes in scale.


And it is designed with conscious intention of addressing these issues of SCALE and resulting imbalances in power relationships NOT ONLY by the microdonation but ultimately by other characteristics and capabilities including the basic design itself.

I've also now posted on this P2P site a brief post regarding the account in a bare theoretical way and as a response to a post by another regarding his ideas regarding a new economic model with some minor relevance though more as thought experiments than any immediate application.

This is necessary and missing functionality for scaling BOTH the political and economic decision-making process in relation to the commons.

Forgive me if I'm frustrated... but I assure you there is understanding here that will come with time. You may wish to check with Eyal Sivan's TheConnective.org or another friend who is young graduate of Georgetown who's interested in how such a structure could be used as a moderating force and for building representative institutions in the Middle East which is his specialty.

Regardless, my great consolation is that this is a structure that need not be imposed and will grow organically and so eventually will occur.

Again, happy to set up conversation with developers for technicals...

and I encourage attention to issue of WHY its for profit... HOW profitable it could be... and WHAT that may mean for getting your project up, successful and with the penetration I'm sure you ultimately desire.


I hope the rest of your team and yourself have a chance also to consider these points in some depth. I've spent a little time at your site and read the full paper.

There is certainly much to commend it. And I understand how long these things can take. Working alone on my own dime in an unknown field has made that clear to me in a most personal way.

However, once a practical solution became clear two years ago I moved forward immediately after my own clumsy investigations of what was needed.

(though, of course, I consider the element of money-speech and its implementation as much more vital and included, I believe, a more realistic and beneficial method for actually getting the resulting platform built and used)

I'm rather proud of our little site Chagora! And hope you'll take with good humor and understand my natural bias if I say that I believe Chagora has elements that make it a much more likely framework for accomplishing the goals we share.

And am additionally proud of the speed with which I've been able to reach this point since I see how long it's taken yourselves.

I'm most especially happy that I am finally reaching those with whom collaboration may be fruitful.

I'll look forward to the opportunity to discuss possibilities with the principals mentioned at the top of the full draft paper and yourself and/or others interested.

And as a fellow alumni of SJSU (hey, I gotta use the hooks I got!) I encourage Mr. Trippi to consider the possibilities here for his efforts with ChangeCongress.org
Hi Tom,

I guess I'm still having a hard time assembling a full idea of the functionality of your platform, and how that translates into political change. Writing this paper was an excellent exercise in clarifying our ideas and arguments. Perhaps you'd consider a similar approach...

Also, I'm not convinced by your argument in "How do I know Chagora is truly fair and non-partisan." As long as you own it and can sell it, it's in danger of co-option. The main reason I joined the NewGov project was because of the "nobody owns it piece". That fact trumps any actual piece of code in my mind.
Hi Matt,

I understand I think... You may have missed that it is to be owned by the DONORS! I'm fairly sure that's in there somewhere. Though admittedly there is a startup phase where there is a need for investment which must be motivated. But the only ultimate "Exit Strategy" is turnover to the donor base which can hopefully remain part of the plan.

In other words, everyone... and as such, it cannot be sold or bought...

The reason I introduce the concept is because it leads to better capability for sustainance, growth and usage. Again, I suppose it will take longer to explain that.

Though it will likely to be quicker to just get it funded and fully operational and explain afterwards.

And perhaps you are right about a paper since it seems that it's hard to follow from what you've indicated though I believe I may be getting it across to a growing number.

However, I must focus in the near term on its creation. Perhaps the confusion about functionality is because the demo shows Presidential candidates as opposed to the more narrow particular issue and/or local cause or candidate where its effects will be more apparant. And especially, of course, the relationship to the LiveEvent Function which you would have read about on the FAQ. And the connection to increasing opportunity for local candidates to reach local audiences more easily and cheaply on such a publicly owned platform. And, of course, its unfortunate that lack of funds prevented display of a prototype "neighborhood" page with its opportunities for localized opinion which are covered in plans and wire-frames. Or the city, state, or national pages which select from the more localized pages to create, for instance a "User-Created National Opinion page with ideas pulled from the neighborhood pages. And finally, of course how all that interracts with the motivational structures of the citizen and the politician which I know you recognize.

(I believe you also recognize some of these possibitlies in you excellent paper)

I'm not sure about your reference to code since that's not my field. And I have not written any computer code.

As for the question of "how do I know this is fair and bi-partisan" this is of course always a question for continuous attention just as it is for institutions like CSpan. However as noted above, Chagora is not available for sale or co-opt since it's owned by everybody. I hope that clears that up at least.

I'm not trying to be the king of the world. But I do believe I have some key parts of what is necessary to make EVERYONE a little more of a king. And remain confident that will become clear.

And if I'm wrong about the benefit for it to be Donor owned... well, that's possible... but it's a point to be considered at least in its true light. I'm not trying to lock things up. As for the essential and complimentary role of the micro transaction in politics combined with electoral/geographic networking facilitation!

I'm dead-on convinced that it is the critical missing element for catalyzation of the structure desired by us both.

Regardless, I thank you for your attention and wish you great luck with your endeavour.
Exec Summary w/o figures on offering or projections (realized I had attached old version to earlier post so here is latest... oops)
The donor-owned thing makes sense.

To give you my honest critique, I think that your documentation may be the biggest hurdle to engagement. I want to know what your proposed feature set is, why those features will lead to increased engagement, and how they will drive political change.

The micro-donation aspect is fully explained, but the "Electoral/Geographical Networking" and "Live Capabilities" are not (unless I missed something). Those two are the hard ones. From an outsider perspective, it looks like vaporware.

Have you thought about an open source strategy?
Live capability is very simple. Java applet or similar (again talk to my developers who are ready but I believe that's what Rajeev said) for live feedback for instance during debate situation.


Imagine in the recent primary debates if it was announced on CNN that during the upcoming debate they were inviting people to join in with say $5 during the 2 hr period. And then in real time during the debate participants could from their computer give it out in 50 cent pops in response to candidate positions. MEDIA LOVE CONTESTS... and they love scores... so they end up promoting account creation for their own advantage.

Now if I was Dennis Kucinich back then (and they like this microdonation idea in his office, a couple have joined me on facebook!) I'd want my supporters to open an account with $5 cause I'd bet I'd make a pretty good showing against more "media-acceptable" candidates...

And he'd be right!

Now, of course, Hillary and Barack and the rest are going to be thinking "wait a minute, this could end up making me look bad!

So they end up encouraging their supporters to sign up too (even though they'd probably rather have'em through ActBlue or their own site.)


Ready for other capabilities there offered which keep him coming back.
This is a no-brainer and can be ready in days with no technical challenges at all.

And, (just my idea here, but WILL add users) just as in televised debates we see now... since it is considered "system" support and not "candidate" support sponsorships are possible... (be a participant and win a car!)... so long as its not tied to HOW or HOW MUCH a participant gives but simply participation my understanding is that it perfectly legal...

The system also allows similar fundraising "debates" on any level and at very low-cost which is great for potential candidates and even issues!

As for electoral/geographic networking, you're right this is a more difficult problem but idea is to work from 3 directions at least...

First Chagora structure has advantage based on assumption that it tends towards concentration naturally... in other words eventually most people will be using it or at least maintain an account. However I understand many may not agree and regardless it certainly wouldn't start that way.

A user's willingness to be localized depends on the level of account he selects and other options he will later select as to privacy generally and regarding other specific users. Essentially, similar to dating-sites a system of scaled-anonymity.

There are 4 levels of account. From the casual browser to the fully-funded and Id'd account holder (though he too may maintain anonymity other than for reporting requirements in connection with any political contribution)...

Tell you what... this could take me all night... not to mention getting to other features...

but it is written out so I"ll try to find the pieces. And forgive me, since much of the detail is laid out in legal papers I should probably do some checking as to how much detail I can go into. While I've written no code, I lay out fairly clearly what needs to be done in the software to the point of "ready-for-flowcharting" which as an extremely experienced friend of mine in programming architecture says, "IF you can flowchart it, we can build it!"

But again I"m not a programmer.
Anyway, I'll work on that and get back to you.

Hope the live element is clear at least because that is important tool for building the user base.

As for OpenSource strategy... I honestly don't know the factors which affect that question but would like to.

Though am definitely interested in Google's OpenSocial Initiative and am member of that foundation.

Hi Matt,
Thanks for opening a test account at Chagora! It is functional and you could fund if you wish which will go into a real trust account... and it will track and record keep accurately but be aware it is for prototype since I have no team for administration. So any funds you deposited and then tried to disperse will be recorded but dispersals are on hold so your money would just sit in trust account.

The small number of dollars shown are real but is just friends and testers who know situation.

THANKS THOUGH for your attention.
It just occured to me that since you opened a test account,

I don't want to discourage you from checking out the donation, accounting and record keeping function if you feel the urge!

It should be fully operational if you or others want to go ahead and put in $20 and play around with some practice contributions in ANY amount... but use small ones so you can play longer... to the various candidates and/or charities to see how it all works... How you'll get email acknowledgements, how you'll see your contribution add to the totals on the crawl at the top of home page, see your balance change on your account page, and the record of your donations, etc. etc...

Just know that money is not going to be sent to the candidates or charities and I can just send you a check to pay you back for the $20 you use in your test which will be sitting in the trust account at B of A... till I can move it cause I'm no B of A fan these days.

... the little Magnifying glass next to the search box for "find your neighborhood takes you to what is now essentially just a drawn page... but the search box is ready based on zip code...

as is a reasonably functional bare-bones neighborhood page with functional "soap box" . It's basicaly just a simple blog in demo but key is WHO can post and the decision process for BEST POST selection to move to a more broadly targetted opinion page. I have definite workable selection process ideas laid out but that's a rich area for exploration and unlikely EVER finished... but a User-centered process but with essential checks and balances which will be necessary as well as random elements. Nuff on that now.

I'm sure developers could put it back up quickly to show but still buggy and I'm wanting other things also... not their fault... no money!

Speaking of which, a user can have an account with no funds and still have FULL capabilites here and the rest of the site)

Use of zipcode is simple for demo but not adequate as I'm sure you know... again... funding issue... definitely steps beyond just zip code ultimately...

If you go for trying $10 or $20 let me know if any bugs... which is certainly possible... but not I think in the essential accounting/money portion which is very clean running so far.
Hi Tom,

RE: your account of the features to come

I can see that you have very fully thought out vision. I'm not a coder, either, but I have some idea of how development goes, and the "if you flowchart it, we can build it" thing really is true.

Flow charts can also be valuable for creating belief among the people you are soliciting attention and help from. Anything that makes the product more fleshed out and real, especially images, will draw people in.

Going open source means making your code freely available on the web so that others can help you improve it. Others on this list can say more, but I have found this resource very useful: http://producingoss.org




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