Wednesday, February 4, 2015

UK Sets High Bar for Digital Democracy: Steal this Report, Please

Last week, the Digital Democracy Commission of the UK House of Commons released its report. Just having such a Commission says something (John Boehner, are you taking notes?) According to their Speaker of the House, this is meant as the "start of a roadmap for improving and opening up the workings of the House of Commons." With simple, but compelling goals. Like:
  • By 2020, the House of Commons should ensure that everyone can understand what it does
  • By 2020, Parliament should be fully interactive and digital
And more. The report, their goals and even their presentation, richly hyperlinked and with embedded videos, is a terrific model to follow. Or even better just to steal wholesale. And they make it easy. Substitute the "U.S. House" or "Congress" for most of their goals and we have the results of a U.S. Digital Democracy Commission, all nicely packaged. Other countries could do the same.

I envision a cross-Atlantic Commission or workshop on digital democracy (John Boehner, are you still with me?). See, here's the thing. Ideas are catching. If the UK succeeds at Digital Democracy, it makes it easier for us. And the standards that are being developed can make the spread of these ideas even faster (e.g. the AKN legislative data standard, a 'lingua franca' of structured legislation). We can also share technology. The U.S. government has come a long way in the last few years with open source goals and initiatives (e.g. 18F at the GSAdata.gov and our own work with the U.S. House). The UK has done groundbreaking work at legislation.gov.uk that we could learn a lot from.

Here, I pause for disclosure of personal interest: the global policy pushed forward by these UK goals are very good news for my company, Xcential. As is the political movement that is growing in the UK to reinforce these open government policies. Because building technology for digital democracy is what we do. And I want to be a part of helping the UK meet its goals. I have long admired the groundbreaking work done by legislation.gov.uk, and see many overlaps with the work we are doing at the U.S. House and in other jurisdictions. Grant and I got a chance to work with hundreds of years-worth of UK laws, through the innovative "Good Law" hackathon  (we created an XQuery search tool for UK Public General Acts -- http://goodlaw.xcential.com/). And there is a great deal more the to be done with these laws, from web-based drafting to standards-based publishing online and on paper.

There are only 5 years before 2020, so we've got to get cracking. Talking about good public policy is fun. Implementing it is priceless.