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Book Review – “Next Generation Democracy: What the Open Source Revolution Means for Power, Politics, and Change”

One of the reasons I started BYO was so that I could work with clients I believe in, and help push forward values and ways of governance and civic engagement that I think will change this country and the world for the better. So far we’ve been able to realize that goal, especially in our work with the amazingly talented writer, thought leader, and millennial activist Jared Duval.

Jared’s new book – “Next Generation Democracy: What the Open Source Movement means for Power, Politics, and Change” – is an inspiring work that challenges people to think about how large-scale participation and collaboration can help us solve some of the world’s most complex and dynamic problems.

From the blurb on the back of the book:

“Picture the chaos of Hurricane Katrina. Waters rising and families stranded. There are federal officials somewhere, but they can hardly communicate with each other, much less the people in trouble. How could anyone be expected to manage this sprawling disaster?
Katrina is an extreme example of many of the problems we face today. Carbon Dioxide emissions, financial instability, the need for health care – these are things we could easily manage if they were occurring on a much smaller scale.

But what if we could turn our vast size and complexity into an advantage? According to social-change leader Jared Duval, the Millennial generation is in a unique position to do just that. Next Generation Democracy chronicles some of the watershed events – including Katrina – when directly democratic, forward-thinking organizations become more effective than our centralized government. Telling the stories of a participatory organizations, such as SeeClickFix and AmericaSpeaks, Duval describes a new approach to solving complex problems that draws on all resources, voices, and flexibility or vast networks of citizens – with unprecedented speed. An artful blend of personal writing, journalism, and political argument, Next Generation Democracy not only gives us a vision of a brighter future, it inspires us to help create it.”

Like many of you, I have been steeped in government and gov 2.0 for some time now, have tried to practice the principles of transparency and collaboration of the Open Source Movement in my work, and have been studying the ways that organizations and politicians are trying to open up government to greater levels of participation.

Yet while the theories are familiar, reading the book was amazingly refreshing to for several reasons. First, the theories were articulated in a way that make them accessible to a broader audience in ways that I think all people can connect with. This gives me hope that the message will reach beyond the echo chamber, more leaders will start opening up their practices, and more citizens will demand to be included in deeper forms of participation. Second, in the book Jared is focused on exploring how greater levels of collaboration and participation can help us solve “wicked” public problems. It is this focus that we all have to remember when engaging in this work – its what many of us are here for, and ultimately what will help this movement prevail. Finally, and most compelling to me, was the way that Jared wrote the narrative and how he used story in the book.

Starting with a forward by Tim O’Reilly, Jared relays stories from many of the leaders in today’s movement to open up our systems of governance to more participatory, transparent, and collaborative processes. The quirky and awe-inspiring accounts he relays draw the reader into the book, and illustrate how individual actors can precipitate large-scale action:

  • How a broken copy machine inspired the open source movement and a student in Finland catalyzed massive change in the field
  • How volunteers and technology helped unite families and communities during and after Hurricane Katrina
  • How an old farmhouse in Vermont provides a framework for changing our ever broken political and governance systems
  • How an exotic animal zoo in the mountains of Vermont can inspire the creation of a foundation dedicated to improving rural communities by promoting citizen engagement in Heart and Soul planning
  • How remote controls and tree-like structures can help us untangle solutions to some of our deepest social problems
  • How a transformational event in Frances Moore Lappes life inspired her to change the course of her career and leap into the world of wide-scale social change
  • How someone equally loved by Steel Magnates and Radical feminists went on to transform post-Katrina planning in New Orleans through AmericaSpeaks
  • How an iphone app and website is changing the way that people solve problems in their communities
  • What 13 – 29 year olds have in common with the Open Source Software movement, and how they are shaping the next phase of politics and power

For people like us, working in the field every day, trying to push forward the ideals of the Gov20 movement, it is really cool and inspiring to see how others are making change. Jared reminds us that behind every theory, movement, and or bit of innovation are the people making it happen. People with ordinary lives, doing extraordinary things. People like us, trying to do better with less, and opening up our democracy to greater levels of participation.

If you are reading this blog post, you are probably a leader in the field. We are lucky to have another piece of literature to support this work, and I am hoping its publication will help us get the word out about the massive potential for large-scale participation that will change our systems of governance for the better.

Let me know what you think of the book, and if you get a chance to attend one of the book’s events (I’ll be at the official launch in Washington DC on November 8th) definitely do so and meet Jared:

Bus Boys and Poets w/ Carolyn Lukensmeyer, AmericaSpeaks
November 8th, 2010
6:30 – 8:00p

Books, Inc
November 16th, 2010
Mountain View, CA

Kilton Public Library
co-sponsored by Upper Valley Land Trust
December 1st, 2010
West Lebanon, NH

WestPort Public Library
December 6th, 2010
Westport, CT

Demos: Ideas & Action
December 7th, 2010
New York, NY
6:00pm – 8:00pm

What else are people reading now? Anything inspiring that has come in front of you lately? Any stories that you find particularly innovative? What other texts are currently helping to move our work forward?

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