GovReLaunch: Iceland Crowdsources Constitution (Could We Do This in US Today?)

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This topic contains 13 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Dan Mered 7 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #132556

    This might be the most literal GovLaunch we’ve posted yet…or maybe we should call it GovReLaunch:

    Mob rule: Iceland crowdsources its next constitution

    Here’s a quick excerpt from the Guardian article:

    “I believe this is the first time a constitution is being drafted basically on the internet,” said Thorvaldur Gylfason, member of Iceland’s constitutional council.

    “The public sees the constitution come into being before their eyes … This is very different from old times where constitution makers sometimes found it better to find themselves a remote spot out of sight, out of touch.”

    It’s not a bad idea…and it will be interesting to see how it works. Three other things that they’ve done well:

    1) Eating the Elephant: One of their smartest moves is sharing it in chunks – only posting draft clauses that people can pick apart little by little rather than one big bite.

    2) By the People: The article also indicates that Iceland started with an in-person that involved 950 randomly selected citizens last year. What’s more – the final document will go straight to referendum vote without any edits from parliament. Now that’s brave.

    3) Totally Transparent: Using Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media tools, the entire process is wide open…which is ironic because, in many ways, the Icelandic parliament is watching their constituents prepare this document – not the other way around.

    So the question for you is:

    What if we tried this in America? Could we do it in a manner that respected one another…or would it devolve into bitter partisan bickering?

    Would special interests strive to steer the process in such a way that it would lose authenticity?

    Could our Congress and other elected officials really trust us as constituents to engage in this kind of government building?

  • #132582

    Dan Mered


    This is awesome. A neat idea that should be promoted in this country and everywhere else in the world. This is a great step in the right direction to keep voters informed. When voters are informed they make the right decision. When voters make the right decision, government is at its best. Kudos to the Icelanders for leading the way. It must have something to do with the their naming convention – similar to Ethiopians.


  • #132580

    Ken Eisman

    If I’m reading the original Icelandic description correctly here, then this article and the original article in the Guardian are a bit misleading. What I get from Iceland’s website is that a Constitutional Committee is actually writing the constitution. They are just posting the drafts and letting the public comment in real time. While this is admirable, it’s not quite as progressive as these articles led me to believe.

  • #132578

    Daniel Honker

    Huge story. And I agree with Ken that the gov’s website makes it sound more like a public comment period than a collaborative drafting/editing process. It also seems like the constitution is pretty well baked by their Council at this point, which limits the public’s impact. Nonetheless, allowing this degree of public participation in the process is big. Drafting a constitution is one of the most guarded things govs do.

    As far as it’s transferability to the US, there are some stark cultural and political differences between the countries that would keep us from ever doing this on the federal level. Iceland’s much smaller (300k people) and much more homogeneous. Presumably this means fewer conflicts, or at least less intense conflict, over what to include — but it also means their volume of participation in this process will be much lower and the results more digestible. We simply couldn’t sort through all the feedback if we did that here.

    However, I would LOVE to see this model applied to ballot initiatives in states like CA.

  • #132576

    Daniel Honker

    I’m about to start a new post on this, but I’ll also mention it here:

    A new project, ReDrawCA, gives the power back to the people by letting citizens all over the state redraw their ideal representative districts and submit them to their elected leaders. In the hands of Committee, the studio of urban planner Jessica Cowley and designers Colleen Corcoran and Rosten Woo, the concept of redistricting is explained by a series of maps and animations that use colored cubes, spheres, and triangles to represent how different “communities of interest” are divided. Here, after learning the technical information, you can draw your own district, have a conversation about it with other users, and submit the boundaries for review by the Citizens Redistricting Commission, who just releaseddraft maps for the state using the 2010 census data.

  • #132574

    John Douglas Porter


    1. Could we? No. Would it? Yes.

    2. Yes.

    3. Could they? Yes. Should they? No. Would they? No.

  • #132572

    Thanks, Ken. I think my original perception was like yours – that it was a blank slate and citizens were carving it out one sentence at a time. But I think this process is still novel and it’s worth encouraging replication in other countries. Their method might even be more effective than starting from scratch…seeding and supporting the writing process in an efficient way.

  • #132570

    John Douglas Porter

    The last presidential election got me really interested in our system of Federal law and regulation, and as I got into it, one thing that really struck me is how much we as a society spend on building these complex scaffolds. AND IT’S ALL PUBLIC DOMAIN.

    If I was starting up a new country somewhere, I could jumpstart its whole governmental foundation by simply copying from the United States. It’s all on line. All of the charters of our Departments and other agencies… military handbooks… Why spend a dime on any of that when the Americans have already done all the work?

    So logically the next step would be to have a global open-source repository of laws, regulations, charters, etc.

  • #132568

    Ken Eisman

    John, I’m curious as to your answer to 3.

    In my mind, if they *could* trust us as constituents then, I think, they definitely *should* trust us. That’s what makes a democracy (or republic) work – trusting the people to make the right decision. The two go hand-in-hand. If they can trust us they should. If they can’t trust us, they certainly should not.

    In today’s world I believe it could be argued that they could *not* trust us and therefore should not trust us! LOL

    In any case, I agree that they certainly *wouldn’t* trust us.


  • #132566


    In India, civil society representatives were a part of a committee to draft a government law on corruption and provision of an ombudsman to inquire into irregularities in high offices. But to involve a larger section through the Net is real awesome indeed!

  • #132564


    You have got to be kidding to even bring up such a ridiculous idea!! Why is everyone wanting to change America as we know it? Our constiution is looked upon as an example for the rest of the free world. There is no need to revise it. We need to get BACK to it and read it and adhere to the guidelines it set. LESS Govenrment, LESS Waste, LESS duplication

    Now looking at waste, reducancy and collaborating on these important issues.. this is where we need to look for change and improvement using social media. Also, keep in mind that any process for public collaboration has to abide by the PRA Act of 1995.

  • #132562

    John Douglas Porter

    Ken, by “could”, I simply meant it is possible. In fact, I’m drawing a distinction between “could” and “should” which you seem to be ignoring.

  • #132560

    John Douglas Porter

    Remi, I don’t see anybody suggesting that the US constitution should be re-written. Only one previous comment even mentions the US in relation to this concept.

    In any case, the US constitution is not immutable. If/when it is changed — via amendments — it could still be done using a means for public input like the above. At least conceptually. Good point about the PRA Act.

  • #132558

    Jason Hibbets

    Interesting questions. I wanted to point out that we have a similar conversation happening in the government community on, Iceland’s open-door government. Here are my thoughts:

    If America pursued this, it shouldn’t be partisan based. Period. We don’t have room for that. I think it should be goals-based and I think we could agree on a common problem that we are trying to solve.

    Special interest would be all over this. But transarency would trump them from winning.

    Congress should trust their constiuents, why not, it’s our government. I think there is an overwhleming cry for engagement in this country. Did you see the participation in the Twitter town hall last week? Wow!

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