Charting the path from web 2.0 to democracy 2.0

Welcome to the Policy Commons

February 1st, 2008 Posted in Websites | No Comments »

The Policy Commons is the place where public resources used to improve participatory governance are identified, critiqued, organized, and discussed. Join in! Make sure you check out:

  • Calendar of policy commons related events
  • The Policy Commons Update collects and helps prioritize articles on related topics
  • Policy Commons Live Interviews

Send me (Dave Witzel) questions, comments, complaints.

“Designing Open Projects: Lessons From Internet Pioneers” Released

June 26th, 2012 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

"Internet Pioneers" CoverIt is a bit overdue (only by a year or so) but… “Designing Open Projects: Lessons From Internet Pioneers” was released by IBM Center for the Business of Government yesterday. In it I try to tease out project management lessons from a variety of projects from the past 40 years that cumulatively have led to what we think of as the Internet today. I think the project management approaches demonstrated by Internet pioneers, as much as their engineering chops, have the potential to influence how we grapple with sticky social problems. These approaches allow for wider participation, encourage more and more rapid innovation, and offer the potential of reaching great scale.

I’m excited to continue to explore the concept of “open projects” and “open organizations”. I think, especially but maybe not exclusively in the public sector, porous approaches that allow resources, people and ideas to easily flow across organizational or project boundaries can be very powerful. I also think our instincts tend to be anti-open so will take conscious efforts to overcome.

Would love to hear you reactions to these ideas and get connected to other people and projects that are playing in this same park.

Help Needed: What is a Manager’s Definition of Open vs. Closed Systems?

March 28th, 2012 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I’m writing a paper with tips non-profit and government leaders can take from how the Internet was built. For lack of a better term, I’m calling the organization that built the Internet (broadly defined to include the web) an “open system” as opposed to traditional organizations which I call “closed systems”.  I would like to use  a clear, readable, definition and assume one exists (or maybe a better term?) but haven’t found it.  Any suggestions on where to look, better definitions, better terms to use, or wording and expansion on what is below?  (Thanks for your help.)

I’d like to include 1) a dictionary type definition, and 2) a compare/contrast list that illustrates the differences between the two approaches.  Here’s what I have so far:


In systems theory, an open system is a system which continuously interacts with its environment.  In technology, it is one that supports “open standards” and can be made to interoperate with other computer systems.  In science it means a system that allows matter or energy to flow across system boundaries. For the purpose of this paper an open system is an organization or project that has porous, flexible, boundaries and is open to contributions, ideas, and direction from the outside. This is in contrast to our traditional organization and project structures which are  “closed systems” and have clearly defined boundaries and tightly control resources, direction setting, and production. Note that these are extremes and in real life there is a continuum of behavior between these poles.


Table Comparing characteristic tendencies of closed vs. open systems

Characteristic Closed System Open System
Leadership Clearly identified. Leadership and authority positions tightly tied. Leadership actions can be made by a variety of actors. Leadership and authority loosely coupled.
Authority Strong. Authority figures can firmly set and enforce direction and organize activities. Weak. Authority figures suggest and cajole directions and activities.
Membership Clearly defined by employment, contracts, or formal declarations May not be clearly defined. Determined by adoption of behaviors.
Ownership Tightly held. Intellectual and physical property is owned by the system and controlled by its authorities. Open and shared. Intellectual property is open licensed and shared. Use is determined by users.
Boundaries Fixed and firm. Members are in or out. Porous. Participants may join and leave, without giving notice.
Objectives Unitary and clear. Established by authorities. Different in different parts of the system and determined by participants.
Decisions Made by those “above” in the hierarchy and passed down. Made in many places throughout the system.
Structure Fixed and hierarchical one to many relationships (e.g., employee reporting to employer) and hub and spoke (e.g., suppliers providing to a manufacturer) Fluid networks with bi-directional communications and activities.
Incentives Clearly defined and reliant on financial rewards – salaries, fees, bonuses. Mixed and reliant on financial as well as other personal rewards including acknowledgement, mastery, social good.
Location Headquarters is clearly defined. Work is done in offices and factories. No physical headquarters. Work is done in many venues.
Work time During formal “work hours” with official vacations Happens at any time, often during vacations!


Process Ideas from NCDD

October 4th, 2008 Posted in Events | 2 Comments »

I’m spending my weekend in Austin at the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation bi-annual conference.  I came to meet new people, hear good discussion, eat some good bar-b-que, and pick up tips for facilitating interesting events.   It is all working out for me.

Here’s a few of the cool things Andy and Sandy have enabled in Austin that I don’t tend to see at the typical conferences and workshops I attend:

  • Lunch time poetry slammers – 3 young women followed by 2 men rocked the room.  Some of the poetry was a great (and much briefer) synthesis of sessions hosted here.
  • Listener’s space and official (volunteer) listeners – a sanctioned process for debriefing, support, complaining.
  • graphic recording – 5 graphic recorders are documenting the conference, especially the 5 main themes, on large sheets of paper.

  • this conference actually has goals, (5 of them).  We can ask more from our events, like actually deciding or doing things
  • tables at initial session where organized by common interests so people could find some contacts early
  • lots of volunteer participation including planning, session management, managing the “challenges”, bringing equipment
  • ribbons to stick onto your name tag that you can choose to use to identify yourself.  Some of the ribbons describe official roles (e.g., speaker) and some are more descriptive (e.g., “likes to run with scissors”)
  • lots of photos which will be compiled into a photo montage
  • the Ranga – a collaborative poem from the conference
  • a composition of ambient sound, traditional music, voice bites, and images from the conference demonstrated in an early session and to be shown in full at the end.

There isn’t a ton of technology here.  I really miss having an active backchannel (there was a little activity on twitter).  I did like:

  • the interactive white board demonstration (they showed eBeam)
  • the keypad feedback device to get and display immediate feedback from a big crowd. e.g., we quickly found out that 2/3′s of attendees were first timers and 85% identified as white

I’m looking forward to trying some of these things in events I’m involved with.

Posting at Personal Democracy Forum

May 22nd, 2008 Posted in Websites | No Comments »

I apologize for the posting gap here. I haven’t gone completely silent, but have instead started blogging on similar topics at the Personal Democracy Forum where I am now a Senior Editor. I’ll do some cross-posting here and my take off on special tangents as well, but won’t be as regular as I once intended to be. I’ll continue to manage PC Update and maintain the calendar. Please visit at my new home and I hope to see you at the PDF conference in June.

Allison Fine helps Reboot America: Ask her questions

April 28th, 2008 Posted in Interviews, People, Readings | No Comments »

The Personal Democracy Forum has announced that Rebooting America, an anthology of essays, will be released in June to commemorate its 5th anniversary conference. Allison Fine, along with Micah Sifry, Andrew Rasiej and Josh Levy, will be editing the volume.

We are lucky to have Allison join us live and online tomorrow (4/29) at 10am ET to answer questions about the book and her work. Allison is a regular contributor to the PDF and author of Momentum, winner of the 2007 Terry McAdam Book Award for outstanding contribution to the advancement of nonprofit management. In Momentum she argues that digital tools are important because they connect us to one another in inexpensive, accessible, and massively scalable ways.

Ask your questions now and come back tomorrow to join in the discussion.

Scott McNealy to talk about “sharing” in DC

April 25th, 2008 Posted in Events, People | No Comments »

CGD LogoThe Center for Global Development has just announced that Scott McNealy, co-founder and Chairman of Sun Microsystems will be speaking in Washington DC on May 5 at 11am. The free event called “Open Source, Open Education and Eco-friendly: Can Sharing Improve Policy?” will focus on how ideas of openness and sharing work in business and how they can help improve public policy and international development.

McNealy, self-anointed, champion of “sharing,” is a forceful voice for open standards and open source; has funded, a collaborative education resources project; and recently announced Sun’s to help reduce greenhouse gases. Lawrence MacDonald will be managing the event and I’ll be a discussant.

RSVP now and come join the discussion.

PLoS on Page A1

April 22nd, 2008 Posted in Transparency | No Comments »

PLoS MedicineWhile it is big news that life expectancy in the US is falling for significant numbers of women, I was also taken by the source — a paper being published in the open access journal PLoS Medicine. The Public Library of Science argues that “unfettered access to this research literature will… hasten the development of new treatments for those most in need.” Check out page A1 of today’s Washington Post for the story.

Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2008

April 20th, 2008 Posted in Events | No Comments »

CFP logoThe 2008 edition of the “Computers, Freedom, and Privacy” conference will be held in New Haven, CT from May 20 through 23. The program includes sessions like:

  • Presidential Technology Policy: Priorities for the Next Executive
  • States as Incubators of Change
  • Towards Trustworthy e-Voting: An Open Source Approach? (we’ve talked about that!)
  • The 21st Century Panopticon? (I had to look up Panopticon – a type of prison building)

Early bird registration ends on May 2.

Rebooting America: Help Redesign Democracy

April 19th, 2008 Posted in Interviews, Readings | No Comments »

Rebooting America LogoWhen the Framers met in Philadelphia in 1787, they bravely conjured a new form of self-government. But they couldn’t have imagined a mass society with instantaneous, many-to-many communications or many of the other innovations of modernity. So, replacing that quill pen with a mouse, imagine that you have to power to redesign American democracy for the Internet Age. What would you do?

That’s the question to be answered in an upcoming book, Rebooting America, being prepared by the folks at the Personal Democracy Forum. It will be a collection of essays about what the “next generation” of American democracy should look like edited by Allison Fine, Micah Sifry, Andrew Rasiej and Josh Levy.

Essays have been invited from the likes of Yochai Benkler, danah boyd, Steven Clift, Ellen Miller, David Weinberger, and you. “Up to three” submitted essays will be included in the book. Authors of those essays will also get a free pass to the Personal Democracy Forum in NYC in June.

If you are more a critic than an author, you can vote on submissions (after you register). There are already four submissions to review including Mark Murphy’s nine principles of “online opinion aggregation” and Pablo del Real’s proposal to let people vote on the bills their representatives are voting on.

The British are coming! …to LIVE interviews

April 19th, 2008 Posted in Interviews, People | No Comments »

UK flagI’m very excited to have two Brits joining for upcoming LIVE Interviews Online. Suw Charman-Anderson, blogger and social media consultant, will be online on Tuesday (4/22) to talk about how social media matters to government and how digital rights matter to us. I’m hoping she’ll also offer insights on how these issues differ from the US to the UK.

On April 30 Becky Hogge, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, will join us to talk about her work. ORG works to preserve our rights in the digital age on issues like copyright reform, electronic voting, network neutrality and online privacy. Becky also writes the New Statesman and openDemocracy among others.

This is a great opportunity to get direct feedback from across the pond so please be sure to ask questions now.