Something very interesting happened over on the Obama transition team's Change.gov site a week ago. It was the day before Thanksgiving, so it didn't make as big of a splash as it might otherwise have. An invitation was issued to Join the Discussion and tell the Obama team "What worries you most about the healthcare system in our country?" Transition team members Dr. Dora Hughes and Lauren Aronson opened the discussion with a video request for feedback.
Making use of a system created by Intense Debate, the threaded discussion grew into 3,701 comments. Six days later, comments were closed, followed by an video response yesterday from Aaronson and HHS Secretary nominee Daschle.
I know I've done my share of Obama cheerleading but that's not what motivates me to find this chain of events pretty damned impressive. First, it'a a helluva change from what we're used to. As noted on techPresident.com
Second, I think it's fair to say that it signals that Obama and Co. want the electorate to believe they are serious about those campaign promises regarding enabling citizen access to the process of government via technology.
I'm optimistic but still a bit cynical, or at the very least cautious. I am fascinated at the prospect of an actual meaningful exchange, but I use the word "signal" deliberately. We obviously aren't yet able to take full measure of the true extent of the interactivity, from both sides. The Daschle response video was short and shallow, mostly intended to get the point across that "We're listening!"
The signal's been received, noted, and appreciated, but now what? What happens to that input? Having a forum makes a difference to the citizens but will it make a difference to the policy makers? How do we know and what will we see as proof of follow-through? There's a good argument made here that a more wiki-like approach would greatly enhance the conversation. It's also likely that some system of revision control/notice will have to be put in place to demonstrate transparency.
Change.gov took another encouraging step on 12/1 by switching the site's content over to a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license, which in effect, says that the content on the site is free to the American public to take and use as they want. Imagine that...
We can assume that other issues will be opened to a forum on Change.gov. I think we can also count on the White House website morphing into something much more Change.gov-like after the transition of power. Ideally, if promises are kept, this will bring information access, interactivity, and greater transparency into the daily business of governance. And what about us? Will we respond accordingly and participate?