From the distinguished Dr. John Gastil of Penn State: an argument—and a model—for a digital network that effectively connects and advances democratic deliberation and action: the Democracy Machine. We can absolutely create systems like this. As this paper argues, we need the vision, the funding, and the active participation of the countless individual groups already doing important work in this arena. (Dr. Gastil is a former adviser and, though he does not yet know it, a friend of Civic Tide.)
Dozens—and possibly hundreds—of platforms like these have been conceived or built to address specific aspects of civic engagement. Unconnected to each other, let alone an integrated system easy for citizens to use, these platforms cannot begin to realize their full potential. This essay might help to bring the creators and users of such tools into a more focused conversation with one another, to build a more fully integrated civic platform.
The Democracy Machine’s operation can be summarized as drawing on public energy and ideas, mixing those into concrete policy advice, influencing government decision making, and creating a feedback loop that helps officials and citizens track progress together as they continuously turn the policymaking crank. The Machine envisioned is an online system to harmonize the interests of civic leaders, vocal and marginalized citizens, and government. Democracy’s need for ongoing public consultation would fuel the Machine, which would, in turn, generate focused and empowered deliberation that gives back to government the legitimacy necessary to make tough policy decisions.