Sunday, July 29, 2007

Senator Dick Durbin's experiment very impressive so far

I'm way behind on reporting on Senator Dick Durbin's collaboration with Open Left to gather input on broadband legislation from the folks on the internet. Sorry about that; I'll try to make up for tardiness with a detailed discussion.

First off, it's quite clear that the Senator and his staff are taking this self-professed experiment quite seriously. They have devoted staff time and the Senator's time to live blogging, to lining up experts to launch and participate in the discussions and they even recorded videos with the Senator to set context.

It's somewhat difficult to follow the Senator's posts on Open Left, so I'll outline them here:

Sun Jul 22, 2007 What should be America's national broadband strategy?
Tue Jul 24 Senator Durbin Live Thread
Weds Jul 25 Legislation 2.0, Part 2: Open networks, privacy, and beyond
Thurs Jul 26 Legislation 2.0, Part 3: Universal broadband access and the public airwaves
Fri Jul 27 Legislation 2.0, Part 4: Building a universal system

I don't want this post to be about America's broadband strategy--you can read that discussion in much more detail at Open Left. Instead, I want to focus on what the Senator's team is doing right with this series.

They start the series with posts that make it clear they've done their homework--they're not having this online discussion as a substitute for traditional research, they're having it to supplement the research they've already done. This is important because it lets prospective participants know the Senator's serious about the topic and the venue. And it allows the Senator's team to set a framework for the discussion. A+

As the discussion unfolds, the Senator, members of his staff and subject-matter experts actively participate by responding directly to comments and by summarizing previous discussions. Again showing that they're taking the whole process seriously and that they respect the time and expertise of the commenters. A+

I'm not clear what their next steps will be (and this could very well be because of Open Left's organization rather than because the Senator didn't articulate them), but this process was a big win for participatory democracy, for the Senator's reputation among web users and, in the end, for the legislation.

My only recommendation for the Senator's team would be to incorporate (or at least link to) this discussion on Senator Durbin's web site; right now the only mention of this ground-breaking online town hall is a news article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

I look forward to seeing where this conversation goes next.

--Louella Pizzuti

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