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Government 2.0, “Exopolitics” and Direct Democracy


August 23, 2012

Doug Hadden, VP Products

I’ve been “noodling” on this presentation from Nigel Cameron, the President of the Center for Policy and Emerging Technologies at the Gov 2.0 LA conference. Cameron coined the term “exopolitics” in the context of political activity outside the traditional political avenues. (Not the politics of keeping extraterestial information hidden.) Cameron defines it:

Briefly, exo means outside; exopolitics therefore, for our purpose, politics outside politics. Because politics outside politics is emerging as the core phenomenon of American culture. And on the scale at which we are experiencing it it is novel.

Phenomena like the tea party and occupy movement are exopolitics symptoms. Social media, open data and Government 2.0 enables exopolitcs, according to Cameron.

Nigel Cameron at Gov 2.0 L.A. 2012 on “Exopolitics and Changing Dynamics of a System” from Gov20LA on Vimeo.

Technology Enabled Exopolitics

Observers like Evgeny Morozov see technology more as tools of repression than any kind of democratic enablement. And, Morozov questions any concept of technology determinism. Cameron is among the current thinkers like Jeff Jarvis and Clay Shirky who have a broader understanding of the effects of technology on society. (Of course, Harold Innis,  Marshall McLuhan and Friedrich Kittler provide a much better perspective on technology and change covering centuries.)

Technology provides opportunities for organization outside traditional organizations. It’s no surprise that the traditional opposition in Egypt was a surprised as the regime with the Arab Spring. This technology doesn’t immediately have effects. It takes some time for the medium to become the message. So, traditional methods of political interaction will remain dominant while pressure for transparency mounts to a tipping point.

Representative Democracy and Demigods

Here’s where I differ with Cameron. Cameron suggests that representative democracy should remain the primary vehicle for change. He points to how direct democracy has failed such as the ballot system in California that limits fiscal options or the way in which Napoleon manipulated plebiscites.  This is a pretty thin argument in my opinion. Why? There is always the tendency to think that traditional methods will be used in new eras.

It’s true that various methods of “Government 2.0″ outreach have resulted in support for marijuana legalization. We can’t expect traditional thinking to immediately change thanks to new technology. Look how long it has taken for the obsolete medium known as newspapers to finally see subscription reductions.

My view is that Government 2.0 will open up new “exopolitics” avenues – not so-called “direct democracy” but richer citizen to government interaction because:

  • Open data and social media will provide more evidence-based debates (eventually – maybe not in the current US Presidential election)
  • Social tools will enable interaction with citizens on important matters, particularly with expert networks at first rather than traditional crowdsourcing
  • Instant organization around important subjects will disintermediate traditional power structures such as lobbyists (but not immediately)
  • Effects will be seen more in local government where there is a more direct relationship with citizens
  • Technology is enabling participatory budgeting and citizen audit – this is just the thin wedge of exopolitics

This will take some time. Governments will continue to struggle open data and culture change. Traditional media will continue to polarize citizens. And, representative democracy will be the main avenue for political change. But, these time are achangin’.


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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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