You’ve heard of Open Source, right? Why not Open State?
It’s a simple idea.
Your average western government consists of the following four elements:
1. The Politicians
These are our elected representatives. They are members of a legislature. They are our congressmen, senators, presidents, prime ministers, ministers, members of the parliament. I say our, because, even though it is not relevant to this proposal, we should always remember they are our employees.
For the sake of simplicity, I will not address the issue of bicameral legislatures possessing a chamber of appointed, as opposed to elected, members. I hope it will become evident that such legislatures could also adopt this proposal without any problems.
2. The Beaurocrats
Barring politicians, these are all the people on the government’s payroll. They consist the machinery of government.
3. The Law
With “The Law”, I mean all legislation, and the constitution.
4. Operational processes
Operational processes are the processes that define the day-to-day life of the politicians, and the bueaurocrats. These processes include – by my definition – everything from purchasing paperclips for a minister, to making appointments, archiving documents, taking minutes, and so on. Every procedure and everything that leaves a paper-trail is an operational process.
That’s it. That’s all a government is: politicians, beaurocrats, laws, and operational processes.
If it is true that we can define a government this way, if all governments can be described by these elements, then we can work out an abstract unified government model and use it to build a single software application to automate every government function.
Here’s why we would want to do that: It would allow us, the people, to easily audit the government. We would be able to see how our money is spent and why, and it would force the government to be more efficient and accountable. After all, it would be that much easier for the opposition to demonstrate that replacing workflow X with workflow Y would increase performance and decrease costs and waiting times. Also, it would allow us to simplify the law. The law is too complex. A typical article of law refers to tens of others of articles of law. With the right software, we could easily track down the references, find the dead ends, the redundancies, the cyclic references, and so on. We could actually make it possible for people to know the law.
Of course, the model and the software should be open source so that everyone can suggest improvements and corrections. I already have a name for the application: “Open State”. It’s short and simple and it feels appropriate. But if you have a better name for it, please let me know. Names are important.
As with all software projects, acceptance is very important. It’s especially important in this case, I think. After all, this software would – by design – make the lives of people in government more difficult. To make acceptance somewhat more easier, and difficult to decline, we would have to make sure that the software is modular. It should not be an all-or-nothing deal, at least not at first. The next step would be to get an international think-tank started with the mandate to promote the acceptance of the software. The think-tank would organize international concert & media events with rock-stars and ex-politicians saying what a great idea it is, it would have a website where people can download draft letters to their congressmen and MPs – that sort of thing.