Open-source governance

Open-source governance (also known as open politics) is a political philosophy which advocates the application of the philosophies of the open-source and open-content movements to democratic principles to enable any interested citizen to add to the creation of policy, as with a wiki document. Legislation is democratically opened to the general citizenry, employing their collective wisdom to benefit the decision-making process and improve democracy.[1]

Theories on how to constrain, limit or enable this participation vary. Accordingly, there is no one dominant theory of how to go about authoring legislation with this approach. There are a wide array of projects and movements which are working on building open-source governance systems.[2]

Many left-libertarian and radical centrist organizations around the globe have begun advocating open-source governance and its related political ideas as a reformist alternative to current governance systems. Often, these groups have their origins in decentralized structures such as the Internet and place particular importance on the need for anonymity to protect an individual's right to free speech in democratic systems. Opinions vary, however, not least because the principles behind open-source government are still very loosely defined.[3]

Applications of the principles

In practice, several applications have evolved and been used by actual democratic institutions in the developed world:[4]

  • Open-government mechanisms including those for public participation and engagement, such as the use of IdeaScale, Google Moderator, Semantic MediaWiki, GitHub, and other software by actual ruling governments – these mechanisms are well-developed, especially in the UK and the USA.,[5] or by civil society and citizens directly for example, Opengovpioneers[6] in the UK.
  • Open-politics forums and wikis, where political issues and arguments can be debated, either within or between political party constraints, taking three distinct forms:
    • Political-party-platform development, in which ideas are solicited from anyone or almost anyone and openly discussed to a point but the ranking and devotion of resources to developing ideas is reserved to party members or supporters. A variant is the non-partisan think-tank or citizen-advocacy group-platform development as has become common in Canada, for example the Dominion Institute policywiki.[7]
    • Citizen journalism forums obeying stricter rules to ensure equal power relationships than is typically the case in blogs, strictly designed to balance libel and free speech laws for a local jurisdiction (following laws strictly is part of the open politics ideal).
    • Open party mechanisms to actually govern and operate formal political parties without the usual insider politics and interest groups that historically have taken over such parties; these experiments have been limited and typically take the form of parties run by referenda or online. An example of this is Italy's Five Star Movement.
  • In the California Assembly, Crowdsourced legislation via a 'wiki bills' website is being initiated via an online wiki, with an introduction deadline of early February, 2015.[8]
  • Hybrid mechanisms which attempt to provide journalistic coverage, political platform development, political transparency, strategic advice, and critique of a ruling government of the same party all at the same time. Dkosopedia is the best known example of this.

Some models are significantly more sophisticated than a plain wiki, incorporating semantic tags, levels of control or scoring to mediate disputes – however this always risks empowering a clique of moderators more than would be the case given their trust position within the democratic entity – a parallel to the common wiki problem of official vandalism by persons entrusted with power by owners or publishers (so-called "sysop vandalism" or "administrative censorship").

Common and simultaneous policy

Some advocates of these approaches, by analogy to software code, argue for a "central codebase" in the form of a set of policies that are maintained in a public registry and that are infinitely reproducible. "Distributions" of this policy-base are released (periodically or dynamically) for use in localities, which can apply "patches" to customize them for their own use. Localities are also able to cease subscribing to the central policy-base and "fork" it or adopt someone else's policy-base. In effect, the government stems from emergent cooperation and self-correction among members of a community. As the policies are put into practice in a number of localities, problems and issues are identified and solved, and where appropriate communicated back to the core.

These goals for instance were cited often during the Green Party of Canada's experiments with open-political-platform development. As one of over a hundred national Green party entities worldwide and the ability to co-ordinate policy among provincial and municipal equivalents within Canada, it was in a good position to maintain just such a central repository of policy, despite being legally separate from those other entities.

Difference from prior initiatives

Open-source governance differs from previous open-government initiatives in its broader emphasis on collaborative processes.

...simply publishing snapshots of government information is not enough to make it open.
— Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People


The "Imagine Halifax" (IH) project was designed to create a citizens' forum for elections in Halifax, Nova Scotia in fall 2004. Founded by Angela Bischoff, the widow of Tooker Gomberg, a notable advocate of combining direct action with open politics methods, IH brought a few dozen activists together to compile a platform (using live meetings and email and seedwiki followup). When it became clear that candidates could not all endorse all elements of the platform, it was then turned into questions for candidates in the election. The best ideas from candidates were combined with the best from activists – the final scores reflected a combination of convergence and originality. In contrast to most such questionnaires, it was easier for candidates to excel by contributing original thought than by simply agreeing. One high scorer, Andrew Younger, had not been involved with the project originally but was elected and appeared on TV with project leader Martin Willison. The project had not only changed its original goal from a partisan platform to a citizen questionnaire, but it had recruited a previously uninvolved candidate to its cause during the election. A key output of this effort was a glossary of about 100 keywords relevant to municipal laws.

The 2004–05 Green Party of Canada Living Platform was a much more planned and designed effort at open politics. As it prepared itself for an electoral breakthrough in the 2004 federal election, the Green Party of Canada began to compile citizen, member and expert opinions in preparation of its platform. During the election, it gathered input even from Internet trolls including supporters of other parties, with no major problems: anonymity was respected and, if they were within the terms of use, comments remained intact. Despite, or perhaps because of, its early success, it was derailed by Jim Harris, the party's leader, when he discovered that it was a threat to his status as a party boss. The Living Platform split off as another service entirely out of GPC control and eventually evolved into[9] and a service to promote wiki usage among citizens and political groups.

The Liberal Party of Canada also attempted a deep policy renewal effort in conjunction with its leadership race in 2006.[10][11] While candidates in that race, notably Carolyn Bennett, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, all made efforts to facilitate web-threaded policy-driven conversations between supporters, all failed to create lateral relationships and thus also failed to contribute much to the policy renewal effort.

Numerous very different projects related to open-source governance collaborate under the umbrella of the Metagovernment project;[12] Metagovernment uses the term "collaborative governance",[13] most of which are building platforms of open-source governance.

Aktivdemokrati is a Direct democratic party, running for the parliament of Sweden[14] is a Portland Oregon nonprofit (501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, partnered with the Oregon 150 Project,[15] building an online public think tank in which the votes of users determines policy, seeking to connect the values people hold to their positions on issues and the policies they advocate.[16] Votorola is software for building consensus and reaching decisions on local, national and global levels.[17] The White House 2 was a project which crowdsourced the U.S. agenda, "imagining how the White House might work if it was run completely democratically by thousands of people on the internet." Wikicracy has developed a Mediawiki-based platform using most of Open politics criteria[18] These grassroots efforts have been matched by government initiatives that seek similar goals. A more extensive list of these and similar organizations is available externally.

Future Melbourne is a wiki-based collaborative environment for developing Melbourne's 10-year plan. During public consultation periods, it enables the public to edit the plan with the same editing rights as city personnel and councilors.[19]

The New Zealand Police Act Review was a wiki used to solicit public commentary during the public consultation period of the acts review.[20]

At on January 14, 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand, Australian Audrey Lobo-Pulo presented Evaluating Government Policies Using Open Source Models, agitating for government policy related knowledge, data and analysis to be freely available to everyone to use, modify and distribute without restriction — "a parallel universe where public policy development and analysis is a dynamic, collaborative effort between government and its citizens". Audrey reported that the motivation for her work was personal uncertainty about the nature and accuracy of models, estimates and assumptions used to prepare policies released with the 2014 Australian Federal Government Budget, and whether and to what extent their real world impact is assessed following implementation.[21] A white paper on "Evaluating Government Policies using Open Source Models" was released on September 10, 2015.[22]

Open politics as a distinct theory

The open-politics theory, a narrow application of open-source governance, combines aspects of the free software and open-content movements, promoting decision-making methods claimed to be more open, less antagonistic, and more capable of determining what is in the public interest with respect to public policy issues. It takes special care for instance to deal with equity differences, geographic constraints, defamation versus free political speech, accountability to persons affected by decisions, and the actual standing law and institutions of a jurisdiction. There is also far more focus on compiling actual positions taken by real entities than developing theoretical "best" answers or "solutions". One example, DiscourseDB, simply lists articles pro and con a given position without organizing their argument or evidence in any way.

While some interpret it as an example of "open-source politics", open politics is not a top–down theory but a set of best practices from citizen journalism, participatory democracy and deliberative democracy, informed by e-democracy and netroots experiments, applying argumentation framework for issue-based argument as they evolved in academic and military use through the 1980s to present. Some variants of it draw on the theory of scientific method and market methods, including prediction markets and anticipatory democracy.

Its advocates often engage in legal lobbying and advocacy to directly change laws in the way of the broader application of the technology, e.g. opposing political libel cases in Canada, fighting libel chill generally, and calling for clarification of privacy and human rights law especially as they relate to citizen journalism. They are less focused on tools although the semantic mediawiki and tikiwiki platforms seem to be generally favored above all others.

See also


  1. ^ Open-source democracy: how online communication is changing offline politics by Douglas Rushkoff, published by Demos. Page 56 et al
  2. ^ "Related projects".
  3. ^ "Upholding online anonymity in Internet governance: Affordances, ethical frameworks, and regulatory practices".
  4. ^ Service-oriented architecture governance for the services driven enterprise; Eric A. Marks
  5. ^ Knowledge governance: processes and perspectives; Snejina Michailova, Nicolai J. Foss, Oxford University Press. Page 241 et al
  6. ^ "Open Government Pioneer Project". Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  7. ^ As one experiment ends, a new one begins for Policy Wiki The Globe and Mail / Dominion Institute policywiki
  8. ^ (Jan 8, 2015) "Gatto Promotes 'Wiki Bill' project" Crescenta Valley Weekly 6(19) p.1,8 accessdate=2015-01-14
  9. ^ Decision Making Handout
  10. ^ Liberal Party of Canada Renewal Commission, Notes from Task Force on Women Meeting
  11. ^ "Liberal Party of Canada".
  12. ^ "Active projects".
  13. ^ "Collaborative governance".
  14. ^ Aktivdemokrati (Swedish)
  15. ^ "Oregon 150: Public Information".
  16. ^ "DemocracyLab". DemocracyLab.
  17. ^ "Votorola".
  18. ^ "Wikicracy".
  19. ^ "Future Melbourne Wiki".
  20. ^ New Zealand Police Act Review Archived 2008-04-10 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Audrey Lobo-Pulo. "Evaluating Government Policies Using Open Source Models". Retrieved January 2015. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  22. ^ "Evaluating Government Policies using Open Source Models" (PDF). Phoensight.

Further reading


Bitnation, or cryptonation,:5 is a "voluntary nation" that records vital records, identity and other legal events using blockchain technology. Bitnation was founded in 2014 using Ethereum smart contract technology.:13 As of 2018, it has about 15,000 "citizens". Its 2018 whitepaper describes Bitnation as "the world's first Decentralized Borderless Voluntary Nation." Bitnation organized the world’s first Blockchain Marriage and World Citizenship ID, Blockchain Land Title, Birth Certificate and Refugee Emergency ID during 2014 and 2015.Bitnation seeks to provide open-source governance, which includes DIY smart contracts mainly on governance, security and law.:13 The subsidiary services include constitutions, secure ID/Reputation systems, dispute resolutions, security, insurance, marriages, notary service, and birth certifications.:13

Consensus democracy

Consensus democracy is the application of consensus decision-making to the process of legislation in a democracy. It is characterized by a decision-making structure which involves and takes into account as broad a range of opinions as possible, as opposed to systems where minority opinions can potentially be ignored by vote-winning majorities. The latter systems are classified as Majoritarian Democracy.

Consensus democracy also features increased citizen participation both in determining the political agenda and in the decision-making process itself. Some have pointed to developments in information and communication technology as potential facilitators of such systems, for example the usage of DemocracyOS being used in Buenos Aires.

E2D International

E2D International (E2D) is the political international of the Electronic Direct Democracy (E2D) Party movement. The E2D Manifesto describes the basic political principles of E2D International member parties.

Government in the Sunshine Act

The Government in the Sunshine Act (Pub.L. 94–409, 90 Stat. 1241, enacted September 13, 1976, 5 U.S.C. § 552b) is a U.S. law passed in 1976 that affects the operations of the federal government, Congress, federal commissions, and other legally constituted federal bodies. It is one of a number of Freedom of Information Acts, intended to create greater transparency in government.

Grassroots democracy

Grassroots democracy is a tendency towards designing political processes that shifts as much decision-making authority as practical to the organization's lowest geographic or social level of organization.Grassroots organizations can have a variety of structures; depending on the type of organization and what the members want. These can be non-structured and non-hierarchical organizations that are run by all members, or by whichever member wishes to do something.To cite a specific hypothetical example, a national grassroots organization would place as much decision-making power as possible in the hands of local chapters or common members instead of the head office. The principle is that for democratic power to be best exercised it must be vested in a local community and common members and instead of isolated, atomized individuals, at the top of the organization. Grassroots organizations can inhabit participatory systems. Grassroots systems differ from representative systems that allow local communities or national memberships to elect representatives who then go on to make decisions.

The difference between the three systems comes down to where they rest on two different axes: the rootedness in a community (grassroots versus national or international); and the ability of all individuals to participate in the shared decision-making process (participatory versus representative.)

Land Party

The Land Party (Galician: Partido da Terra, pronounced [paɾˈtiðʊ ðɐ ˈtɛrɐ]) is a Galician political party that was established in 2011.

OW2 Consortium

OW2 is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to developing open source code infrastructure for middleware enterprise information systems. OW2 federates IT vendors and users, universities, and research centers from Europe, Asia, and the Americas, representing thousands of IT professionals.

Open-source political campaign

Open-source political campaigns, open-source politics, or Politics 2.0, is the idea that social networking and e-participation technologies will revolutionize our ability to follow, support, and influence political campaigns. Netroots evangelists and web consultants predict a wave of popular democracy as fundraisers meet on MySpace or Facebook, YouTubers crank out attack ads and bloggers do opposition research.

Typically these terms describe short-term limited-life efforts to achieve a specific goal. Longer term projects involving embedded institutions (of journalism, parties, government itself) are more often called "open-source governance" projects. All open politics share some very basic assumptions however including the belief that online deliberation can improve decisions.

Open Philanthropy

Open Philanthropy is the doctrine which holds that the programming, operations, governance, effectiveness, and efficiency of nonprofit organizations should be open and visible by the public, donors, and especially, stakeholders in those nonprofits.

Among recent developments is the theory of open source governance which advocates the application of the philosophies of the free software movement to democratic principles to enable interested citizens to get more directly involved in the legislative process.

The Effective altruism movement is a prominent proponent of analyzing, in a rubric with other criteria, the transparency of nonprofit organizations. The Open Philanthropy Project - a joint collaboration between GiveWell, a charity navigator, and Good Ventures, co-founded by a Facebook co-founder - "envision a world in which philanthropists increasingly document and share their research, reasoning, results and mistakes to help each other learn more quickly and serve the world more effectively."

Open Source Initiative

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting open-source software.

The organization was founded in late February 1998 by Bruce Perens and Eric S. Raymond, part of a group inspired by the Netscape Communications Corporation publishing the source code for its flagship Netscape Communicator product. Later, in August 1998, the organization added a board of directors.

Raymond was president from its founding until February 2005, followed briefly by Russ Nelson and then Michael Tiemann. In May 2012, the new board elected Simon Phipps as president and in May 2015 Allison Randal was elected as president when Phipps stepped down in preparation for the 2016 end of his Board term. Phipps became President again in September 2017.

Open admissions

Open admissions, or open enrollment, is a type of unselective and noncompetitive college admissions process in the United States in which the only criterion for entrance is a high school diploma or a certificate of attendance or General Educational Development (GED) certificate.

Open source (disambiguation)

Open source is the concept of the information allowing the replication or modification of something being open to the public.

Open source may also refer to:

Open-source license

Open-source model

Open-source software

Open university

An open university is a university with an open-door academic policy, with minimal or no entry requirements. Open universities may employ specific teaching methods, such as open supported learning or distance education. However, not all open universities focus on distance education, nor do distance-education universities necessarily have open admission policies.


Openness is an overarching concept or philosophy that is characterized by an emphasis on transparency and free, unrestricted access to knowledge and information, as well as collaborative or cooperative management and decision-making rather than a central authority. Openness can be said to be the opposite of secrecy.

P2P Foundation

P2P Foundation: The Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives is an organization with the aim of studying the impact of peer to peer technology and thought on society. It was founded by Michel Bauwens, James Burke and Brice Le Blévennec.The P2P Foundation is a registered institute founded in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its local registered name is: Stichting Peer to Peer Alternatives, dossier nr: 34264847.

Pirate Party of Turkey

The Pirate Party Turkey (Turkish: Korsan Parti Türkiye) is a not-yet-officially-formed political party movement in Turkey based on the model of the Swedish Pirate Party.

Qt (software)

Qt (pronounced "cute") is a free and open-source widget toolkit for creating graphical user interfaces as well as cross-platform applications that run on various software and hardware platforms such as Linux, Windows, macOS, Android or embedded systems with little or no change in the underlying codebase while still being a native application with native capabilities and speed. Qt is currently being developed by The Qt Company, a publicly listed company, and the Qt Project under open-source governance, involving individual developers and organizations working to advance Qt. Qt is available under both commercial licenses and open source GPL 2.0, GPL 3.0, and LGPL 3.0 licenses.

Radical transparency

Radical transparency is a phrase used across fields of governance, politics, software design and business to describe actions and approaches that radically increase the openness of organizational process and data. Its usage was originally understood as an approach or act that uses abundant networked information to access previously confidential organizational process or outcome data.

Social peer-to-peer processes

Social peer-to-peer processes are interactions with a peer-to-peer dynamic. These peers can be humans or computers. Peer-to-peer (P2P) is a term that originated from the popular concept of the P2P distributed computer application architecture which partitions tasks or workloads between peers. This application structure was popularized by file sharing systems like Napster, the first of its kind in the late 1990s.

The concept has inspired new structures and philosophies in many areas of human interaction. P2P human dynamic affords a critical look at current authoritarian and centralized social structures. Peer-to-peer is also a political and social program for those who believe that in many cases, peer-to-peer modes are a preferable option.

Concepts and
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