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[liberationtech] Knight News Challenge: Pioneering practice of public autonomy

Yosem Companys companys at
Tue Feb 26 22:26:53 PST 2013

From: Michael Allan <mike at>

I'm seeking collaborators with leadership skills for a Knight News
Challenge proposal. This year's challenge is, "How might we improve
the way citizens and governments interact?"

Below is a rough draft of the proposal. In addition to collaborators,
we might also need organizational support (in part because there's
financing if we win). The submission deadline is March 18. Please let
me know if you can help. My contact details are at:


   Pioneering the practice of public autonomy



   To be free in a social world that regulates itself by laws and
   other norms (to have public autonomy), we must be able to
   understand and reasonably agree with those norms that affect us. As
   the social theorist and philosopher Habermas puts it, "Just those
   action norms are valid to which all possibly affected persons could
   agree as participants in rational discourses." Taking this
   discourse principle as our guiding star, we aim to pioneer a
   practice of public autonomy based on the continual exposure of
   draft norms to the guidance of rational discourses. We'll
   simultaneously run electoral primaries based on open, transitive
   voting, to put our most qualified practitioners on the ballot and
   into office, where they'll continue to work with us, their
   un-elected peers. On the technical side, we'll use MediaWiki for
   the drafting medium; Semantic MediaWiki as an open database and
   voter registry (streetwiki); existing public forums as the
   discussion media; Votorola's prototype toolset for transitive
   voting and recombinant text; plus any other suitable tools and
   technical projects that we pick up along the way. Already we have
   enough to support a crude practice.

   Pioneering that practice is the topic of this proposal. There are
   two things to understand about this from the outset. The first is
   that, despite the proliferation of designs for participatory
   democracy that are fundamentally flawed in terms of legitimacy and
   efficacy, nobody has yet found such a flaw in the design of this
   particular practice. The acid test is to locate the single person
   who cannot reasonably assent to a law, then evolve that law in a
   direction to which all can assent. Second, the core of this
   practice can be developed and proven by a small group of pioneers.
   The core is the process of validity seeking (main figure). It is
   conducted by small "leaf groups" of typically 2-5 practitioners who
   continually join with the public in discourse. These discourses are
   structured not only to guide the would-be normative action in the
   direction of validity, but also to provide the human resources that
   are necessary to carry out that action. This implies that *if* a
   pioneering leaf group ever succeeds in getting the design and
   performance of this core process right, delivering on both its
   purposes, then the entire population will be led into freedom by
   that success.

   To achieve that success will require special skills. We're looking
   for people who have the capacity to critique the design of the
   practice and to expose any flaws, while also being resourceful
   enough to handle a toolset that is only partly finished, and that
   might even require a re-design. The technical designs cannot be
   allowed to harden into finished tools until we have a better
   understanding of the hands-on practice. We're also looking for
   people who have imagination. When your hands are in a nascent
   practice such as this, and your mind is equipped to make up for the
   missing parts, then it becomes like a lense into the future; you're
   out in front thinking for all the others who will follow. In short,
   we're looking for leaders. If you know of any who could be
   interested, please point them here.

WHAT IS YOUR PROJECT?  (1 sentence max)

   To pioneer a practice of public autonomy based on transitive
   voting, recombinant text, and the continual exposure of legislative
   bills and other draft norms to the guidance of rational discourses.



The latest copy of this draft is at:

Michael Allan
Toronto, +1 416-699-9528
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