Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Technological Innovation for Representation

Student Government is planning a cross-campus series of listening sessions that will serve as a starting point for writing UW-Madison’s next student government constitution. Of course, open forums are not gatherings meant to facilitate massive participation in the actual drafting process. Since the major tenet of this movement is that our student body direly needs a more participatory and transparent form of representation, it makes sense that we should push to directly include as many students as we can in this process. (It’s also the case that doing so would increase Student Government’s chance of success on its first try.) Online forums provide an easy way to allow for this type of participation.

The vision for online constitution construction goes something like this. Student Government puts up an online forum. What type of discussion board to use is the first issue to address; things to consider include consider cost, building and maintenance time, ease of moderation, and user-friendliness. Some examples of the major types of discussion boards are these (the obvious favorite), this (a mess, though it gets the job done), or the nerd standard (kidding); we could even use facebook’s message boards. I don’t have figures for cost and construction and maintenance time on-hand, but am sure suitable free software exists.

The next step is to post each article of the constitution's working draft to its own discussion board topic with a designated moderator. The structure of the whole forum is made to resemble that of the constitution itself. Whoever is responsible for moderating a topic redrafts and reposts the corresponding article after a sufficient amount of discussion has gone on, and the cycle continues until the participants reach some degree of mutual satisfaction. Deadlines are set to ensure the articles come together in a timely fashion.

I recognize at least one large pitfall in this method. I’ve had the chance to present this idea to a few people since first mulling it over with Steve on Sunday, but one individual's response struck me in particular: in order to use online forums as the constitution’s discussion venue, contributors have to spend an inordinate amount of time at their computers, constantly monitoring those parts in which they are vested. I was shocked to discover not everyone spends as much time as I do hunched over a computer; this is, however, a real issue.

In any case, Student Government should make it a major goal to effectively employ technology where and when it can in serving the student body. Let’s not just knock ASM for not having any real online presence; let’s go above and beyond to ensure there exists yet another option for direct participation. Suggestions or counterproposals to my specifics are welcome and desired.


At 4/04/2006 8:33 PM, Blogger Mike said...

The founding fathers spent 4 months locked in a hot room in Philadelphia to frame the Constitution in secret. I think a group of dedicated people could produce a better system than hundreds of people going half or quarter-speed. The way I see it, the thing that makes a democracy such a great form of government is that the people rule, but that’s also its downfall. No matter what, whatever a majority thinks is the right way and I think the U.S. is starting to get like that and it’s not good. If a majority of people decide that living in a co-op is a good thing, God forbid, knock-on-wood, then we’re all screwed. Although technology can be utilized to do things like what you’re talking about, I can imagine that would invite the same type of people that have led to the downfall of ASM. I’d probably be a casual user and so would most everyone else who got involved, but I worry about the people who have their hands in the cookie jar. If I was paid seg fee funds by a group, I sure as heck would be on there 24/7 protecting the old system and my interests.

Also, if you try to please everyone, then no one’s going to be happy, but that’s a different story.

I think you need to make sure to set some tangible goals. Setting sail for the sake of setting sail will get you to, perhaps, Middleton, nowhere compared to how far you’ll get if you planned on sailing west to the East Indies. Columbus didn't decide to go sailing and then have to come up with a reason to do so. In an article in the DC it talks about “streamlined and efficient”. I know you need to market yourselves, but what does that mean? ASM with greased wheels, and fewer members? Will you take my $666 per year with a smile? Collecting seg fees with automatic withdrawal?

For me, a student government ought to represent the students, I probably sound like a commie when I say this, but a student government is like a student union; issue #1, instead of fighting for higher wages, fight for keeping costs, tuition and seg fees, down as low as possible. That’s the easiest way to get all the students on your side and where ASM went wrong. They became the money club, happy to spend everyone’s money, instead of speaking to the university and state on the behalf of the students. Sorry to rip on you but that’s my 2¢.

At 4/04/2006 10:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the focus should be on money. Everybody knows the value of and cares about the nearly $700 that goes towards seg fees; assessing the value of the various programs funded by seg fees is harder to do.

This touches on something that I think would be an excellent idea: a budget. How does Student Government propose to spend seg fees? How would this compare to spending under ASM over the last 3-5 years? What safeguards would be in place to prevent seg fees from growing too rapidly? Answers to questions such as these would go a long way towards making Student Government's ideas concrete.



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