Collaborative Governance v2.0

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Collaborative governance is an emerging form of governance, supported by internet technologies ("ICT"), that enables any interested individual to collaborate on equal footing in governance decision-making.

Definition of Collaboration

Collaboration is a recursive process in which individuals of a group work together with deep, collective determination to reach an identical objective.

Collaboration & Group Size

Three group size scales can be distinguished. The means and meaning of collaboration are necessarily different at each of these scales.

  • the collaborating team (24 members or less, optimally 5 to 8)
  • the collaborating community (Dunbar's Number or thereabouts)
  • the collaborating population (thousands, millions, billions)

Good Governance

Good governance can be seen as more than merely a theoretical, philosophical idea. From the perspective of the goodniks among us, bad governance systems produce such outcomes as war, poverty, violations of personal rights and freedoms, biosphere degradation, the fleecing of future generations. Good governance systems consider, protect, and balance the interests of all stakeholders in each decision, set up conditions in which all may thrive, and so on.

These sorts of governance system outcomes are objectively detectable, objectively measurable, and can be used to determine the goodness or badness of particular governance decisions, and the legitimacy of the governance systems that produce the proposals and decisions and outcomes.

Foundations for Collaboration

The first work of a group that has determined to collaborate is to lay the foundations for collaboration. There must be solid consensus among all members of the group with respect to the following:

  • shared values
    • agreement on ends-in-themselves values
    • agreement on means-to-ends values
    • agreement on contingent value prioritizations
  • shared "world views" (how the world works)
    • agreement on a priori facts
    • agreement on a posteriori facts
    • agreement on predictive theories & models
  • shared objectives (of the collaboration)
    • agreement on problem formulations and framings
    • agreement on prioritization of problems
    • agreement on how to measure solution success
  • shared methods (for reaching objectives)
    • work within existing systems?
    • work without? (protest, overthrow)
    • work without? (render obsolete)

The "Identical Objective" of the Metagovernment Community

The community-wide objective to create a collaborative governance system (that will when operational reliably produce good governance outcomes) is capable of serving as the collaborative "identical objective" of the Metagovernment community.

The "Identical Objective" of the Collaborative Governance Population

Once the (collaboratively created) collaborative governance system is operational, the population-wide objective to produce proposals and decisions (within that governance system, using that system) that will in turn produce good governance outcomes is capable of serving as the collaborative "identical objective" of the population.

Collaboration In The Metagovernment Community

The Metagovernment community is not currently a collaborating community. It is at this point merely a conversation community, held together by random, informal discussions of shared interests. There are collaborating teams within the community (that are working on the various active projects), but the teams are generally not collaborating with one another or with non-team community members, and the various projects themselves are generally anergistically rather than synergistically related.

The first work in making the Metagovernment community a collaborating community (with the "identical objective" being to create a collaborative governance system) would be to build community consensus concerning values, world views, methods, and the objective itself.

Collaborating To Build Consensus

Voting is a very expensive, wasteful, counter-productive, superficial, and unnecessary method of measuring consensus. Collaboratively building consensus is most efficiently and productively accomplished through iterations of the following recursive process:

  • Propose Thesis
    • Propose Analysis (thesis parts & evaluation perspectives)
      • Propose Sub-Antitheses (to the parts, from the perspectives)
        • Propose Sub-Anti-Antitheses, Sub-Analyses, ... (drilling down)
      • Propose Sub-Syntheses (for each part, from each perspective)
    • Propose Synthesis (that puts the parts back together)

Currently, active projects such as Votorola and Vilfredo attempt to skip directly from thesis to thesis, and provide no support for analysis, or antithesis, or synthesis, or for "drilling down", or for making past work available in dealing with new related issues. Any good IDE ("Integrated Development Environment") for computer programming contains these sorts of functionalities, and might even be a good conceptual base to start from in creating a software system to support recursive synthesis in collaborative governance decision making. Perhaps we could call the result a CIDME -- Collaborative Integrated Decision Making Environment.

Collaboration & Decision

Any voting system turns all questions of truth or prediction or value into questions of power. This systematic conversion process attacks the very heart of the distinction between true and false, between likely and unlikely, between good and bad.

One alternative to power is reason. When reason is used to decide, the question upon which each decision hinges becomes not "How many?" but "Why?"

In any collaborating team or community or population, with everyone in the group working with deep determination to reach the common objective, overpowering anyone's view for no good reason absolutely undermines the emotional foundation for consensus building, and short-circuits the crucial process of traversing all the way to the root of each "why / why not" recursion. It is through not resorting to power in making decisions that the group can most effectively and efficiently deepen its collective understanding, motivate its members, find ever more creative and inclusive solutions, and build solid consensus.

Deciding Facts

The proposal of a matter of fact is best evaluated through investigation and/or experimentation. But in the end (as occurs in many jury trials), after all of investigations and experiments, the decision may still come down to a judgment call. How shall that judgment call be made, and by whom, and when?

How: The Wisdom of Crowds

One of the very few good things about voting as a governance decision mechanism is that it can potentially tap into "the wisdom of crowds." But one of the necessary conditions for that tapping is that each vote must be cast independently. From this perspective, collaborative voting always constitutes a corruption of the voting process, and is more likely to tap into the prejudice and myopia of groupthink than into the wisdom of crowds. If the decision making group is actually collaborating (which entails communicating), then using voting to decide cannot be defended by claiming that it taps into the wisdom of crowds.

How: Voting Versus Consensus

In jury deliberations, voting may be used (again and again) to measure whether consensus has been reached, but the building of consensus (or not) occurs through the interactions among jurors. Voting does not decide the matter; reaching consensus does (whether or not the consensus is measured by voting).

By Whom: Experts & Bell Shaped Curves

In any group of voters, the relative experts in the group will all be out at one end of the bell shaped curve that plots expertise. The relative experts will always be in the minority. Particularly when deciding matters of fact, reason would suggest that those who have studied the available evidence most thoroughly and are most experienced in examining such evidence should not be ignored. But this is precisely what voting systems routinely do, with respect to assertions of fact embedded in proposals.

In contrast, the recursive synthesis process allows facts to be separated out and evaluated independently, apart from the proposals that depend on them, and can make full and appropriate use of available expertise in evaluating them.

When: Is Everyone On The Same Side?

(Decision making in emergency situations requires a different system than either voting or the recursive synthesis process.)

In non-emergency situations, seeking consensus can be frustrating, and can take a long time, and can even fail in the end. Ultimately in such gnarly cases, the question becomes whether everyone is on the same side (working toward the same objectives in accord with the same values, with the values prioritized in the same way, and willing to reach resolution through reason). So long as the answer to that question is yes, there are strong reasons to let the process play out or even fail for the time being, rather than curtail it and decide by force.

When the answer to the question appears to be no, then the work is to identify and articulate all of the ways in which the objectives and value prioritizations differ. Unless and until the objectives and value prioritizations of everyone in the group can be brought back into alignment, and the will to reach resolution through reason can be re-established, the group cannot work collaboratively. In open source projects, when such differences arise they may cause the project to fork, and/or may cause individuals to leave altogether.

Voting (power) cannot restore the collaborative spirit in such circumstances. This sort of situation will probably prove to be the greatest challenge to the viability of collaborative governance. It is hard to predict a priori what solutions may be found to save the system in any particular case. Patience, wisdom, and creativity will be required.

Deciding Predictions

Since the goodness or badness of any governance decision is determined by its future effects, making good governance decisions always involves trying to predict what those effects will be.

The proposal of a prediction is best evaluated (prior to the availability of the eventual "wait and see" result) by (1) examining the predictive track record of the theory or model that produced the prediction, and (2) examining the integrity of the proposal-specific inputs to the theory or model.

Prediction & Science

If we believe Karl Popper, the main business of science is prediction. Moreover, science is (in the ideal) a global collaborative process, and (informally) fully employs the recursive synthesis process in its workings. It is properly the work of scientists to validate the predictive theories and models themselves, using the proven methods of science.

Prediction & Applying Science

Engineers, architects, designers, policy proposers and evaluators apply the findings of science (predictive theories and models) to make predictions in specific real world situations, by providing the particular inputs.

Prediction & Synthesis

In a collaborative governance system that fully supports recursive synthesis, the predictive models, the specific predictions from those models, and the proposals that depend on the specific predictions can be independently proposed and evaluated, with the different sorts of expertise fully and appropriately utilized in each proposal and evaluation.

Deciding Values

Shared values and world views are the deep foundation for collaboration. Collaborative governance is only possible within a group (team, community, population) that has a sufficient base of shared values and views. To discover and grow this base, analysis of each proposal to ascertain and articulate the facts, predictions, values, and views supporting and opposing the proposal is very important, even necessary.

Attempting to decide issues by force (voting) -- thereby imposing majority values and views on minorities -- will predictably end collaborative governance and lead to competitive governance (what we have now). For collaborative governance to be viable, the first shared value must be that of eschewing the use of force in making governance decisions.

Governors & Governed

In the ideal, collaborative governance contains no distinctions between governors and governed, from the perspective of "Power Over Other People" conferred by governance structures, positions, procedures, or effects.

Three Branches

A government composed of three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial), with the legislative branch making decisions through voting, and the executive and judicial branches hierarchically ordered, is clearly not a collaborative government, and does feature very clear distinctions between governors and governed.

In a standard three-branch government, the application of legislation produced by representatives, proxies, and/or direct popular vote generally depends entirely on choices made by hierarchs and their minions in the executive and judicial branches. This means that those who are being governed effectively play merely a "Jiminy Cricket" role in relation to their (clearly distinct) governors -- the role of the people in governance is advisory at best.

"Full spectrum" collaborative governance requires that the executive and judicial functions of government not be carried out by hierarchies, but instead be carried out through structures and arrangements that enable any citizen to participate in any executive or judicial decision on equal footing. Only in that circumstance are all distinctions between governors and governed entirely eliminated.


Current governments charter (create) corporations (hierarchically ordered, motivated by profit), and enable the corporations to own the means of production, and to wield overwhelming financial and political power within the society, and to independently make decisions that often have profound effects on humanity, nature, and/or future generations.

The concept of collaborative governance entails that all decisions that may have profound effects on humanity, nature, and/or future generations are properly governance decisions, and should be made collaboratively, with any citizen able to participate on equal footing in any such decision. (On any occasion that footings are not equal, there exists a distinction between governors and governed.)

Collaboration & The Invisible Hand

Adam Smith made the claim that, in the economic sphere, it would work well for each individual to competitively pursue his or her own narrow self interests unmindful of "collateral damage", because the Invisible Hand would magically make things right from the perspective of humanity, nature, and future generations.

The Invisible Hand does indeed do a better job of arranging the macro-affairs of the world than central planning and command. This claim is fully supported by the evidence, just as the claim that cement makes a better desert topping than asphalt is supported by the evidence. The open question is, can the Invisible Hand do a better job than collaborative governance in arranging the macro-affairs of the world?

Capitalism and collaborative governance are most usefully seen as exclusive alternatives. It would be possible to cast collaborative governance in the role of the Red King in Alice In Wonderland, meekly following in the wake of the Red Queen of capitalism, perpetually working at the Sisyphean labor of attempting to ameliorate and clean up the messes that capitalism makes. But why would we want to do that?

Whether capitalism or collaborative governance can do a better job of arranging the macro-affairs of the world is an empirical question, best answered through research and experimentation. Faith-based decision making is not necessarily a good idea with respect to this choice, and is not necessary. Information and communication technologies now give us the capability to do the research and engage in the experimentation harmlessly (in the context of online world-games). We can run the experiments (the capitalist world-game and the collaborative governance world-game), test and compare the competing social models in action, and pick the winner for use in the real world. Employing the methods of science is good, and applying the findings of science is good.

Collaboration & Efficiency

In three-branch central governments, after laws are enacted they are then enforced (or not) by the executive branch, and adjudicated by the judicial branch. The votes of individual legislators have little effect on the vote-driven (group) legislative decision, and then the legislative decision is entirely separate from enforcement and adjudication, which are carried out through hierarchies by edict. This scheme of dividing the labor of governance has proved to generally disempower the general population in relation to its governors, who reside in the executive and judicial branches, and in the corporations, and in the private groups (Rothschilds, Rockefellers, etc.) that own the corporations and central governments and universities and foundations and think tanks and media and so on.

A fully expressed collaborative governance system enables any citizen to participate on equal footing not just in legislative decisions, but in executive, judicial, and resource allocation and production decisions as well. In order for such a system to be capable of rendering all governors (hierarchies) obsolete, the system must be more efficient (and more trustworthy) than the systems that it is intended to replace. Achieving this level of efficiency will require minimizing cost per decision, which will in turn require that often only a few individuals will be directly involved in making any particular decision (as is the case now within hierarchies). The collaborative governance system must be more trustworthy than governance by hierarchies even when only a few are directly involved in the decision.

Collaboration & Transparency

The process of collaboration requires communication, and cannot occur without communication. Transparency is communication by another name. Without "radical transparency", collaborative governance cannot meaningfully occur.

In collaborative governance, the process that creates any particular proposal may or may not be collaborative, and may or may not be transparent. From the perspective of collaborative governance, it does not really matter what kind of process produces the particular proposal. If a farmer wants to submit a proposal he found burned into his barley field inside a crop circle, no problem. The proposal will be treated as any other, and stand or fall on its intrinsic merits.

After the proposal is submitted, the decision process that decides whether to implement the proposal must be a collaborative process.

At the point that the decision has been made, the key feature that enables collaborative governance is full transparency with respect to the real reasons for the decision. When a decision is made, the proposal itself together with the disclosed information regarding the real reasons for the decision inform the next iteration of the society-wide collaboration to effect good governance, and to produce subsequent proposals that even more successfully synthesize the interests of all stakeholders.

Several different kinds of transparency can be distinguished:

  • Is each new proposal published and freely available at the time of submission to the decision system?
  • Is notification of the submission effectively sent to all those interested and/or potentially affected?
  • Is the decision published and freely available at the time that it is made?
  • Are the considerations that (actually) produced the decision known and published?

A collaborative governance system must have all four forms of transparency.

Corporations (and hierarchies in general) typically do not offer any of these forms of transparency when making governance decisions. (Hidden Hands, of course, seek to hide even their own existence, as a matter of principle and prudence. The Invisible Hand offers the ultimate in opacity of decision making.)

Public voting systems typically offer the first three forms of transparency, but cannot offer the fourth. The mind of each voter is a "black box": we generally do not know all the inputs that the voter received, and we know nothing -- without mind reading -- about the inner processing that actually produced the vote. However, since individual votes in large populations have insignificant effect, this individual voter opacity is of little consequence. Instead, the problem becomes to try to reliably externalize the real reasons that herds of people voted as they did.

In representative and transitive delegation voting systems, the problem of individual voter opacity becomes progressively more acute as the number of direct votes on a particular proposal becomes smaller. Any such voting system must solve the problem of reliably externalizing the real reasons for governance decisions in order to be able to serve as a basis for collaborative governance.

Collaboration & Democracy

Up until now, voting has been considered to be the essential ingredient that produces and identifies the existence of democracy. Voting has been working well for The Powers That Be (bestowing legitimacy and keeping populations harmlessly occupied, without effectively challenging their control), and has been working not so well for humanity, nature, and future generations in terms of the governance outcomes that it has been producing, or that it has been powerless to stop.

The advent of information and communication technologies has only now made possible an alternative basis for democracy: collaboration that seeks consensus through online software that fully supports the recursive synthesis process of decision making.

Actualizing this new potential would involve several steps. Even after the software existed, this new kind of democracy would not be ready to be put directly into service in the real world. The early participants would need to master the tools, learn the processes, and reach consensus concerning all of the value prioritizations, world views, governance methods, and governance objectives that would then serve as the foundations for collaborative governance. And then even after all this work were accomplished, the system would further need to demonstrate that it reliably made better real world governance decisions than are now being made by existing systems, and would need to attract and induct large numbers of individuals from the general world population, both to increase support for the system and to make the system ready for service in the real world.

Perhaps the best way to accomplish all of these necessary preparations would be to create an online game in which the real world is mapped onto the virtual world of the game, to enable making real world governance decisions within the game.

All this preparation would of course be a seriously Brobdingnagian undertaking, that could only be accomplished collaboratively. The "identical objective" would be to (peacefully) create, test, demonstrate, popularize, and start up a global collaborative governance system.

See also