I just got back from the reThinkCali.com. While I admire their humility and energy in wanting to engage Californians in solving our governance problems, I fear they are going about it the wrong way.
The underlying premise of Rethink California appears to be that we just need better ideas, and that if we all simply shared our thoughts and listened to each other we’d have this figured out in no time.
Now, having worked in open source and open standards for over a decade, I love the wisdom of crowds as much as anyone. But large conversations are not a great forum for innovative design, which is what I believe California really needs. To truly transform California politics we need a product, not a discussion. Alas, given that they chose Twitter rather than Wikipedia as their model, I don’t think they have any hope of actually converging on a useful analysis.
Instead, I believe the only way to achieve meaningful reform is to develop and articulate a comprehensive blueprint for governance that spans all levels and aspects of California’s government: state, county, local, legislative, executive, judicial, initiative, taxation, etc. Only something that big would a) truly address our endemic issues, and b) generate enough excitement to overcome inertia and special interests.
While that blueprint would need to be implemented as a series of discrete steps, the overall vision would need to reflect a small set of basic assumptions about the role and structure of government. It would not try to be all things to all people, but instead create a transparent platform which others could safely build on. iCalifornia, if you will.
To build a product like that requires four things:
- Deep understanding of the market
- Small team of humble experts
- Disciplined process
- Trustworthy sponsors
All four are critical:
- Without deep understanding, you’ll solve the wrong problem.
- Without the right kind of experts working together, you’ll either bicker or settle on a suboptimal solution.
- Absent a strict process, you’ll never ship.
- And only an enlightened dictator in charge will push/allow people to promote the right solution, regardless of the political cost.
So what would such a dream team look like? Group theory suggest no more than seven principals, plus support staff, assistants, interns, etc. The roles and relevant expertise would need to be something like:
- Academic: history, political science, sociology
- Capitalist: business and entrepreneurship
- Economist: finance, accounting, taxation
- Educator: preschool to vocational to professional
- Engineer: transportation, energy, environment
- Lawyer: constitution, crime, contracts
- Politician: campaigns, communities, compromises
This isn’t about collecting credentials, but ensuring that those viewpoints and knowledge bases are included in any attempted redesign. The challenge is finding people who are smart, articulate, and passionate — yet humble enough to listen, learn, and be led.
Those roles seem necessary and sufficient to me. What do you think?
P.S. For a sufficiently broad Californian perspective, there should be at least two women and one Hispanic. We may also need equal numbers of (registered) Democrats and Republicans, to avoid the appearance of bias.