22 July 2007

Open Source Self-Governance

A little while back I wrote about the idea of using wikis for open government. Peter Suber - about whom Bill Hooker commented recently "not a sparrow falls in the OA world but PS knows about it!" - emailed me with some interesting news about an earlier project of his called Nomic:

Nomic is a game I invented in 1982. It's a game in which changing the rules is a move. The Initial Set of rules does little more than regulate the rule-changing process. While most of its initial rules are procedural in this sense, it does have one substantive rule (on how to earn points toward winning); but this rule is deliberately boring so that players will quickly amend it to please themselves. The Initial Set of rules, some commentary by me, and some reflections by Douglas Hofstadter, were published in Hofstadter's "Metamagical Themas" column in Scientific American in June of 1982. It was quickly translated into many European and Asian languages. Games were regularly played, and kicked off, the ARPANET, the Defense Department network which sired the Internet. Nomic has been used to stimulate artistic creativity, simulate the circulation of money, structure group therapy sessions, train managers, and to teach public speaking, legal reasoning, and legislative drafting. Nomic games have sent ambassadors to other Nomic games, formed federations, and played Meta-Nomic. Nomic games have experienced revolution, oppressive coups, and the restoration of popular sovereignty. Above all, Nomic has been fun for thousands of players around the world. For me, it was intended to illustrate and embody the thesis of my book, The Paradox of Self-Amendment, that a legal "rule of change" such as a constitutional amendment clause may apply to itself and authorize its own amendment. (Nomic is the third appendix of the book.)

The connection with open governance is clear. Peter passed on the news that people are trying to apply a Nomic-based approach to open source:

Just last week, by chance, a total stranger proposed a Nomic-variant as a serious system of "Open-Source Self-Governance" (his words).

Here's what that site has to say about the project, which is called Efficasync:

Efficasync is a method of open-source self-governance, where all the members of a group have the ability to examine, discuss and modify their group’s set of operational goals, reasonings, constraints, procedures and arrangements. In computer lingo, each member of such a group has both ‘read’ and ‘write(2)’ permissions to this set of governing statements. As demonstrated by the previous two lines, this document occasionally recasts a few traditional views of governance into a computer programmer’s frame of reference. The programmer’s paradigm holds a new, and potentially valuable, perspective for democratic governance. This document’s purpose is to describe a specific way, based on this new perspective, that a directly-democratic group’s governing infrastructure could be arranged. In doing this, the three main components which constitute Efficasync are explained: a Nomic, a particular graphical interface, and a starting set of ‘rules.’ This document was written with the intention of presenting a prototype for emulation and extension by groups wishing to operate as open-source selfgoverning entities.

Fascinating stuff.

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