Plus Ca change.gov. . .

I’ve previously whined that it’s going to be a lot harder for President Obama to take advantage of social media than it was for the Obama campaign to do so.

I’m afraid to report that proof is beginning to emerge.

Over at change.gov, the web outpost of the Obama/Biden Provisional Gover. . .I mean, Privately Funded Transition Operation, there was an earnest public solicitation of ideas about healthcare. Over 3,700 comments came in.

On the change.gov blog, you will find a 3-minute video hosted by Tom Daschle, incoming Health Care Reform Tsar [I prefer the retro spelling; it adds a certain monarchic je ne sais quois].

In the segment, the former Senator summarizes some of the extremely
valuable citizen input that came in. [He presumably read all the
comments over the holiday weekend. Someone smarter than I [[sorry, I
can’t find the link]] determined that this task would consume 29 hours.
Knock yourself out, Senator!]

Frankly, it’s patronizing for Daschle to pretend that citizen
suggestions like “emphasizing prevention” and “making care affordable”
for small businesses are “great ideas” that the public has provided.
For god’s sake, they are right there in Obama’s healthcare platform. Yeesh.

But it gets worse: the blog entry summarizing the previous discussion says this:

As we continue to cultivate an open
conversation with our online community, we’ll be taking steps to
facilitate these discussions in new and innovative ways.

We want to hear your voice. Use the
discussion tool below to let us know what you liked about the health
care discussion, and suggest ways to keep the conversation going in the

Which is to say: Now that we’ve had the discussion, go ahead and discuss the discussion!

And as of this writing, over 4,500 additional comments had been made.

This isn’t citizen engagement,
it’s government rope-a-dope–a way to conserve energy and let the other
guy punch himself out while you figure out what you’re really going to

Look, the administration’s efforts are
admirable. I’ll be the first guy to say that using social media to
harness collective intelligence is one of the toughest acts in show
business. I think it’s great that the Obama people are committed to
trying, and to involving people with the process by some means other
than providing their credit card numbers [which by the way I wish
they’d quit asking me for]. I believe in open government, sunshine and
public access. Hey, I’ve applied for a position with the Obama administration!

But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The
magic value of social media tools is that they let people communicate
among themselves, not that they let them communicate with a big

Social media lets you listen in when
people talk among themselves. The social web helps people self-organize
into groups and movements. It helps them share collective intelligence.
If used by government itself, these tools can open up government
process to public inspection. It’s socially transformative technology
that enables a constant, real-time, global conversation. It will change
the world in ways we don’t yet appreciate.

But it’s intellectually dishonest
to lay these tools out there and pretend to listen attentively to the
incoherent rumble of a billion fingers pounding keyboards all across
the land.

That is not, to coin a phrase, the change.gov we need.

5 replies »

  1. All: Thanks for the comments.
    Steven: I agree the hard work of reform can’t be driven, or even aided, by the sort of citizen participation the transition team has invited so far. The 2.0 conversations add up to little more than e-mails to one’s congress member.
    True, I lack evidence the comments are being fully disregarded. I just can’t imagine, though that even an enormous groundswell of opinion, and brilliant tactical advice, supporting single-payer reform would affect the administration’s strategy at all.
    The transition team is inviting people to hold house parties to discuss healthcare reform. We’ll see how those results are reported out and used.
    Renatam: You and I share a hope that citizen participation becomes part of the administration’s mode of governing. My question is whether a tactic like the one used for health care so far can possibly influence policy or even thinking within the administration.
    [Is “engagement on steriods” legal in the sport of politics? I don’t want to get busted for abusing a controlled substance. . ]
    And Caliche-Pit: Sure, everything for free! Sign me up!

  2. Most of the comments so far on this issue have been to the effect that, while it may not be much, the request for input is at least “nice” and “polite” and “courteous” and might even result in a good idea or two and, in any event, can’t hurt anything.
    I agree with all of that.
    However, if you’d like to cut to the chase, I can save you a LOT of time and trouble about what “the people” want. You ready? Here it is:
    They want EVERYTHING and they want it for FREE.
    See how easy that was?

  3. President-Elect Obama is preparing his citizen army to go to WAR for the healthcare Americans deserve. He cannot effect that result without the participation of every American — nor does he want to. Citizen engagement and taking personal responsibility for being an informed consumer is at the core of President-Elect Obama’s governing strategy.
    Education, communication and shared information are at the heart of social media. President-Elect Obama has been effective – and, admirably is making engagement on steroids a permanent component of his management and stewardship.

  4. If they categorize the responses they can create web polls on the main suggestions in order to determine the peoples highest priorities.

  5. Craig,
    Do you have any reason to believe that the Obama people ignore or round-file the suggestions made on this medium?
    I suspect the request for input from people is polite. Maybe they get an idea or two. I suspect they don’t ignore what’s said because someone might have to respond to the writers.
    However, I suspect it’s the argument and the support we might provide. Like, I’d like someone to put health insurance companies out of business and demand that the government provide a single payer system. I think this is the only way we can accomplish universal coverage at an affordable and sustainable price. The work would be to give the politicians an argument and support for it to strengthen them against the lobbyists.
    Can this work be done on social network sites? Would they accept these recommendations over the internet?
    Maybe an organization could be made using the internet, but pressing the politicians to shut down some of their corporate backers will not be done through the mail, over the phone, or chatting on the internet.