Monday, May 14, 2012

Democracy & front-end alignments

Like many people, I can't do my own oil changes, much less rebuild an engine. And like many people, I feel extraordinarily vulnerable whenever I bring my car to a mechanic. the mechanic really telling me the truth? Does this repair really cost that much? And I often find myself wondering what a different mechanic would recommend.

So, in an attempt to alleviate this regretful state of vulnerability, I decided to make a concerted effort in finding that ever elusive trustworthy mechanic.

I leased a new car from 401 Dixie Kia a few years ago, and as luck would have it, I would eventually learn that this dealership employed Will and Allan - two of the best Service Advisors I've ever had the pleasure to deal with.

I can confidently say that these two individuals have gone above and beyond the call of duty for me. They've been extraordinarily patient when explaining my options and have empathized with the difficult situations that life has sometimes put me in.

Will and Allan are genuine. They are fully aware that they work in an industry that can be very costly for people, but instead of just saying "hey, it is what it is," they've consistently gone out of their way to make the experience as painless as possible.

I'm now able to simply tell them my mileage or situation and can feel confident that their recommendation will be my best option. I no longer have that feeling of vulnerability, and it's so incredibly refreshing.

This same kind of relationship has to exist between constituents and their elected representatives. There's just one big problem to solve before this happens. Cynicism.

There's an incredible amount of cynicism aimed at politicians, and rightly so. Not only has evidence repeatedly shown their words should be examined carefully, but politicians themselves frequently remind us that their fellow colleagues shouldn't be trusted.

This has never been more eloquently written than in Steve Paikin's book The Dark Side.

"When airlines buy advertising, they don't spend millions of dollars bad-mouthing their competition. They wouldn't think of boosting their own image by pointing out how many fatal crashes other airlines had experienced. If they did, no one would fly anymore because of the loss of confidence in the entire industry.

But politicians are different. They think of nothing of venturing out on search-and-destroy missions against their opponents, and then are surprised when the public concludes that they're all a bunch of bad apples. If all sides toss the mud - and the media lovingly report every luscious details - how can we be surprised when the public stops voting, or loses faith in the entire political process?"

I took part in a roundtable discussion a few months back where I first heard the saying "Power goes to those who show up" impressively delivered by Rob Newman, President of Sustainable Strategy. Thing is, many of us simply don't show up.

Let's face it, even if people are motivated to "show up," they often have to face a number of obstacles before they can even leave home. Friends, family, relationships, health, sports, and work often take precedence over issues like bike lanes or welfare reform.

That's why I love Democracy 2.0, and the Gov 2.0 movement in general. It takes old-fashion tools and transforms them into new, online engagement platforms.

Much like how Web 2.0 has forever changed how we interact with our friends, family, businesses and colleagues, Gov 2.0, and more specifically Democracy 2.0, will forever change how the public interacts with their elected representatives. Democracy 2.0 provides the Public with the ability to customize their own Democracy; it allows them to become active participants with their government instead of just being passive observers of their government.

This, however, will only be successful when elected representatives fully adopt this new movement; a movement based on collaboration, not party politics. Besides, I have the sneaking suspicion the vast majority of people don't care about the game of politics anymore...and that's why they tune out.

...what they care about are things like their neighbourhood; their friends; their family; and the reputation of their Nation.

Dan Meyer's TED Talk "Math class needs a makeover" shows how he adopted the philosophy of making "the math serve the conversation, rather than the conversation serving the math." This is a great example of we can redefine tired and boring subject matter for an audience who has, for the most part, tuned out.

Here is how that same formula can be applied for Democracy 2.0: "Politics should serve governance, rather than governance serving politics."

Much like Will and Allan from 401 Dixie Kia, Elected Representative will need to work hard and will need to have lots of patience if they truly want to help rebuild the burned bridge between themselves and their constituents.

Now, it would be ignorant to think there won't be any bumps along the way, but I'm reminded of the classic line that says "if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got."

Democracy 2.0 may not be the answer, but one thing is for sure - it is different.