Let’s reinvent participative democracy for the 21st Century.
Most people think of the United States as a very young country. Given the childlike way we often act this is a natural enough impulse, but they are wrong. The U.S. is the oldest participative democracy on our small blue planet.
So consider this: perhaps countries have a natural life span, and we are at the end of ours. I am not a Chicken Little alarmist saying we will suffer the inevitable decline of all empires before us. Instead my message is positive and deeply focused on innovation: let’s reinvent participative democracy for the 21st Century.
And not just for the U.S. This reinvention should be a gift to the world – equally valuable in any land and for any people; useful at any scale: team, firm, town, city, state, province, region, country, and continent. To live up to its own promise, the U.S. should create it and should adopt it first but, hey, it’s an election year, so the odds that our “leaders” will do anything useful and path-breaking during this period of national embarrassment verges on zero.
How might we do it? Three revolutions, elegantly integrated:
1. Change how we fund candidates.
Since every country does this more wisely than the U.S., there are many good models to learn from, adapt, and adopt. Lawrence Lessig has the most interesting proposals for reinventing U.S. election funding, including the simple idea that all donations should be anonymous (so that even the candidate can’t figure out who donated) and reversible, so an individual or a company can donate today and claw back the funds next week. This means that candidates will have no idea who they are supposed to suck up to – raising the odd possibility that they might actually focus on making good decisions for rational reasons. Crazy, huh?
2. Reinvent how we understand issues.
To get past tiresome sound bites and attack politics we should harness new approaches to journalism that emphasize analysis as much as news. We see bits of this all over the web, but an ideal system would harness the power of deep data, information modeling, and great information design so that we can make it easier for anyone to understand hard things: Does capital punishment reduce crime? Does gun ownership make us safer? Roll it all up through devices integrated with social media so you can deeply understand something in a few minutes – on your tablet PC or smartphone. And, hey, it gives journalists a great new role.
3. Transform how we do polling.
People are polite. Ask ’em what they think and they will tell you. For decades now, we have resorted to daily, inane polls to help our “leaders” determine what people think. Instead, using deliberative polling, we could create practices where we would learn how people’s opinions change in the presence of objective, factual information about a topic. This would help leaders know what sensible, representative groups of people believe when they are taught actual facts.
Larry Keeley is a strategist who has worked for thirty years to develop more effective innovation methods. Larry is president and co-founder of Doblin Incorporated, an innovation strategy firm known for pioneering comprehensive innovation systems that materially improve innovation success rates. Doblin is now a member of Monitor Group, Cambridge, MA where Keeley is a Group Leader.
Since 1979 Keeley has worked with many global companies on innovation effectiveness, among them Abbott Labs, Aetna, American Express, Amoco, Apple, Baxter, Boeing, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Consignia, Diageo, Ford, Gates Foundation, Gillette, GE, Hallmark, Liberty Global, Mars, Mayo Clinic, McDonald’s, Monsanto, Motorola, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Qwest, Rockefeller Foundation, SAS, Shell, Sony, Steelcase, Target, Texas Instruments, VHA, WellPoint, Whirlpool, and Zurich Financial Services. He lectures frequently and publishes regularly on strategic aspects of innovation. Keeley is completing a book on innovation effectiveness, The Taming of the New, which outlines a comprehensive approach to effective innovation and the role of leaders in driving innovation within enterprises.
BusinessWeek named Keeley one of seven Innovation Gurus that are changing the field, and specifically cited Doblin for having many of the most sophisticated tools for delivering innovation effectiveness. In 2010, they also selected Keeley as one of the 27 most influential designers in the world, a phenomenon Keeley himself found to be odd, since he is not actually a designer.
Keeley teaches graduate innovation strategy classes at the Institute of Design in Chicago, the first design school in the U.S. with a PhD program, where he is also a board member. He lectures in executive education programs at Kellogg Graduate School of Management and is an adjunct faculty member for their core MBA and their Masters of Manufacturing Management programs. He also lectures at University of Chicago, plus business schools in Spain, England, Scotland and China. Keeley was a Senior Fellow of the Center for Business Innovation, in Boston. He is also a board member for Chicago Public Radio, where he has charted strategy for what has become an innovation engine for public radio across the U.S. — helping to foster This American Life and other path-breaking new radio programs and media innovations.