First, to define terms. In software development (as in other project management) there’s a waterfall way of doing things and an agile way of doing things. If you don’t want to read those wikipedia entries, let’s use the very reductive shorthand of waterfall = top down + one big push and you’re done with everything; while agile = groups working collaboratively + iterative runs at a thing and you improve (or deliver pieces of) a product over time.
Waterfall :: Empire as Agile :: ________
Now, my initial thought was “Democracy”, and when I put the question to Bala he actually had a hard time swallowing that answer because he hasn’t seen democracy perform all that well. In fact, democracy has looked a lot more like empire lately. But I think the reason (to completely blow up the analogy) is that we’ve been using a waterfall implementation of democracy. What would agile democracy look like?
To give a very brief—and incomplete, I’m still wrapping my head around the concept—explanation of “agile” in this context, it’s a way of doing things, specifically of producing a product, but it can be applied (carefully) to other things. It values iterative processes, failing quickly and then learning from those failures, refining and improving something over time rather than building all at once and then you’re done forever. It doesn’t apply to everything (you can’t afford to fail quickly in heart surgery), but I wonder if it couldn’t provide some new ways of approaching legislation, voting, and problem-solving at the policy and at the grass roots level.
I’m not sure, but I suspect that agile democracy would be like taking an old clunker and putting a souped-up engine in it. Or maybe we’ve had a Ferrari all along but we’ve never really done anything but driven around the block. We haven’t really taken democracy out for a spin yet to see what it can really do.
Somewhat adjacent to this notion is the idea of some other webby implementations for governement. For example, what if we crowdfunded our next public works project? Yes, taxation is what we call government-implemented crowdfunding now, but it’s a very waterfall approach to crowdfunding. I’m thinking of a far more participatory, granular, targeted approach (as you see on Kickstarter or Indiegogo) to funding public works. (Perhaps a certain number of our tax dollars are set aside for us to spend specifically on these projects as we see fit. Kind of like micro-voting for expenditures.)
I suspect that an agile implementation of democracy would involve rethinking the way we do things and produce a more satisfying outcome—or at least process—for most citizens. It would involve a lot more participation, however, and a lot more work on the part of citizens, which, to be fair, is what I think the founders intended.
Anyone care to try?
Update: So remember when I was talking about government crowdfunding three paragraphs ago? It was inspired by a conversation I had about this, but couldn’t reveal because it hadn’t happened yet. But now it has.