Did you know that cells can be competent?
I had no clue.
But Google queries for supercompetent, super-competent and super competent returned quite a few entries for cell vendors. Google scholar returned entries on cell research.
Of course, Google returned other entries. But after a bit of investigation, it seems that cell super-competence captures the essence of super-competent democracy more accurately than business supercompetence (e.g. 6 Keys To Perform At Your Productive Best).
According to Wikipedia’ Natural Competence entry,
In microbiology, genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, competence is the ability of a cell to take up extracellular (“naked”) DNA from its environment in the process called transformation.[i]
Transformants are cells that have taken up DNA (foreign, artificial or modified) and which can express genes on the introduced DNA.[ii]
As a government worker who promulgates administrative rules, the chief complaint I receive from the regulated public is that their concerns are not addressed.
To be sure, government entities hold listening sessions and public meetings. But the public believes their government does not incorporate public suggestions into its administrative rules.
Some cells are able to take up extracellular DNA and actually use it to express genes. This is competence. The regulated public believes the government is not competent. While the government may listen, it does not take up ideas from its public and actually use them to make rules or laws.
Using the microbiology metaphor, competent democracy would be able to absord public ideas and implement them.
What would super-competent democracy look like?
From Wikipedia’s Transformation Efficiency entry,
Transformation efficiency is the efficiency by which cells can take up extracellular DNA and express genes encoded by it. This is based on the competence of the cells.
Non-commercial preparations should normally give 106 to 107 transformants per microgram of plasmid; a poor preparation will be about 104/?g or less, but a good preparation of competent cells can give up to ~108 colonies per microgram of plasmid.
Protocols, however, exist for making supercompetent cells that may yield a transformation efficiency of over 109.[
Using the microbiology metaphor of cell competence, supercompetent democracy include a high concentration of nodes or pathways for taking up and implementing public ideas.
Now, cell competence does not mean that a cell takes up every DNA fragment in its environment. In fact, some cells give preference to DNA which is already part of its make up. Cellular noise can influence cell competence.
As we will learn from the Taiwan example below, the competence of democracy can also be influenced by noise. Supercompetent democracy sets parameters for incorporating public ideas. From the example below, Taiwan focuses on “rational discussion.”
Taiwanese g0v activists such as Audrey Tang, who grew up among Tiananmen exiles in Germany, view governance failures as a “noisy signal” problem. she expresses how in Taiwan, “internet and democracy evolved together, spread together, and integrated with each other.” She continues:
The year 1988 brought freedom of the press and personal computers.
The year 1996 brought the first presidential election and dot-com websites.
There are so many civic hackers in Taiwan volunteering to work on democracy […] because our generation is the first to speak out freely—free speech was banned for 40 years during Martial Law under the Chiang dictatorship.
At a December 2014 g0v.tw hackathon, Minister Tsai upped the ante with a big ask: “Could g0v.tw create a platform for rational discussion and deliberation of policy issues that the entire nation could participate in?” In return, she offered binding consultation—that government decisions on issues discussed on the platform would be bound by the popular will expressed there. Dozens of volunteers at the hackathon accepted the challenge, and vTaiwan was born.
We should say, vTaiwan is something of an experiment. Because at the time—if you remember the post-Sunflower days—the entire society was very chaotic.
When I worked on cyberspace regulations, often I heard people saying “Minister, this is impossible, you need at least 3 years or 5 years to make progress.” But in the business world, because I’ve been in the technology industry, technology moves much faster. We are in a world of rapid change. How is it possible that each policy always takes 3 to 5 years? That’s just not workable. When we think about today’s Taiwan, we are a pluralistic society; it’s almost certain that there will be different voices for any policy issue. So when there are so many different voices, how can we efficiently reach all the stakeholders, so that we can quickly draw a consensus? We need to have a mechanism.
So I went to the g0v hackathon and proposed this project. I said I’m working on these bills and I think we need to have a platform to allow the entire society to engage in rational discussion. Luckily, Audrey Tang and many volunteers felt this idea was worthwhile, so the platform was set up in just a few weeks.
Minister Tsai continues with details on the government process:
So how do we make a platform for rational discussions? Our consensus is that all discussion procedures are to be determined and maintained by g0v volunteers; they have their own rules of the game, all of this is developed in g0v.
On behalf of the government side, I make sure that whenever anyone raises a question, the relevant ministries must respond within 7 days.
The consultation meeting invites various related ministries and commissions, government representatives, academics, all stakeholder representatives from industries, and participants from the online community. The entire meeting is live online. Everyone voices their opinions, but they are all recorded, open and transparent. Friends in g0v set up a transcription infrastructure, so 2–3 hours later, a stenographic transcript is available to everyone online.
We worked with this platform on closely-held company law, equity-based crowdfunding, selling medical material over internet . . . . All these things were deliberated on the platform, with different views recorded at the same time.
To us policymakers, what are the benefits? For each policy, I post all background material I have online. So if you want to delve into this issue, you can see the same data as I do. When everyone is on the same page, we can have a real discussion. Otherwise, the dialogue would be out of focus.
So if we can all take the time to understand the problem, read the data, while also listening to the views of the people—and enter a discussion, we are much more likely to reach a consensus.
Here’s a mic drop quote from Audrey Tang: “vTaiwan and pol.is mean a rethink of the political system at the constitutional level.”
Sadly, that road is littered with failures. Most efforts at collaborative legislation drafting have failed either because the power-holding body wasn’t involved, or because it decided to reject the recommendations of the people—see for example Iceland’s experience with its crowdsourced Constitution. Only occasionally have legislators embraced crowdsourcing of legislative commenting (see Utah’s experiment in Politicopia or US Senator Durbin’s Legislation 2.0).
The fact that these methods are working at a national scale in Taiwan suggests that, in an age of mass digital participation, we can reclaim the democratic process for including the people’s voice in creating laws. Any permanent change in the way that laws get made—who has responsibility and the power for making decisions—would refer to the constitution. The ambiguous space that opens when consultation begins to function more efficiently and politicians voluntarily agree to abide by the will of the public is where new patterns can emerge.
On June 19, 2016, Audrey Tang sent this update: “The use of pol.is at the national level is sufficiently convincing that an MP just asked the current premier and minister of economy whether substantial rulemaking—like the reworking of the joint-stock company law—should be deliberated on vTaiwan.”