From author Timothy Rayner: “The thought experiment I’d like to propose involves bringing together Unger’s argument concerning how progressives should attempt to revivify democracy with the empirical observation that collaborative experimentation is increasingly shaping the zeitgeist. I suspect that Unger is addressing the wrong community in his call to arms. Perhaps, instead of calling on progressives in the world of party politics (a world that is constitutionally resistant to disruption) to embrace collaborative experimentation, Unger should reach out to progressives in the maker movement to lead the charge. Currently, makerthons focus on enabling people to build technical gadgets for personal use. Yet, this merely reflects the passions and interests of the DIY community who gather at these events. A makerthon focused on collaboratively redesigning institutions would presumably attract a much broader and diverse community. The greatest challenge presented to such an initiative would lie in securing the interest of a suitably diverse group of specialists and experts, to ensure that alternatives were based in a realistic understanding of social and political systems.”

Maker democracy: Roberto Unger, progressive politics, and collaborative experimentation

It is Maker Day. You catch the ziptrain into the city. As the conburbs flash by, you browse the Maker Day app on your phone. Maker Day has only been around a couple of years. The Democrats got it started in 2020, after they seized the White House back from the Republican Party. The idea was to redress unemployment by cutting the working week to 4 days and making the 5th day Maker Day. This bold initiative has already paid off in a number of ways, not least by giving the unemployed something to do on Fridays.

Maker Day makes social innovation a community exercise. It gives ordinary citizens the power to collaboratively redesign social and political institutions. Some say it has revitalised the nation.

Outside the Maker Day pavilion, crowds of people are testing robots and drones. MAKE HISTORY says the sign above the door. You weave inside, looking for your crew. They are usually in the Library, but a Kidpreneur workshop is in session there and they are not to be seen. You study the grid on the giant whiteboard in the Community Hall, trying to decide what events to attend. For the last couple of Maker Days, you’ve helped a group of lawyers, urban planners, and community activists design a corporate-community partnership framework for organisations working to revitalise urban space. But this project is in prototyping mode, gathering data for a public review. You prefer to work at the coalface. As you MakerID says, you are an Ideator.

Today, you decide, you’ll pitch in with the Home Care Sharing XChange. Unless something else grabs your attention first. Maker Day kicks off Open Space style to ensure that there are always new projects on the table. People propose ideas for hacking institutions, and if an idea is popular, working groups are formed about it. Today’s open space sessions include some totally off-the-wall ideas, including: ‘Virtual Reality Gaming and Palliative Care: The Final Quest’ and ‘F*@k the Police: Urban Crime and Total Surveillance Solutions’. The great thing about Maker Day is that projects are experimental, so the wilder, the better. The aim is to generate institutional alternatives – as many as possible. Only a fraction of the ideas will be implemented. But who cares? The point is to have fun and be creative, and to work with people on disrupting the political imagination.

Maker Day is where the future happens. This is creative democracy in action.

It is true that not everyone has the opportunity to attend Stanford or take part in the collaborative service jams run by major corporations. But Unger is wrong to conclude that ordinary people have ‘no prospect of joining’ these kinds of activities, because such events are increasingly part of the social fabric for design oriented digital natives. In the coming fortnight, I will take part in two collaborative design events happening in Sydney: the inaugural Good for Nothing co-design challenge (sold out, at the time of writing), and the Sydney Service Jam, part of the Global Service Jam taking place on March 7, 2014. My design skills are limited. My coding skills are non-existent. Yet, I know from experience that the collaborative environment created at these kinds of events makes room for everyone, irrespective of their skills and knowledge. The main reason why I’m going along is to watch and learn, and to get a sense of how events like these are driving the practices and norms of collaborative innovation into popular consciousness.

In 2010, in Coalition of the Willing, I argued that open source culture will change the world. Today, the process of cultural learning is happening faster, and in a much more concrete way, than I imagined. Open source culture is flowing offline to inform attitudes and practices in hackathons, makerthons, collaboratories, and design jams around the world.

This is an incredible political opportunity. It is time that progressives became makers.

This post was originally published on Philosophy of Change.

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