Has e-democracy’s time arrived? You bet it has!

From Canada 150 “Towards a Virtual Parliament: has e-democracy’s time arrived?”

We must capture the imagination with a new 21-century national institution: A Virtual Parliament.

An initiative such as e-democracy can have a uniquely Canadian flavour. An imaginative application of communication technology would benefit  governance on a number of meaningful levels. So, let’s begin seeking a vision of a virtual democratic community based on Canadian research.

To illustrate what I mean by virtual community, I refer you to a wonderful project I served on that was funded by Canadian Heritage and Industry Canada in the early 21st century. Federal funds were alloted under the Government Online program, and channeled to a number of major research projects pertaining to everything from e-health, distance education, to cultural content. Actually, I was involved in several projects, but the one I have in mind is RACOL, an incredible bit of research and application that connected 5 schools in a sparsely-populated portion of Northern Alberta.

The following is taken from RACOL: Rural Advanced Community of Learners (go to the website to see a great photo of Dep. PM Anne Mclennan):

“One of the major challenges to rural communities in Alberta is to provide high quality education for their inhabitants. With the evolution of broadband networks, it is now possible to facilitate even more effective learning for distanced students. The Rural Advanced Community of Learners Project (RACOL) is developing a model of teaching and learning that exploits the potential of broadband networks and advanced digital technologies. Rather that falling into either of the synchronous or asynchronous distance learning camps, RACOL exploits the best of each. Capabilities such as broadcast quality digital video, streaming media, electronic whiteboards and educational objects will aid in the facilitation of effective learning and address the needs of students in rural and remote school districts.”

I witnessed some incredible stuff. Basically, the core value of any virtual community of practice is an overall uniform experience, i.e. remote = local. It is a difficult idea, but one just has to listen to your average CBC national radio host doing an interview to see how challenging it is to think a-geographically. Example: Toronto-based host asks a Vancouver guest about something happening “out there”. The language centralizes the discussion on Toronto, but for the listener, and the guest, “out there” is neither here nor there!  So, virtual communities of practice on broadband require alot of practice (whether that practice be education or democratic renewal). We must live with it, everyday, in every office, in every riding, as part of our daily experience.

What about e-democracy? If you can teach on broadband, perform music on broadband, deliver health care on broadband, you can lead a democracy on broadband! And in a country like ours, eliminating the sense of “out there” for any constituency makes for a healthier and more vibrant democracy. Finally, what better place to introduce a pilot project than at the first great convention of the party of 21st century progressive thinking; ours! I’d appreciate any participation in getting such a pilot off the ground, in order to provoke the development of a larger strategy, and to get the attention of those in the party who make these decisions.

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