Mexico City crowdsources its constitution

Signal of change / Mexico City crowdsources its constitution

By Callum Watts / 16 May 2016

Mexico City is carrying out a unique experiment in democracy; crowdsourcing the contents of its new constitution. Using Change.org and a specially designed publishing platform, residents can contribute to the drafting process and petition to have their legislative suggestions included in the final draft.

Mexico City has previously been governed as the Distrito Federal, due to its status as the seat of the federal government. This means it has had little governance input from its actual citizens. But the city has recently been successful in bringing back some control into the hands of its citizens, and has taken a pioneering approach to drafting its new constitution. The Mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera, writes that “[we] are initiating a new stage in our city, based on a constitution which agrees with our values and aspirations, which will be the product of an extensive consultative and deliberative process.”

So what?

Large populations and fractured publics mean that real democratic participation can seem all but impossible in the modern metropolis. Even the ancient Greeks worried that a city could never be well governed if its population was so large that its citizens could not directly participate in public affairs. But Mexico City, home to over 9 million people, is using new technology and imaginative approaches to law making to include its whole population in creating its founding legal text. This could re-invigorate civic participation in public affairs, as well circumventing the drawbacks of representative government.

However there are certain hurdles a project like this will need to surmount for it to be succesful. Firstly the authorities need to make sure that the iniative is visible and accessible enough to encourage broad participation, especially if they are to avoid too much selection bias. Secondly, there needs to be a way to effectively and fairly sort contributions. In order to address this second issue, the leaders of the project are attempting to rank content based on various online interaction metrics - but these techniques are untested in this context, and there is no guarantee that they will prioritize issues in an appropriate way. Finally there is the issue of how much influence the crowd-sourced input actually has on the final constitution. In this case, all suggestions remain non-binding on the drafting committee, whether made in person during an audience or submitted via the platform - so the final decision ultimately rests in the hands of an elite.

This suggests that the process is potentially flawed, but could still produce an interesting outcome. As the first attempt at crowd-sourcing a constitution, it is an ambitious experiment in the power of the internet to transform democratic politics.

Image credit: Eneas De Troya / Flickr

Sources

City of Mexico constitution site (March 30, 2016) Message from the Mayor

Quartz (April 21, 2016) Mexico City is crowdsourcing its new constitution using Change.org in a democracy experiment

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

Thank you for your write-up, Callum. I was reading on the latest about this - it looks like as of October 2016, the public consultation and open-sourcing phase of the Constitution is over. You pose a great question, on whether the final decision will remain in the hands of the elite. I don't quite know yet but one development holds some promise to me: the Constitution may include a provision on basic income, reflecting a growing public interest in a citizen's income. To read more: http://basicincome.org/news/2016/09/mexico-mexico-city-constitution-may-include-basic-income/
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