Information technology is revolutionizing everything it touches, so what effect will it have on government?  How can society unlock the information dispersed among its citizens so that it can make better decisions collectively?

John McGinnis's new book, Accelerating Democracy, tries to answer some of these tough questions. McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern University, argues that technology, properly used, can help people evaluate the success or failures of public policies. It can also discourage them from making foolish choices and help them make wise ones.

Volumes of new information now being released by governments will kickstart this revolution. More powerful computers will allow researchers to look at huge amounts of data about past policy and better determine what works and what doesn't. With better tools, we can assess the effect of policies better — and also simulate the effects of future policies.  All that data will make it easier for citizens to counter the influence of interest groups.

To do this, McGinnis argues that we need to let the computational revolution "wash through our democracy."  To further this end, governments should create decentralized structures that help create and use big data.  For example, data from the success or failure of charter schools could help us create better schools. And more information about government earmarks would make it more difficult to promote pork-barrel legislation.

McGinnis believes that "information-rich politics" is particularly necessary to counteract the potential risks created by new technologies, such as environmental degradation and weapons of mass destruction. "Only a democracy capable of assimilating facts will be able to navigate the policy rapids ahead,” he writes. “A society's capacity for learning must match its capacity for change."

An introduction is also available for download.


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