“Oh, if only government went in for an open source make-over…”

That’s what Yule Heibel wrote in a comment over at Doc Searls‘ “Understanding Infrastructure” column on 4/19 at Linux Journal. Yule’s plaint followed the kind of laundry list everyone has, and which most have given up on:

Here in Victoria, we’re looking at a $1.2 billion infrastructure project for sewage treatment, and the 2 levels of government (local and provincial) are feuding because both say that the other side didn’t tell them about information that was wanted. Walled garden? It’s a bloody fortification…

Then there are those infrastructures that are supposed to support social programs, including mental hospitals and detox facilities — they’re not working, either, and our homeless now include not only poor people, but people who should be in some pipeline of institutional support because they’re mentally ill or addicted (or both, typically).

It all gets off- or downloaded to citizens now, as if we could individually step into the breach, without infrastructural support.

Maybe government is where we need open source most of all — as a way of thinking and as a way of “architecting” infrastructure.

My three readers (fortunately including Doc) know that this Open Source Society theme has been my meme for time out of mind, and that I call it OSS2, differentiating it from Open Source Software, or OSS1.

Another of my readers is Phil Windley, a “republican friend” whom Doc refers to in his reply to Yule’s despairing comment:

Thanks, Yule. You’ve made my week. Or perhaps longer.

I am taken lately with the belief that understanding infrastructure is critical not only for building and maintaining civilization’s essentials, but for bridging chasms of opinion that make constructive discourse impossible.

A few years ago a republican friend from Utah said two things that have stuck in my mind. One was “There are two parts to democracy. Elections and governance. And governance is where the work actually gets done.” The other was, “Most people, regardless of political philosophy, just want the roads fixed.”

At Berkman, over two years ago, I wrote:

What about an Open Source Society? Only the first exists, but we can imagine two OSS movements:

OSS1 = Open Source Software (a result, but also a movement)

OSS2 = Open Source Society (a dream that needs movement)

And they both need organizational tools. OSS1 has a perfect match of organizational needs and organizational tools because the developers wrote them as they became a movement. SourceForge and Trac are great examples. OSS1 wouldn’t exist without the community’s organizational tools. But there’s more. OSS1 Developers use dozens of disparate tools and websites to organize their work…

…But the developers of OSS2, whose work we desperately need, to escape from the political specialists who’ve hijacked governance, don’t behave like that. The OSS2 developers we seek to serve are ready and able to form groups and describe their pain and hopes. But, just like OSS1 developers, they need an organizing environment suitable to their skills: a collaboration mall with all the tools they might need as they become more engaged.

I called it a collaboration mall because the Open Source Society engineers are regular people, who won’t even blog, unless tricked into it, and need a UI as user-friendly as the malls that have worked so well, regardless of sophisticates’ sniffing at them as proletarian.

OSS2 engineers are people who don’t know they need to collaborate to re-engineer society, and sure won’t if you tell us that’s what you want from us.

But if some of us are persistent enough to build hundreds of expandable little collaboration malls, located where they (we) will try them and engage our neighbors and find it easy to shop for hope there, then we’ll become the unwitting designers and producers of little patches on our governmental structures. Taken together, all those patches can comprise a Patchy government OS, as resilient and resourceful as Geronimo.

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