Framed democracy: Democracy 2.0

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Every significant issue affecting society has many angles, sides and ways to interpret it — and only a 'framed democracy' can accommodate that sort of compromise, says Adam Jacoby.

MY CHILDREN ARE TOO YOUNG to understand what the winds of democratic change will bring them in the future.

They do not yet understand that the principles of a ‘voice for all’ and ‘a government that represents both the will and voice of the people’ are dying. They do not yet comprehend that government ‘for the people and by the people’ is an antiquated notion, hijacked and grotesquely distorted by influential minorities and the media.

My children may not yet appreciate the seriousness of the political decay in Australia — but they will.

For too long we have waited for the leaders of the day to raise the level of dialogue, remove partisanship as the central pillar of modern government and embrace the will of the people as the only truth that matters in representative government.

Self interest has replaced civic responsibility. Personal ambition has slayed long held values. Speaking for the people has been replaced by speaking to the people, or worse still, not speaking to the people at all.

All of this has been replaced by a snickering cynicism. We mistrust people in power and outside of election campaigns they treat us – the people who elected them – with veiled contempt and an assumption that we have neither the stomach nor the intellect to engage with the issues that affect our own lives.

Elevation to seats of power no longer hinge on capacity and vision, but rather money and outdated ideological party positions. Fear has replaced hope as the political currency of preference. The continuing pattern of vitriol in our parliaments uncover an elected group seemingly incapable of delivering the job that we hired them to do.

That we hired them to do.

We, the people, put these privileged few into power. In doing so, we bound them to a responsibility greater than their title, greater than their pension, greater than their place in history. We bound them to the welfare and civic health of all people in this country. All people. Not just the wealthy. Not just those in the cities. Not just those with white skin. Not just the males. Not just heterosexuals. Not just those born here. Not just those who own their own homes. Not just those who vote for their party.

We the people, all the people.

All the bloody people.

There is a better way. A fairer way. A way that can lead us from the age of political indifference to one of political empowerment.

Technology has unlocked the pathway to a better political model. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and countless other social digital platforms have validated what we always suspected.

Digital communities have power.

They can shape opinion, inform, educate, rally, support, express outrage and, most importantly, demonstrate the will of the people. The next inflection point in the timeline of democracy requires the delivery of outcomes rather than a battle cry for change.

Framed Democracy is the next inflection point in the democratic movement.

To understand the value of Framed Democracy, one must only accept that every significant issue affecting the constituency has many angles, sides and ways to interpret what it means, how to address it and what is fair.

Every issue has differences of opinion. None is absolutely right — nor wrong.

Party politics presumes that a fixed ideological position has the solution to all the problems and challenges we face. Members of the ALP, the Liberals and the Greens et al effectively acquiesce to the idea that the ideological tenets that underpin the party are the correct path on every occasion.

There are fiscally conservative humanitarians, liberally minded business leaders, blue collar conservatives and leading company CEO environmentalists. We are asked to choose to represent parts of ourselves while sacrificing others.

How can the voice of the people reign as the ultimate arbiter of good judgement when that very voice is torn and compromised?

Why must we accept that sophisticated, intelligent, pragmatic and humanitarian outcomes are too much to ask for? Why must we abandon a vision for Australia that can be a place that is prosperous and fair, generous and ambitious? Why can’t we lead the world in economic and humanitarian matters?

Framed Democracy gives each constituent the opportunity to voice their opinion on each issue. Previous positions are irrelevant. Party affiliations are forgotten. The only focus is the issue and the only thing that matters, your voice.

The eyebrows of sceptics are now raised and heads begin to shake — but Framed Democracy is up to the challenge of meeting your standards.

The direction that an informed constituency collectively chooses to take on any issue is different to the intricacies and nuances required for its legislative reform.

If we declare that we want to get from Melbourne to Sydney, there are many ways that we can get there. We can train, bus, drive, ride or fly. We can go inland or by the coast. We can look for the most comfortable route or the quickest.

It is the role of the people to select our destination. It is the role of the government to determine the best way to get us there given our resources, activities and conflicting requirements.

We must remember that, in a democracy, the value of any policy solution is relative to the objective of the majority of the constituency.

For example, the issue of asylum seekers has been an ongoing issue of political conflict and point scoring for decades. Passions run deep in the community on all sides of the issue.

Notice I did not say both sides.

Like many multi-stakeholder issues, the asylum seeker issue is complex and has many sides to it. 

The asylum seeker issue, like gay marriage, tax reform and many other issues can be framed from many perspectives: a national security frame, humanitarian frame, social and cultural frame, an environmental frame or a financial frame, to name a few.

These frames of thinking necessarily affect one's attitude to the various 'solutions' offered by the current political parties. Each frame has a set of distinct consequences that needs to be understood by the constituency.

Take the asylum seeker issue. The facts are black and white. However, the interpretation of these facts comes from the context, objective and filter with which we judge an outcome as being acceptable and for the good of society.

If your interest is in national security, then it would be difficult to accept the humanitarian views about on-shore processing as your priority is protecting the border and keeping potentially dangerous elements out of the country.

However, if you hold a humanitarian perspective, then it would be impossible to accept decisions about the lives of the asylum seekers made in the shadows of financial efficiency or border protection, as the life of the asylum seeker and Australia’s role as a global citizen is the central issue.

The frames approach simplifies the decision making process by narrowing the areas of compromise required in building a solution. If you know the particular frame that drives the constituency, then it makes it easier to add or subtract the various considerations for a final policy solution.

We are now breathing life into Framed Democracy and, in turn, democracy itself. What role will you play?

You can follow Adam Jacoby on Twitter @adamajacoby. Find out more about Framed Democracy by clicking hereFramed Democracy is holding a gathering of like minds at St Ali Cafe in Yarra Place, South Melbourne on Thursday 24 April 2014 (more details above).

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