Iceland Crowdsources its Constitution

Published Mar-04-13

Iceland turns to the crowd for ideas on how to run the country.

Iceland's Constitutional Council, Iceland

The Story:

Iceland Crowdsources its Constitution Open innovation is founded on two fundamental precepts – that a problem has already been solved somewhere else in the world and that organisations can access expertise beyond their borders (smarter people work for other companies). The crowd has helped to design new products, solve R&D challenges, point out product weaknesses, and even shape a new constitution.

The financial crisis of 2008 brought Iceland to its knees and saw the collapse of its banks and government. The public lost faith in the political process as stories circulated of alleged corruption among the political and business elites.

Amid the chaos an opportunity was spotted; to rewrite the constitution and get citizens to share their ideas about what it should contain.

Creating a New Constitution

The constitution of Europe’s most sparsely populated state dates back to 1944 when it gained independence from Denmark. It was essentially a carbon copy of the Danish constitution except for a few minor adjustments.

So in 2011 and 2012 Iceland turned to the crowd using a combination of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Members of a constitutional council posted draft clauses of the constitution on its website every week for a few months. Anybody could send in comments and suggestions to the site as well as discuss issues on social media networks.

“I believe this is the first time a constitution is being drafted basically on the internet,” said Thorvaldur Gylfason, member of Iceland's constitutional council, in an interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper. “The public sees the constitution come into being before their eyes.”

The proposed constitution reflected a desire among the population not to suffer a similar crisis to what befell them in 2008, and to limit the powers of those who were blamed for it.

In July 2011 the Constitutional Council presented its draft to Parliament. It consisted of 114 articles that had been put together with feedback from the various social media sites.

Icelanders Approve Draft Constitution

Then in October 2012, a referendum was held to see if the electorate wanted the revised constitution. More than 50% of those eligible to vote took part and the result was a clear majority in favor of the draft constitution.

The referendum was not legally binding and opinion across the political spectrum is divided about what to do. There are those who believe that giving people a real say in how the country is run will reinvigorate interest in politics among disenchanted voters. Then there are others who prefer that changes to the constitution are worked on in Parliament before presenting them to voters.

However the politicians decide to handle the new constitution, changes will not happen overnight. They have to be approved by two parliaments, with a general election held between.

People Power

Passionate believers in open government hope that ‘the world’s first crowdsourced constitution’, as it was dubbed by the media, will be an example that’s taken up by other countries around the world.

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