Bill Ury, Program on Negotiation at the Berkman Center today

We’re very fortunate to have Bill Ury and several of his colleagues from the Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation here at the Berkman Center today.   Bill Ury’s focused on the idea of “e-Parliament,” a means of “helping humanity get to YES.”  Ury knows a lot about this topic: he’s co-author of the long-time bestseller, “Getting to Yes.”  His work overlaps with ours on the issue of thinking about governance.  We’re both interested in how decision-making and conflict resolution happens in a world joined by the global, public, unitary network that we call the Internet.  We’re grateful that Prof. Roger Fisher, Prof. Frank Sander, PON Managing Director Susan Hackley and others from HLS, UMass, and elsewhere made the effort to participate.

The e-Parliament idea is to create a global network of parliamentarians, fueled by online tools.  The project would involve an online repository for ideas, building “unlikely coalitions” (in the words of Cong. Barney Frank, speaking of this project), and improving collaborative decision-making across national boundaries.  They have a list of 17,000 – 18,000 parliamentarians (of the approximately 25,000 in the world).  They imagine global hearings on common problems, like HIV/AIDS, energy and conflict prevention.  Their goal: nothing short of “reinventing participatory global democracy.”  Despite, or perhaps because of, this ambitious goal, they’re starting out under the radar screen and looking 10+ years out.

For me, the hard question raised by this project is how to tap into, and build onto, the networks that are already developing on a global level around issues and to use this process and wisdom to improve global and local decision-making.  It’s happened for years on usenet groups, and more, today, than ever, in the Weblogs space.  There’s work in the Online Dispute Resolution space that’s relevant.  If this project is “just another thing to do” for parliamentarians where they hear from one another, even on a global level, then the prospect seems relatively dim; if it’s a way to tap into the wisdom of the smart mobs, to pick up on Yossi Vardi’s “Edge v. Hub” lecture of yesterday, it has a long-term chance of extraordinary impact.

So, of those 25,000 parliamentarians, is it realistic to think that you could get 2,500 to respond to an e-mail to say they’re interested in HIV/AIDS?  Then 250 who’d give you an hour a week and come to a meeting a year on HIV/AIDS?  And 25 catalysts who would give you an “on-call” commitment and meet up 4 – 5 times per year in person on HIV/AIDS?  [Geoffrey Kirkman adds the question: do you care who those 25 or 250 or 2,500 are, in terms of male/female, urban/rural, progressive/conservative, etc.?]  And if that’s the math for parliamentarians, what’s the math for ordinary citizens?

2 thoughts on “Bill Ury, Program on Negotiation at the Berkman Center today

  1. Very good precis, John. The point that emerged out of the presentation that I found most interesting was the notion that technology may lead to a reinvention of not only what a parliament is and how it works, but possibly even democracy itself. I had my hand up when we ran out of time– what I wanted to add was that the internet removes many of the constraints that have shaped the development of our current tools for social deliberation and decision (geographic limitations, chronological limitations, bureaucratic pathways for information dissemination) so that once we start to experiment with how democratic and deliberative bodies can operate in cyberspace we’ll be able to experiment with new capabilities that are impractical if not impossible in the f2f world. This will allow for a level of participation and government responsiveness that was inconceivable just a decade ago. Who knows where these tools will end up — maybe in our cell phones, as some in the meeting asserted — but a big, future-oriented infrastructure-building project like the e-parliament is exactly what we need to best prepare for these emerging capabilities, so that when we reach the point when these tools are mature enough for society as a whole to utilize them we’ll have laid the foundation for their use.

    A few sites that might be of interest to attendees:
    http://www.odr.info (the Center for Information Technology and Dispute Resolution at UMass-Amherst)
    http://www.publicdisputes.org (The Online Public Disputes Project)
    http://www.odrnews.com/umass (eDemocracy and Conflict Resolution, the course I teach at UMass-Amherst)

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