Iceland: crowd-sourcing the constitution

by Toby Manhire / 26 November, 2012
New Zealand could take a leaf out of the Nordic book, and pursue a reform based on citizenry, and the internet.

If the constitutional review under way in New Zealand – and covered in a major Listener feature last week – does decide a revamp is in order, what next?

How might citizens be properly involved in, engaged by the drafting of a constitution?

The first place to look is Iceland – another small, isolated, island nation. Last month Icelanders voted in a non-binding referendum for change. In Reuters’ summary: “Residents of Iceland have voted for their constitution to be rewritten in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis, electing to take greater control of natural resources such as fish and geothermal energy.”

The process has gained a lot of attention outside Iceland, however, for its genuine inclusiveness. The constitution, it’s said, has been “crowd-sourced”, with a special panel of 25 citizens drawing on conversations convened online.

From Reuters again:

The draft constitution was drawn up after deliberations by the 25 members of the council and after about 3,600 comments and 370 suggestions were made to the council's website. The council also used Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the public.

This was no sham consultation, either. Mashable explains:

The constitution council posted the first draft in April on its website and then let citizens comment via a Facebook Page. The council members are also active on Twitter, post videos of themselves on YouTube and put pictures on Flickr.

Thorvaldur Gylfason, a member of the constitutional council, told the Guardian:

“I believe this is the first time a constitution is being drafted basically on the internet. The public sees the constitution come into being before their eyes … This is very different from old times where constitution makers sometimes found it better to find themselves a remote spot out of sight, out of touch ...

“There's been a lot of goodwill for what we are trying to do. The public have added much to our debate. Their comments have been quite helpful and they have had a positive effect on the outcome."

Read more on NZ’s constitutional review, and join the debate, here.

New Zealand could take a leaf out of the Nordic book, and pursue an internet-based approach to reform.

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