We had a pretty historic election here last Saturday that has received a considerable amount of international attention. In case you missed it, Iceland had a referendum on whether or not to have a new constitution introduced to parliament. This referendum also included whether or not to have a clause about protecting our natural resources, whether “one person = one vote” should be the law of the land, and whether people not affiliated with any political party should be given a better shot at getting a seat in parliament. While only 49% of those eligible to vote did so, about two-thirds of them said “Yes” to a new constitution.
That’s a big deal, and as an Icelandic citizen, I’m proud to have taken part in this election and proud of the choice many of my fellow Icelanders made.
What I’m not real proud of is how a great too many international news outlets have been reporting on this election. Over and over again, I keep seeing the foreign press referring to this as “Iceland’s crowdsourced constitution.” Major media sources – among them the New York Times, Wired, and CNET – all tossed around this buzzword in describing the constitutional draft.
Calling Iceland’s constitutional draft “crowdsourced” is wrong. As in, not right, factually inaccurate, and untrue. The draft of Iceland’s new constitution was not “crowdsourced”. It was not essentially written by average folks through Facebook and Twitter and then translated into legalese by a team of experts. It just wasn’t, no matter how much you yearn to throw around these buzzwords and catchphrases. Really.
So let me attempt to set the record straight, here, once and for all, about where Iceland’s constitutional draft came from and how the average Icelander participated in it.
First of all, there’s the Constitutional Council. This is a group of 25 people who were appointed by the Prime Minister last year for the task of writing a draft of a new constitution. They were initially elected, but the Supreme Court declared the elections invalid due to some technical abnormalities. Once set to the task, the council got to work on writing a draft.
Second, we have the drafting process. This is probably where the “crowdsource” meme arose. During the drafting process, the council set up a webpage where they fielded suggestions from the general public about things they would like to see in the draft. However, the draft itself was not written by the Average Jón and Guðrún – it was written by the council, taking the suggestions from the public under advisement.
Third, the draft has been handed over to parliament, where elected officials will go over it further, and – as parliamentarians are wont to do – will likely make even more changes. It’s democratic, certainly, but crowdsourcing it ain’t.
Now, if you want to talk about actual examples of crowdsourcing in Iceland, you would do well to check out 2009’s National Assembly, wherein average folks from around the country gathered to have a dialogue about what kind of society they wanted to create. Other, more immediate, examples would be Betri Reykjavík (Better Reykjavík), a website created by the capital that fields ideas directly from its residents and – with enough e-votes – an idea proffered by a regular ol’ person will be put before city council.
I don’t mean to downplay the role of the average Icelander in this, mind you. The fact that the council opened themselves to suggestions is significant. But far, far too many times, the international media has overstated the struggle we’re engaging in here in Iceland, leading to well-meaning but very misinformed people – among them even Naomi Klein – in need of a point-by-point correction, as Grapevine’s managing editor Anna Andersen once provided.
So in the interests of fairness to the work the council did – as well as in the interests of just being accurate – we cannot call the draft “crowdsourced”, and I really wish the foreign media would stop doing so.