This is an update of the post I wrote on crowdsourced constitutional reform in 2011. Constitution-making can be broadly defined as a set of activities intended to produce a constitution, the highest law of a state. To the UN Rule of Law, constitution-making “covers both the process of drafting and substance of a new constitution, or reforms of an existing constitution”.
Over the last five years, crowdsourced constitution making initiatives have been deployed in 15 countries across the world: Iceland, Kenya, Ghana, Somalia, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Malawi, Zambia, Yemen, Nepal, Fiji, Ecuador, and Bolivia (see the USIP Report on “New Technologies for Constitution Making”). The Chilean government has just announced its plan to launch in September 2015 “a new, citizens-driven process to create a new constitution”.
To be sure, these participatory processes are not new in constitution making. South Africa or Uganda, among other countries, launched participatory campaigns to collect public input for their new constitutions in the 1990s.
So what is in between of these two decades of participatory constitution making? The rapid, unprecedented adoption of mobile technologies and social media. In the effort to make constitution making as participatory as possible, this new wave of crowdsourced initiatives have all taped on social media (and, wherever Internet connections were fragile, e-mail and text messages) to collect comments from the public. In most cases, and regardless of the final number of participants, thousands of comments were posted and eventually collected.
Crowdsourced constitution making allows people to comment, “like” or vote articles in a constitutional draft. The processes typically rely on online deliberation over a draft that is elaborated elsewhere, usually by a constitutional commission. But the impact of such deliberative processes on the final outcome is yet to be fully understood and requires a case-by-case analysis.
An alternative to crowdsourcing the deliberation process could be microtasking the constitution itself. Microtasking is a process consisting of defining a relatively complex task and dividing it into smaller and independent micro-tasks. When it comes to constitutions, this process could be relatively straightforward since they are already divided into sections and articles. People could take these articles and amend, modify, or rewrite them at their will. In this paper we propose a task-oriented approach to crowdsource the drafting of a constitution and we consider some of the challenges that such a process would face. But further research would also require to tackle substantive issues on how to coordinate the crowd itself: (i) motivation; (ii) incentives to participate; (ii) relevance and quality of the contributions; (iii) monitoring spam and sabotage attempts, etc. The ultimate challenge is how to engage the crowds’ collective wisdom in drafting such a high-impact legal document as a national constitution.