Neither small nor big, but local

Brian Brown considers the future of governance.

This “localist” trend is beginning to reshape American politics as well. Among its other flaws, the rational planning model was based on the mistaken notion that science could be substituted for the practical knowledge of ordinary citizens. But the social sciences have simply never come close to approaching the physical sciences in their explanatory or predictive power. They cannot grasp or manage some of the most basic variables in public policy, including the human need for ownership over our stake in society — that is, the needs for belonging and participation. As a 2009 report for the James Irvine Foundation puts it, people “want the opportunity to be more than passive audience members whose social activism is limited to writing a check.” And as Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone (2000), has documented, communities whose citizens feel a sense of local empowerment report (among other things) better local government, less crime, and faster economic growth. Many citizens are more inclined to participate even in the most basic act of civic life — voting — when a particular issue seems to directly affect them, and they are convinced they can affect it back.

This is not far from something Michael Ignatieff briefly tried to articulate as Liberal leader. More concretely, this idea would seem to be central to the open data movement.

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