August 27, 2007

Open Governance - Vini Vidi Vici (Second Life, BAWAG)

Some are skeptical that open governance can change things. I say, they just haven't seen it in action, and haven't really dug deep into the popular but less efficacious regulated alternative.

Two examples: Over on Second Life, a pretty obvious ponzi scheme called Ginko crashed and burned. It didn't do very quickly, but it did so with *plenty* of warning, so the lesson is there. Open governor Benjamin Duranske wrote:

Two weeks ago, when I started paying close attention to Ginko (full coverage here), a Second Life blogger (who I won’t name) emailed me this:
Ultimately, all do-gooders like yourself have to ask yourself what can be done *when Linden Lab itself will do nothing.*

That sounded like a challenge, and one that was worth taking up. And the answer to that question, it turns out, is “quite a bit.” Ginko is no more.


But what really opened depositors’ eyes? What caused the internal gears at Ginko to start turning a different direction? Talking to people. One to one. Day after day. We weren’t a few writers, we were hundreds of people ranging from newbies to three and four year residents, from bilingual users translating questions into their own language for fellow depositors with little English, to economics professors at major universities talking about issues that were over my head. We covered every segment of the Second Life populace. Some knew what was happening early, some figured it out later on, but all of us asked hard questions at the ATMs, pushed the hard issues to the front of the public’s attention, and didn’t accept lies — even well intentioned ones — as truths.

Over in BAWAG-struck Austria, Helga Seeliger sits in court and reads the law of open governance over the biggest scandal in Austrian finance. (No URL, the translation is mangled directly from a newspaper snippet from Der Standard):

On one seat, by the side of journalists, is a 67 year old Viennese woman who has not missed one day of proceedings, and that's the way it shall be until the verdict is delivered. Her name is Helga Seeliger.

She was the first pensioner in March to demand that the OeGB (Federation of Austrian Unions) continue to pay the enterprise pension that had been cancelled. For 25 years Seeliger was a union representative. For more than 10 years, she was a manager at the Union. Since April 2005, she was a pensioner. She started studying law in the 2000, and finished in 2005. Her favourite: business law.

She writes down all the questions, and all the answers. She writes it in shorthand. If asked, she explains her interest in BAWAG as being a stakeholder. "These testimonies, about how easily the union money was offered, are important for our process."

After the BAWAG crisis, the unions cancelled all the additional pensions for ex-workers, and offered them a single final payment that, depending on their age, was between 2.2 and 8.8 annual salaries. Those who didn't accept, didn't get anything.

The unions paid with this solution 60m euros. For Seeliger and her co-workers, this was too little. "You should not call it the BAWAG scandal, you should call it a union scandal."

When, on Monday, Judge Claudia Bandion-Ortnera will call the "Elsner and others" case, Seeliger will be sitting in the front row and will take her notebook out of her black briefcase and continue her work.

What does this achieve? It locks the court's options down, it preserves the justice. If a convenient settlement offers to emerge, it will only survive, knowing that someone who really cares will see all, record all, and tell all.

Open governance is that: In today's networked world, we can use many small observers to watch, write and share the information. All we need is the latin phrase to capture that, and we're set to conquer the world of governance.

(There is a Cartoon in der Standard by Oliver Schopf but it is not on his website as yet.)

Posted by iang at August 27, 2007 07:52 PM | TrackBack


I think what you're hinting at is the today's answer to the perennial "quis custodiet ipsos custodes"?

What scares me, though, is that the "open governance" motion will overshoot the point of balance for a while, and what we'll have is the phase of "vigilante governance".

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, indeed.

Posted by: Saso at September 17, 2007 12:00 AM
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