Over the past year, Iceland has been using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to solicit suggestions from its citizens for provisions of a new constitution. Over the weekend, the groundbreaking social networking experiment reached a high point when 66 percent of voters agreed in a referendum to use the resulting crowd-sourced document as a framework for the country's new constitution. While the document must still be revised and passed by parliament before it becomes law, the crowd-sourcing move still "injected a strong dose of transparency" into the constitutional process. Here's what you should know:
How did Icelanders get this idea?
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland's overextended banking system failed, sending the government into turmoil. The country's original 1944 constitution was deemed antiquated, and the government elected 25 citizens to a Constitutional Council tasked with helping create the country's new governing document.
And the council asked the public for suggestions?
Yes. The council drafted an initial document, posted it online, and solicited comments and suggestions from Iceland's 235,000 voting-age citizens via Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. In addition, citizens were invited to virtually sit in on weekly council meetings via live webcast. As the year-long process wore on, the council would pore over citizens' suggestions, revise the proposed constitution, post status updates via YouTube, and then solicit more feedback on drafts of the document. Once the solicitation period was over, the final crowd-sourced document was put up for a vote. Icelanders were asked six questions about the draft, with perhaps the most important query being whether it should be the basis of the country's new constitution. On October 20 — 3,600 comments and 370 suggestions later — two-thirds of voters answered "yes" to that question.
Since the results of the referendum are non-binding, "it's now up to the Icelandic parliament to show it's taking this process seriously," says David Meyer at GigaOm. And although the next phase of the lawmaking process will undoubtedly take longer than it does to post a simple Facebook comment, expect a relatively short turnaround from parliament, as the constitution must be finalized before Iceland's next election in the spring of 2013. In fact, says lawmaker Valgerður Bjarnadóttir, if the draft bill is accepted, it could be ready for debate in two short weeks.