Steve Andrews thinks Whistler can apply an open source concept to Municipal Hall in order to open up local government to the people in the community.
In the process, said Andrews, the Resort Municipality of Whistler could be a trailblazer in the open source movement by creating one of the first truly transparent and accountable processes in the world.
That was the message of a talk by Andrews last Wednesday (Feb. 20) as part of the Whistler Museum’s speaker series called Collaborative Communities: How the Open-Source Movement Can Transform Society.
Freelance writer, creative consultant and a candidate for council in the last municipal election, Andrews argued for a sea change in how the resort municipality communicates with the community.
“The main premise of my platform is to open up Municipal Hall to people because the chief complaint I hear from everybody — a lot of people in this community — is that the local government has a brick wall around it and it is tough to get anything done efficiently and smoothly and get the response that the collective mindset is expecting,” he said.
The open source movement is not new, and has been changing the way people in society communicate as more people gain access to the Internet over the past decade.
“There are all these organizations and they can usually get away with things because the communication only happens in one direction, but now with the Internet and in the last 10 years we are seeing a huge change in the ability of the masses to communicate with a central source,” Andrews said, adding the repercussions are significant and are changing the way we interact. “For the first time in human history we are all interconnected through the Internet.”
Examples of open source applications include Linux, Twitter, Wikipedia, Wordpress and the human genome project to name a few.
Essentially, he said, the open source movement changes the way information flows from a traditionally top down communication structure to more of a ripple effect. Andrews said the ripple is more representative of how people interact in society when “something happens and it spreads out and goes into what I call the field of human creativity and knowledge.”
With the Internet challenging traditional information control mechanisms, Andrews said the time is right to harness open source as a paradigm to change municipal politics in Whistler. He said the open source principle basically means anybody can access any information any time and anybody can contribute to that information.
“That is basically the model I think we can set for a better democracy because the current iteration of what we call democracy still has its barriers and roadblocks for progress because it requires control mechanisms in place,” he said.
Open source, Andrews said, is a grassroots movement that relies upon the power of people. He noted part of the challenge to pushing such a movement forward is that those who are in power, and control information, want to keep it that way.
“But when everyday people are in control that is flip flopping that whole power structure and then the people who are in leadership positions can do their role of service instead of control and dictation,” he said.
While the paradigm puts forward open, free, decentralized and efficient communication, it also has limits and requires the average person to be informed, engaged and take responsibility instead of sitting back and watching leaders make decisions then complaining about it, said Andrews.
Andrews argued the RMOW is often seen as an external entity, when it is in fact “our town, our community and we are all a part of that organization.”
He was critical of the municipal government as a “self-serving entity of secrecy and trade secrets, that need protection for whatever interests that serves.”
That, Andrews said, is the reason why the community should push for change.
“This is an opportunity for us to be the starting point for something new and I find that really exciting,” he said. “If we can change the organization and we can make it more efficient using these principles — then perhaps we can have an effect on local government throughout the world or throughout even Canada.
“If we can show a system that works in our little town I think heads will turn and people will pay attention and we can be leaders in this paradigm.”
As for what an open source municipal government would look like, Andrews did not have a specific proposal, but said as a grassroots community movement it is up to Whistler residents to define what it should be.
He added the point of his talk was to say the RMOW is going a bad job, but that it could be more informed if it opened up communication. He noted the muni does want feedback from the community, but how it seeks it out is not up to date with our capacity and technology as a society.