Pando Daily reports on SecondGov, an interesting new project led by American singer-songwriter Alex Ebert that recently won the inaugural Hackdance, a “celebrity-driven social impact hackathon” that took place in Park City, UT in January and is said to launch publicly “in a few weeks”:

That project, known as SecondGov, is a virtual government that Ebert and his team hope will act as an open platform and forum for discussion, experimentation, and, ultimately, meaningful change. Ebert was inspired by the UK’s Shadow Cabinet, an alternate government made up of members of the opposition party whose responsibility is to criticize the policies and actions of the acting government and to offer alternative policies. Think of it like a hybrid of Second Life and Change.org.

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The idea is that real people will run for office, such as the “SecondGoverner of California,” campaigning and being voted on by citizens of real California. Much like how Change.org has given US citizens a place to organize support around individual causes and demand governmental response, Ebert hopes SecondGov can eventually draw enough attention that the real government will have to respond.

“What happens when the SecondGoverner of California gets more votes than Jerry Brown?” Ebert asks. “What then? I think they’d have to at least take his ideas seriously, if not consider him the real governor.”

It’s an idealistic notion but one that is not as impossible as it seems. Much like write-in candidates can receive meaningful vote totals while seeming to exist outside the mainstream political system, so too could a SecondGov candidate build support and outline their platform in an experimental virtual government, before entering the offline election. With the built in virality and simplicity of mobile voting, SecondGov could realistically drive non-trivial levels of engagement.

SecondGov homepage

The website describes the project as follows:

SecondGov is an open online platform where ANYONE can propose, discuss, and vote on virtual policies to solicit change.

Adarsh Uppula, one of the participants in the hackathon, describes the idea in a blog post from January:

The idea of SecondGov was to create an online virtual government that aims to mimic the aspects of a real government but removes all the bureaucracy and inefficiencies in our real government. Talk about a big idea! […]

JeanCarl Bisson, another team member, shared this:

SecondGov

Given the end goal of wanting a virtual government that would reduce the bureaucracy that impairs the real government while giving each individual a voice and opportunity to participate in real democracy, our team started brainstorming what an app would look like that could solve this problem.

We went to work designing a way to propose new policies that anyone could easily contribute to. Democracy is only as strong as the voices being heard. But the problem is, anything can be proposed. So an up/down voting system filters good and bad ideas respectively. You can also comment on each policy, creating an open dialogue for all to join.

Kyle Clegg, a third team member, wrote this:

The goal of the platform is to provide an open system for proposing governmental change without all the bureaucracy and pessimism. Ideas are then voted, vetted, and refined, with the most popular suggestions rising to the top. While most people don’t bother voicing their opinions on government because of little hope it will ever be heard, SecondGov provides the platform to test out ideas in a virtual world without the worry of what can or can’t be accomplished. Ultimately, proven, popular ideas from SecondGov can be taken (with their tens or hundreds of thousands of upvotes) to the real government to make real change happen.

In their final pitch presentation, team SecondGov demonstrated integration of a virtual reality environment, SMS voting and more. The discussion with the judges and the audience also touches upon some of the expected challenges of connecting this virtual platform to actual policy making. The full video is available on Youtube.

Quoting again from the Pando Daily article:

Ebert continues, saying, “Our hope is that SecondGov becomes an institution, like the Shadow Cabinet, that exists to peaceably and safely vet ideas, challenge reality, and enact change. Currently, virtual reality and make believe are relegated to escapism. We want to turn it into an app that benefits reality. We hope to be like the cold water that wakes people up and galvanized participation.”

Worth watching.

Hat tip to Christopher Allen via Facebook.