Fate put me in the city of St. Louis, Missouri as its decades-old system of racially- and economically-segregated apartheid finally boiled over on a sunny Saturday in August. Every tension I had felt, straining the bedrock and groaning ominously, finally revealed itself as people filled the streets and the police attempted to regain absolute control of the situation using military-grade weaponry. The world brought its attention on this city for the first time since the 1904 World’s Fair, and instead of ice cream and hot dogs, it was introduced to racist policing and a breakdown in democratic institutions.
In September of 2014, Governor Jay Nixon convened the Ferguson Commission to look at the future of the city with regards to the obvious flaws that could be obscured no longer. The Commission has been charged with providing calls to action around how to change St. Louis so that this situation of poverty and racial inequity can at last be allowed to heal. Over the past year, the group has identified nearly 200 concrete ways to improve this city and to bring prosperity and justice to its inhabitants through reforms of the school systems, hospitals, police, and transportation infrastructure. These recommendations and the true stories of the dignified citizens of St. Louis are available at http://forwardthroughferguson.org/
I am proud to say that Competitive Futures is providing trend research and analysis in support of the mission, and that I am acting as an adviser to their process of democratic foresight. When I learned that this “report” was not going to be a single document, but a digital experience that would grow over time, I realized that the implications of the Ferguson Commission will reverberate far beyond the confluence of these three rivers. This is not just a report on a single city, and certainly not a rehash of the tragic meeting of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. This is instead a brand new way for citizens to interact around the most important issues in our democracy.
It is ironic that in an era that where we have portable and even wearable information technologies, more and more democratic influence is being concentrated in the hands of a few. Essentially, this is an information problem, the capture of data about our democracy by a small number of elected officials, technocrats, and special interests. This is a national problem, but on the local level it has manifested in the law enforcement edifice of Ferguson, Missouri which knew that white citizens were more likely to have contraband in their automobiles, but chose to pull over black residents over 90% of the time. Now that this data is available, there is a public outcry and a government response.
What if all of our civic issues could be managed that way?
Governments everywhere have a knowledge management problem in the mobile Internet age. Their data is stuck in Excel spreadsheets and PDFs, optimized for downloading and printing instead of sharing and discussing. Go check out the Ferguson Commission report. Every story and every call to action is tagged according to a taxonomy that highlights the goals of the Commission, and each is ready to share on the social network of your choice with ready made preview cards. This is not a report to sit on a desk, but a center of dialogue that can grow and deepen to spark conversations all over Missouri and beyond.
Government is going to finally reach the era of Wirearchy and the implications will be broad-reaching.