Using Wiki to Draft Laws

by Roger Alford

Now this story from the New York Times Magazine is what I call an innovative idea for lawmaking:

When the New Zealand police force said they were open to suggestions about how to rewrite national policing laws, they meant it. In September, they posted the 1958 Police Act online and invited Kiwis and non-Kiwis alike to visit the site and type in their own revisions to the law — extending the concept of “Wiki”-style collaborative writing from encyclopedias to democracy.

“The idea was to take something that’s inherently dry and intellectual” like law reform, explains Superintendent Hamish McCardle, who is in charge of the review, “and transfer it to something that’s cool and innovative” — like Web 2.0.

By making the Wiki open to anyone who cared to participate, the police force hoped to make it easy for international law and policing experts to weigh in, as well as those one million or so New Zealand citizens living abroad. Of course, all of that interactivity yielded its share of unconventional ideas. McCardle’s favorite is one submitted by a user who requested that the name of the police force be changed to “The New Zealand Yum-Yum Teddy Bear Strike Force Z.” That particular suggestion was quickly edited out. Other bold ideas made it into the final Wiki document, like a suggestion to increase the minimum police recruitment age to 25, since the human brain is not fully developed until then.

Despite the novelty of the Wiki process, McCardle is quick to point out that plenty of old-fashioned checks and balances are in place. The Wiki follows a traditional review process and will culminate in a document that will advise, rather than mandate, Parliament in its decisions regarding the Police Act.

If you want to see the final product, it is available at the New Zealand Wiki Police website here and here.

I wonder whether this approach could be used in drafting treaties?

3 Responses

  1. Web-based dialogue to draft anything has advantages and disadvantages. One difficulty with this kind of remote work is that it is possible for forces of a certain persuasion to coalesce or organize unseen to push the drafting in a certain direction. So the need becomes for the persons at the center of the process to be able to be aware of the possibility of coopting the process in this manner. One of the great things about this is the beneficial effect for those who do not participate in terms of making suggestions but who participate in reading what others have done. It helps to inform persons about the development. This assumes that the topic is one that is of interest to people.

    As to treaties, I would agree that the conference type settings could be simplified by having this online but the walking down the hall pressing the flesh type of negotiator would be disadvantaged as compared to the person who is happy debating online. So what would happen is that the negotiators for a country would have to be determined based on online as opposed to/in addition to offline skill sets. Since we of my age are – as someone said – tourists in a digital land while our children are more natives of that land there are some of us who will be disadvantaged. But, if it is any comfort, we are dying out like dinosaurs.



  2. The people have always been able to participate directly in drafting the text of laws. You just make a $100,000 campaign contribution and then you get to add your own earmark or tax loophole. Rather than set up a wiki, Congress should set up something like Amazon. “Lobbyists who purchase a setaside like this are also interested in…”

  3. Interesting to note similar suggestions made during the French presidential campaign, notably by Ségolène Royal’s side. The idea of a “wiki-constitution” was tossed around a lot, to various reactions. Seems like ‘the Wiki’ may soon become a real tool of law-drafting.

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