I’m making my way through a sample chapter of a promising book by Henry Farrell and Cosma Shalizi on the idea of Cognitive Democracy. In it, they offer a defense of democracy as the optimal mechanism for using diverse viewpoints in arriving at optimal democratic decisions. New media promises to provide avenues for deliberating, adjudicating and aggregating these public decisions (alliteration unintended).

I’m reading this because I’m interested in the question of civic hacking, or using new technology to solve commons problems. While I’m at an early stage with my work, I’m curious to see how they reconcile how citizen input can be used (e.g. “hacked”) to produce optimal decisions with the question of how and whether those “hacked” citizen-driven solutions confront entrenched interest invested in suboptimal outcomes.

To me, this is the great challenge of the “civic hacking” movement that emphasizes using data to optimize government decision making. A “civic hacking” ethos operates from a rational perspective on human and institutional behavior, one that assumes that policy differences result from ignorance. But a great deal of recent work in psychology finds that policy conflict is not remedied by exposure to “the truth,” rather it becomes more entrenched.

Of interest to me is how “civic hacking” that seeks to either improve government services (e.g. traffic patterns, bus routes) differs from “civic hacking” that uses data to challenge government decisions?