Open Source Campaigning

As part of the “We can’t turn them away” campaign, Dan Hardie has asked bloggers to post any responses they receive from MPs. Alistair Darling has replied to my letter… but only to say he will be investigating further, and will write again soon. When he does, I shall obviously post his response here.

The drive is an excellent example of Open Source Campaigning. ‘Open Source’ is a phrase taken from computer programming, where a group of programmers can all work on a project together. Tasks are itemised, and any programmer can take on an assignment from the list, complete it, and upload his code to the central source. Eventually a new version of the programme is available for release – usually for free.

The Iraqi asylum campaign fits the defintion for Open Source Campaigning for several reasons. It has a very specific policy objective, which lends itself very well to letter writing campaigns. The “list of tasks” does not even need to be written: Thanks to online tools such as WriteToThem.com and TheyWorkForYou.com we already have an available list of the MPs that need to be contacted. Individual bloggers and concerned citizens know exactly what is required of them, and the “ask” for each individual is actually very small – they just need to write a letter to their MP, and post the response. Those bloggers leading the campaign can take on the baton from there, calling to account any MPs who have given an ambiguous response, and lauding those MPs who have pledged their support to the campaign.

Meanwhile, Journalist Jay Rosen has been exploring the concept of Open Source Journalism. His recent article Blowback: The Journalism That Bloggers Actually Do has that meta-quality that I love. He has written a response to a curmugeonly article from Michael Skube in the LA Times, complaining that bloggers only give “opinion” and never do any fact finding. In response, Rosen lists many examples where bloggers have been fact-finders. Crucially (and here is the lovely ‘meta’ part) most of those examples were sent in by bloggers themselves.

Of course, most campaigns rely on some kind of public interaction to make them effective. I suppose what distinguishes an ‘appeal’ (such as the search for Madeline McGann, or a murder enquiry) is that not everyone can help with an ‘appeal’ as they can with an Open Source campaign. In the case of journalism, not everyone can provide researchers with an interesting story or case study for an article. But they can do a little piece of fact-finding research for an Open Source Article. All that is required is for the participants to care enough about the final outcome.

The next task for the “We Can’t Turn Them Away” campaign will be a honing excercise. Of all the MPs in the House of Commons, it is especially important to get comments and messages of support from those who have army regiments based in their constituency. The hive-mind needs to itemise every regiment who has worked in Basra (and therefore benefited from the local Iraqi workforce in some way), and then identify the relevant MP. For starters, it happens that none-other than Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague is the MP for the huge Catterick Garrison. Armed Forces Bill Committee Member and Home Affairs Committee Member Bob Russell is the MP for Colchester, another big army town. Have they been approached yet?

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