Wiki enabled laws, regulations and procedures

This is a rewrite of a post published on the ‘Unburden’ blog in 2010. I still think a lot remains relevant today.


I’ve been reading an interesting book: “Here comes everybody”, written by Clay Shirky. You can find his blog here. You may want to visit and read some of his writings… they’re excellent material for thought. I want to focus on his ideas on the new face of collaborative efforts enabled by the internet.

Wiki Law

So, one of the chapters in his book deals with the new types of collaborative effort which are being enabled by the internet. He tells the story of the development of Wikipedia … which got me thinking one of my not really original but synthetic thoughts, recombining several things I learned/heard/understood in different places: can we develop a wiki law? Can we use wiki based collaboration across a broad spectrum of participants in order to optimize, rework and enhance an existing body of law, or even a body of regulations in an organizational structure?

The Wiki Law Assumption

There is one big assumption in all of this, and that’s that Linus’ Law holds for laws and regulations as well. Linus’ law states that “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow,” and is applicable in a software development environment. More formally, it states that “Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix will be obvious to someone.”
Consider that for a second: the more people you have to look at an issue, the larger the experience base we bring, the more obvious the solution will be. If that goes for software development, I can see an application of this on laws and regulations as well. It would actually be contrary to the ways a lot of current laws are being developed. The concept is agreed upon and a lone administrative responsible needs to develop the law, often injecting their own vision and interpretation. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, but let’s be clear, it’s certainly not always a good thing either. If only one pair of eyeballs are looking on, perhaps it pays to bring in more eyeballs.

Human rules means humans rule

One of the key challenges in any type of law or regulation is to make it understandable to all those who will be influenced or implicated by it. In essence, it’s about bringing legislation or regulations down to a more human level. Human rules allow Humans to rule.
Bringing in ideas, views, vision, experience from different places and allowing people to participate in the development of a law or a regulation or even a set of procedures will at least provide the one responsible for the final development with different views and sources of input, and probably with some ideas on solutions to problems he did not even know existed.

A practical case for a wiki regulations

Now, how could we go about it? I’m developing this as an idea for an organization developing a set of regulations and procedures, but it could well be applied to a broader audience when talking about the development of a law as well.

Imagine setting up set up a wiki in which the existing and older, deprecated regulations are published, with the opportunity for all interested collaborators to ‘optimize’ this regulation or set of procedures, to rewrite them, make them more understandable, more relevant, more effective …
I would refrain from tackling the larger bodies of regulations and procedures, but start with something small and see whether we could rework the procedure to a better, more understandable, accessible way of functioning. What would be asked of the participants is a honest intent to optimize.

Taking it a step further

What if we would extend this to new regulations or laws? What if we would publish, in the same wiki, the intent of a specific law, perhaps with a structure attached, or minimal conditions in case this involves the translation of an EU directive … and if we would ask the public to assist in developing this law?
Would we end up with better laws? Would we end up with less administrative burden? Would we end up with better optimized administrations, which are often the first victims of yet another new law?
I’m not a lawyer, but why not?