It has been a while since I posted, almost 2 weeks I took some time to think and ponder and be on digital sabbatical. I would say it worked about 60% of the time and in my case that is an improvement. Breaking the digital sabbatical with a guest post by one my friends and Software Developer, Hacker and just a great guy, James Robb. I first got connected with James, through one my colleagues in GreenQloud, Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson and through a job application James had sent GreenQloud through our support system :). Helgi moved on to become the first Member of Parliament who could write Code and James started working with me on GreenQloud. I have always enjoyed the conversations, debates and discussions around advocacy, governance, management and leadership with James. When he told me about this open source project that is actually going to create a connection between laws that are passed in the parliament and the common man in a simple, intuitive way I jumped to ask him to write a blog post about it. And so he did… here is the post about an open source project like no other, it actually enables authenticated Yay or Nay for every bill that is being passed in the Parliament. It has a great name in Icelandic, I will let James introduce you to it. These kinds of projects really excite me if you want to find out why read Fred Wilson‘s Blog post on the Dentist Office Software Story
Öryggisventill, or Safety Valve, in it’s most basic of explanations, is software that allows a group of relevant individuals to support, oppose, or gauge contention on issues. What does this mean practically? To give the most prominent example so far, Safety Valve is being used to allow the Icelandic public to support or oppose all bills and motions being put through Alþingi (Icelandic Parliament). You can check this out at https://www.ventill.is/.
I know what you are thinking. This has been done before, right? There are tons of different pieces of petition software online. Well, yes, this is true. There is a lot of different forms of petition software online, what is different though, is that we have advanced on the idea of petition software in many ways. Notably, in our setup with the Alþingi, is that the signatures we collect are essentially authenticated and guaranteed. We have tied in with the Íslykill (Ice Key) service provided by the Icelandic government. Through this we have users authenticate themselves against the national registry when casting their support or opposition on an issue. This adds a whole new dimension to being able to collect a legitimate measurement of contention on an issue. Unlike software in the past that has simply asked for a postal/zip code and an email address, this would make it very difficult for a politician to contest that any considerable amount of non-legitimate signatures are present. The Ice Key paired with Safety Valve has a myriad of possible utilizations here in Iceland. Coupling the software with further authentication modules will open up Safety Valve to the world.
Removing bias and transparency are two very core concepts we entered into the project with. Initially upon building the software, our sights were set no further than using it for Alþingi. So naturally, given the serious tone of federal politics, we wanted to be as upfront as was possible. Given this, we decided we didn’t want to write any petitions/issues ourselves, in an effort to remove any bias. Traditionally, petition software has a piece of text produced by an individual or an organization with the goal of lobbying something in favor of their beliefs or ideology. While this sometimes is very necessary and works very well, we opted to pull all the bills and motions directly from Alþingi and give the power to the people to let their representatives know how they feel about what is happening in parliament without adding in any of the personal or political biases we all possess. When it comes to transparency, often we found that with traditional petition software, it was very difficult (and often impossible) to look back and see what you had signed and when, never mind redact your signature.
Safety Valve gives each user the ability to see when and if they signed any bills or motions in support or opposition. A feature coming very soon too is the ability to look back and see what your elected representative voted on the issues you chose to sign. We are all human, I think it is an unrealistic expectation to remember everything your representative did throughout their term regarding issues of your interest. Being able to look back at this data may strengthen one’s belief in their representative, or be just cause to reexamine whom they will vote for come next election.
I developed Safety Valve with The Pirate Party of Iceland, most notably Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson, Tómas Jónasson, and Svafar Helgason. Among us we had a common vision of creating an open source project to help residents interact with Alþingi. We all shared a very strong connection to the open source world and it’s ideologies, along with values of openness and transparency. I guess we are just kinda hippies like that. As we worked away on the project and we came closer and closer to releasing it to the public for use with Alþingi, I was approached by someone for whom I have great respect, and he asked me why I wasn’t building a business around this software. After pondering on the different possibilities Safety Valve held, I couldn’t help but start to feel it was a better and a better idea. Now I am to build a business for Safety Valve as Canonical is to Linux. I, and the active developers on the project still hold strong values towards open source technology, but we don’t believe that matters in the slightest in terms of the potential of the software, or the value we can bring to the table for others.
We believe there are so many opportunities to be had with Safety Valve. Not only is this something municipal governments all around the country could use to empower their residents and provide transparency to their actions, this power can also be extended to student governments in universities, special interest groups, day cares, house associations (húsfélag/condo boards), and special events; to name only a few.
I believe people’s opinions matter, a lot. At the end of every transaction, deal, exchange, or interaction, we find people. Everything we do from womb to tomb is from another and for another. Lots of startups are doing amazing things to help people interact with each other and stay connected; I want to build on this growing trend of technology that helps us communicate with each other, to be able to help communicate with the decision makers in our lives, to validate peoples thoughts and opinions, and bring power to where it really belongs, in the hands of each one of us.