Mistake #11: Mistaking the Enemy
When we launch projects to improve transparency and accountability it’s easy to overestimate the impact they will have. We dream of wildly successful websites, frequented by millions of people, all holding their representatives to account. However, this is very unlikely to happen, no matter how good the site. For the greatest enemy we face isn’t excess bureaucracy, or secrecy, or corruption, but apathy. The vast majority of people simply don’t care about your site.
We’re not in a battle against our governments, no matter how much it may seem like it at times. They, after all, are merely our servants1. Our job as citizens is to hold our officials accountable, but many people don’t realise they should do that, don’t know that they can do it, or simply don’t know how to do it. Our job as site-builders is to make that easier.
You’re not simply trying to reach the small number of people who are often thought of as holding power. Rather, the goal is to remind everyone else that it’s really they who hold the power, and then help them exercise it. That’s much harder to achieve, but you don’t need to do it all on your own. You don’t need to reach everyone, nor do you need to achieve everything immediately. Participation is a process, but it’s a slow and often painful one. Your job is simply to do something — anything — to make that a little bit simpler, and less painful. Each little thing you can do to smooth the process is an another attack on the forces of inertia and apathy. Each time you help another person bypass bureaucracy is another step forwards for democracy. It’s a journey of a million miles, but we can only get there step by single step. Just keep kicking the darkness along the way.
- Here, like throughout this entire series, I’m assuming the presence of some form of democracy. Without that, then it’s a whole ‘nother story [↩]