Reframe It project seeks input of tech community on immigration policy

technology / Article

Digital media in use at immigration rally in Washington DC. Photo credit: SEIU on Flickr.

Bobby Fishkin is CEO of Reframe It, which Knight Foundation supports.

Debates about immigration policies today are often loud, noisy, rancorous, simplistic and ill-informed. These policies impact the tech community profoundly, often with consequences that were unintended by the policy’s framers. Misinformation and disinformation have undeserved influence; preventable and problematic unintended consequences go unchecked.  

Reframe It is collaborating with TechCrunch and Silicon Valley Community Foundation to bring a currently underutilized resource to these debates: the intelligence, creativity and problem-solving mindset of the tech community. The goal is both to harness fresh ideas about assumptions, arguments and possible reforms, and to test whether the tech community would support these reforms if they understood them.

Media, think tanks and individual citizens often claim that one or another public policy proposal would have a particular result. But they base these expectations on assumptions, which can be  “buggy.”  If only a small group of people have the opportunity to debug our pending legislation and public policies, then any preventable bugs they don’t find are likely to cause real problems for our society. In “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” Eric Steven Raymond paraphrased  “Linus’s Law”:  “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”  With support from Knight Foundation, Reframe It  and its collaborators are working  to bring the creative energy of the technology community to the debugging of public policy related to immigration reform.   

Our approach has two parts:

• We are issuing an open call for members of the tech community to add their creative ideas on immigration policy reform and the challenges it seeks to resolve.  Members of the U.S. tech community are invited to add their specific ideas to an online document that we have created in collaboration with leading experts on this topic. You are invited to make new arguments, identify assumptions that we haven’t thought of and devise approaches that may not have occurred to policymakers and policy think tanks. We want to leverage the tech community’s can-do spirit. In the aggregate, our creativity can debug policy proposals and assumptions and can reframe what reforms the tech community should advocate for going forward. (Click here to go to the briefing document and add your own annotations.).

• We will leverage the results of your annotations by incorporating many of them into a revised briefing document that will form the basis for the final phase of the process, which we call Deliberative Polling. Ordinary public opinion polls measure what people think at the moment a poll is taken; in such surveys, many people haven’t had a chance to learn about and think about the issues before they’re surveyed, and give off-the-cuff opinions.  In our Deliberative Poll, we conduct a controlled experiment in which one population is simply surveyed by conventional methods while another (the treatment group) is exposed to briefing materials that have been vetted by experts with diverse perspectives and participates in a series of moderated online small-group discussions with fellow members of the tech community. We conduct a final survey to measure what the treatment group thinks after going through this process. The results reflect statistically what the tech community would think about immigration policy after carefully weighing the alternatives.

Our hope is that this will be the first of several opportunities in which people can be involved in a creative process of public policy ideation and debugging—a process which is structured in such a way as to be invulnerable to manipulation, perversion or capture by special interests.

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