Wiki constitution

Davis group plans to write a new state framework from the grassroots

Jon Li is a public-policy analyst who lives in Davis and has been advocating for a new state constitution since 1976
Jon Li and Glen Clark will teach a class on the history and future of California, beginning October 12, at the UC Davis Experimental College. To enroll, call the Experimental College at (530) 752-2568 or check

Is California broken? Really damaged beyond repair, beyond tinkering with the boxes? Has it gotten bad enough that we need to talk about institutional transformation?

Most of us are frustrated by the air and water pollution in California, and by an economy which is destroying what used to be our basic rights in this state—the right to affordable homeownership, higher education, and to the potential for a fulfilling career. We’re disturbed at how the state teeters on the edge of insolvency, unable to adopt a timely budget. We’re irritated by the Legislature’s chronic inability to arrive at meaningful consensus. Ultimately, the political structure seems inept, and set on driving us towards an even more dysfunctional future.

And the initiative process? The heart and soul of the democratic experiment, invented as a progressive tool to overwhelm the special interests, has become an instrument for any special interest that wants to spend the money to put their pet initiative on the ballot. Proposition 13 and others have utterly handcuffed the Legislature.

Two groups—California Forward and the Bay Area Council—are pushing their agendas for constitutional revision. But both of these groups mostly protect the status quo.

What about real change?

Using Internet and e-mail technology, a group of people in Davis have set up a wiki site to manage a grassroots process to build a new state constitution. The principles guiding this new constitutional framework are the right to a pristine environment, a supportive society, a responsive government, a healthy economy and health care as a right for each person.

Our idea is to create an e-mail/blog/communication network that will evolve as the document becomes more sophisticated with a greater diversity of data, opinion and ideas from people around the state. To keep this process honest, we expect people to use their real name (no anonymity) and to be responsible for the words they use. We expect economic interests to also contribute their expertise, to help the public decide what would be best for the economy and the greater society.

We are urging our collaborators in this project to discover “the Viable System Model,” a 50-year-old tool for evaluating and improving the structure and communication in social organizations: families, businesses and governmental (Google “Jon Walker + VSM”). Part of the beauty of VSM is that it is designed to be recursive, that is, applied at different levels of organization. Rather than trying to regulate everything, you use the VSM analysis to identify the key performance indicators, and they are then measured daily. Key indicators falling outside the predetermined “acceptable” range become the focus of attention and potential change. Using VSM would encourage citizens and bureaucrats to continually rethink government’s role in society.

The wiki site has no physical boundaries, so people from around the state can chime in. Our hope is to create a dynamic document that can help us address the challenges our state faces today and in the future. Check out and consider joining us.