In case you are from Bristol and haven't noticed, there's currently a "big debate" being held over at http://askbristol.wordpress.com in the comments area.
Basically, the city council are asking the public how to cut the huge sums of money that they will have to do without anyway from very soon.
There are lots of reasons why this is flawed. As one commenter posted,
"This “consultation” is a pointless exercise without access to a clear summary of what is for the chop and doing it on the internet just encourages the lunatics. Are there any plans for proper town hall style meetings? Or is this just a sham?"But still, I thought I'd publicise it, even if it's a sham, in case somehow it can get a bit closer to becoming an actual debate and taking of responsibility by all parties.
So how do you sift through all these comments and start to extract something resembling usefulness from it all? And how can the public actually get the data they need to make their choices with? Maybe Open Source Software can come to their aid, but as a method rather than as a piece of actual software:
Open Source projects are often overrun by suggestions or even implementations of disparate and confusing features and they have evolved ways to keep this problem at bay.
As the Python programming language project, an open source project, grew quickly towards the end of the 90s, it became obvious that a new way of managing feature requests was needed.
Some of these requests were duplicates of others, or deeply flawed or unimplementable, but each one would be argued on mailing lists or various forums each day. Also, with open source the problem is that sometimes the people making the suggestion don't actually have any ability to or interest in *doing* the work.
So the PEP(Python Enhancement Proposal) came into being. It's a standard document you fill out, that forces those submitting complex feature requests to turn them into focused, clear suggestions. PEP editors on the python team then reject or accept them based on these parameters.
I think a Bristol "town hall" group like the one proposed in the quote above, should be tasked with publishing appropriate stats and data, reviewing pep-like proposals by the wider public, and consulting with those affected by that proposal to ensure it actually makes a difference and doesn't cause more spending somewhere else. It could then also put these in action if passed, after which it would have to monitor the council's progress on them and report back on that too.
If this happened, I for one would help find venues to do this in, help set up the space and even figure out how to get everyone some refreshments!!