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Help Your MP Learn War Law

Page history last edited by KM 12 years, 2 months ago

This page proposes a web-site to:-

  • systematise the drafting, sending, archiving and analysis of  correspondence with MPs (and other decision-makers) about the legality of war;
  • compare  MPs' legal knowledge with  neutrally edited FAQs; 
  • incrementally improve the FAQs and
  • award MPs brownie points for helpfulness (notified to local media).

The proposed web-site would make use of existing web-sites (including mySociety's web-sites)  and would gradually develop new features whilst in use. 



Draft proposal: short form (as submitted to mySociety)


The text in this section has been submitted to mySociety's call for proposals. As of 14/9/09 it is in their moderation queue. A few days after that it should appear on their web-site, where anyone may comment on it.



Help Your MP Learn War Law



Submitted by:

Kitty McVey in consultation with Institute for Law, Accountability and Peace.



Describe your idea 


How much does your MP know about the legality of the war(s) s/he voted for  (and defence & security issues in general)?


Without being a legal expert, you can use this site to help:

* find out what they know

* teach them what they need to know

* build better legal FAQs for MPs.


You just send one letter picking up  where the previous writer left off.


The letter:

* politely asks for explanation of one difference between your MP’s views and neutrally-edited ‘FAQs’

* offers to change the FAQs if wrong (and if supporting evidence is supplied).


The site later asks you how helpful your MP’s reply was, and awards brownie points to helpful MPs (notified to local media).




What problem does it solve? 

SOCIETY’S PROBLEM: wars, policies and methods of armed conflict which are of doubtful legality.


THE MPs’ PROBLEM: Before I vote, I want independent legal advice: everything I need to know, on one side of A4.


THE CITIZEN'S PROBLEMS (see www.YourMPandWar.pbworks.com)

I’m isolated. I want to meet others writing to  MPs on the same topic.

Each MP has different assumptions,  needs tailored FAQs.

My MP fobs me off with stock replies, does not answer my points and ends with ‘I hope this is helpful’.


The site could also be used for correspondence with officials and other decision-makers.


Further details  / discussion of the proposal


NOTE: anyone may comment on the proposal on mySociety's web-site.


Why 'FAQs'?

Information organised in Q&A form is useful because:-

     it is a good way of simplifying information, and finding your way around it

     it offers an easy way of describing controversies neutrally

          (one question, several conflicting answers, reader decides which is most convincing)

     it offers a simple way (though  too chippy?) of analysing MPs' letters & assessing their knowledge

          (by regarding each of their statements as an answer to a question, right or wrong).



Who does the neutral editing of the FAQs?


This resolves into two questions: who does the editing and how can neutrality be assured?


In wikipedia and citizendium,  the editing may be done by anyone with internet access (though in Citizendium, qualified experts have certain privileges). Neutrality is 'assured' partly by this open-ness. Neither encylopedia is accused of being a creature of the left or of the right because clearly the right and the left have equal editing rights. 


Additionally, both have a policy which strongly asserts that articles must be neutral (and which clearly defines what that means).  There are also processes of conflict resolution and final arbitration for dealing with cases when an individual article or edit is viewed (by anyone) as being in breach of the neutrality policy or otherwise incorrect.


What form would the 'FAQs' take? 

     Ideally (?) the FAQs would developed by a wikiproject within wikipedia.

     Or maybe in  Citizendium (using / developing their approach to trusted editorial oversight).

     Encylopedia articles, however, are not (ever?) written in Q&A form.

     Is that a problem?


What is the relationship between Citizendium, Wikipedia and the proposed website.  Will the one complement the other? 


The relationship between Wikipedia and Citizendium is that essentially they are rivals (though there is some cross-fertilisation between the two). They are slightly different approaches to doing the same thing: producing an online 'encyclopedia'. Citizendium is much newer.  It  arose from dissatisfaction about the way wikipedia operates. Perhaps it might never take off as wikipedia has.


If it survives, Citizendium could be of interest to us because it does something wikipedia does not do: it recruits panels of 'credentialled experts' (mostly academics) to give some quality assurance to the 'approved' versions of its articles. For example, if they  wanted to, Nick Grief or Robbie Manson could join that panel.  They would sign  up online,  stating their  qualifications and thereby become eligble to oversee the editing of articles in their specialism. As would any lawyer who interprest the law differently.  Their disagreements over whether an article is correct would be conducted online and would be a matter of permanent public record.


Think of the 'dodgy doisser' and all the fuss about how that was edited.  Everyone wanted to know who changed the crucial line. If that editing process had been conducted within citizendium (or wikipedia, or any public wiki) it would have had much more public accountability. Anyone could trace every tiny edit, seeing exactly  who did it and when. 


It might be  possible to link this process of expert oversight to a process of cross-party oversight to produce the desired  'legal resource which can be trusted by MPs of all parties'.  The political parties could each ensure that the panel of legal experts contains lawyers trusted by their party. They'd also need to make sure 'their' lawyers were as actively involved as the lawyers favoured by the other parties. Currently (13/9/09) Citizendium has 15 people registered as 'editors' (their word for experts) in the filed 'law'. None are active.


I think it will require some experimentation to decide whether the legal resource we envisage should live within wikipedia, or within citizendium. Or neither. Or  some hybrid form.



If Encyclopedia articles are not written in Q and A form does this refer both to Citizendium and Wikipedia?

Yes. Typically, neither uses Q&A form. But there might not be an outright ban on that format.


We need to decide how far this proposal should be concerned with officials as well as with MPs


Yes. But from a programming  point of view it may not make much difference whether a letter is to (or from)  an MP, an official or a cat.  A letter is just a document that goes through certain stages.


In the letter-writing, how much guidance do we give them?

George: 13.09.09 We could back this guidance up with 'phone discussion - I've always done this in the past.



If funding is to be sought, and if mySociety wish to work with conference members, the funding application  might perhaps be made by INLAP (in its proposed role as fund-holder / treasurer for projects emerging from the conference).

Comments (9)

George Farebrother said

at 7:43 pm on Sep 9, 2009

I am amazed by how this has taken off. Congratulations to you. It should form the basis of our 'phone conference on Monday when I, for one, will have a chance to catch up.

My immediate impression is that we might be able to develop the siteto further include officials and relevant ministers as letters to MPs often involve their sending it on to the MoD or the FCO. In addition, my concern is strongly about getting relevant answers at all, apart from gearing up on material about the laws of war.

Final point. Is there any way of getting a spell-check on the Wiki?

KM said

at 3:55 pm on Sep 13, 2009

Thanks, George.

Re developing the site further: sure (and do remind me) but for now can we focus on the basics? I need to know what in my draft proposal needs changing before it is submitted to mySociety. It is max size so nothing can be added without removing something.

Re spell-check. There is one. It's on the toolbar.

KM said

at 11:29 am on Sep 14, 2009

I have submitted the proposal and amended this page to reflect some of what George and I agreed by phone this morning.

ashley said

at 10:45 am on Sep 15, 2009

Yes well done indeed Kitty, George. Once again sorry for my absence but going by the above I wasn't needed. One Q. Just thinking about how to get the young involved. Might it be a good idea to try and collaborate / partner a university (cross-ties with France / UK / Germany) / school of law; maybe the project could fit it with someone's degree work and in which case it (part of it/outreach programme) could be taken care of by students. From my basic knowledge of grant requests, education and outreach are always good to have. Ashley

ashley said

at 10:46 am on Sep 15, 2009

PS. Kitty how about a photo of yourself?

Andrew Lohmann said

at 7:24 pm on Sep 16, 2009

Georges point on spell checking. My grammar and spelling are quite bad. I use Mozilla Seamonkey, which is much like Firefox and Thunderbird combined. These web browsers include spell checking. I made a number of mistakes with this entry for example, they were highlighted in red underline, So that I could right click and select an alternative correct spelling. Many fairly nurdish people like me use these applications, or alternatively create my entry in word then copy and past it where I want it.

Having said all that there is value in reading another's entry and correcting it. Wiki accommodates this well.

Andrew Lohmann said

at 7:36 pm on Sep 16, 2009

I have joined [mySociety:public] discussion. Is this where you are discussing "Help Your MP Learn War Law" is?

I don't think anything electronic beats a good talk in a pub, conference, or any other way. This is because discussion leads to compromise, whereas statements lead to stand-off positions. Bit of an over generalisation, as I can see that what Wiki and MySociety do is start from where people are at, which is the first step.

An idea though spread by word if good gets processed and disseminated. An old fashioned method but works when an idea is written on a website.

KM said

at 11:55 am on Sep 24, 2009

Andrew asked where comments were being posted, on the proposal I submitted to mySociety.

If you go to the page on which the proposal has now appeared (http://www.mysociety.org/2009/09/14/help-your-mp-learn-war-law/) you will see, just above the 'Leave a reply' boxes, an underlined link 'Follow responses to this entry'.

If you click on that you can subscribe to an RSS feed that monitors comments on that proposal (currently there are none, and probably won't be any).

RSS feeds are something I have only just discovered. I am finding them (and Google home page) a good way of monitoring the updates to this wiki.

I think our wiki needs to have a page on 'How to be informed of updates to this wiki' and that page will need to explain all this stuff to new users. I may have a go at writing that when I get a moment - but if anyone else wants to do it, do, as always, feel free.

KM said

at 11:58 am on Sep 24, 2009

Another thing I've just learned from an RSS feed monitoring mySociety proposals is that Martin Birdseye has also submitted a proposal to mySociety, re his nuclear flowchart. Which is fine.

It is an example of what I mean by 'autonomous projects' which have their own get-up-and-go and don't hang about waiting for unnecessary approvals from others before taking action.

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