Google launches nation-building tool ‘Constitute’

The Constitute homepage.
The Constitute homepage.

Not content with its recent announcement of a life-extension clinic, Google has unveiled a program to help nations create constitutions. ‘Constitute’ provides a database of every founding document and amendment across the world since 1789, broken down into topics for ease of reference.

It has been endorsed by heads of state from Tunisia and Kyrgyzstan, and Sara “Scout” Sinclair Brody, Google Ideas Product Manager, says there is no catch.

Metro: How would you describe this service?

Brody: It’s a tool, and a repository. It allows people to search and compare constitutions.

Are you responding to a demand for this?

There is a specific demand, uncovered by our partners at the Comparative Constitutions Project, who have been helping countries draft constitutions for years. They built a library and used to drag it around, and then used documents in the digital age. But we were able to get it all online with tags for each topic and a beautiful interface.

Won’t world leaders now just copy each other’s homework?

On the contrary I expect more variation. All drafts before now have relied on prior texts, and in some cases copying and pasting entire clauses. If you can see what everyone else has done you can see the wealth of options, you can customize the phrasing, and make it workable for your population.

Are constitutions not outdated yet? Why do people argue over interpretation of a 300-year-old scroll?

For web junkies like me, we think of them as anachronisms – something men who have oil paintings made of them do. But five are being drafted every year, and on average they last for 17 years. I had no idea how relevant or current they could be – it can be a very political process with the power to generate improvements.

Should Google really be involved in the formation of nations, particularly those in crisis?

Some people think it’s surprising – but they should realize this is a tool for providing information, rather than seeking to have an influence.

It must be fun working at [think/do tank] Google Ideas. What do you guys do all day?

It’s really about creating partnerships, working with other organizations in parts of the world that are repressive or unstable. We try to empower people doing great work, and give it a technological twist.


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