Sounds like a pie-in-the-sky dream with no pragmatic way to get there? State your concerns and ask your questions here and we'll see if we can find some answers.Summary:
The basic concept is quite simple - use information technology to provide an efficient and powerful mechanism to democratically influence the direction a group takes on any or all issues which face that group.
A group may be anything from a chess club, a city to a nation state.
The medium of participation would be the web-browser, such that you could access the service using anything which can run a browser - e.g. a desktop pc, a netbook, or a mobile phone. This does exclude some like the computer illiterate and those without a personal internet connect, but put bluntly - this is not a problem we can fully hope to address until we have a working system which is capable of legislating provisions to correct for this.
That's it. As an umbrella-term it covers a wide variety of implementations and participation models from simple direct democracy to roll-off voting. So I'll propose a few ideas which I think show most promise.Design Philosophy:
Simply, to maximise participation and minimise elitism. If you look at one of the most famous examples of collaborative models - the wikipedia, two issues immediately spring to mind: it's not 100% accurate; and it has fostered a tribe of wikipedians who jealously control editing and administrative rights.
It's not completely accurate because it has such an open participation method which makes it vulnerable to laymen mistakes and intentional sabotage. This is a given. Both of these factors will be an issue in any system of E-Democracy, you can't design against it, and you certainly can't design as if it's not a problem. But you can design such that you have methods to recognise and neutralise these effects.
The wikipedia answer is to have a tightly controlled admin tribe who scour the plains of their respective territories, looking for anything out of the ordinary. It works quite well to a point, but it is not scalable. In theory I guess it is infinitely recursive. The Anime Tzar could delegate authority out to new editors who have specialised knowledge of individual series or characters, and those editors could delegate out authority to new editors who have the most knowledge of specific periods, and so on.
Instead it turns into a territorial power grab and rather than including new detailed content, reasons are quickly found
to exclude and delete knowledge.
Another famous open collaborative model, Linux, relies on a benevolent dictator.. and I'm not going to waste any words explaining why that isn't a good example to follow.
I'll go into more detail with regards how to defend against vandalism in the topics below, but in a nutshell - if more energy is put into breaking it, than is put into making it work, then it will fail. It is, after all, a democratic system. Decision Making:
I'm going to use the following terms. There may be better terms, if so I'll edit this to substitute them in:
- Issue - a defined problem, e.g. Healthcare, the Iraq War
- Resolution - an atomic solution, attached to an issue, which can be subjected to a Yes/No vote, e.g. raise income tax by 1%
- Bundle - A larger scale grouping of resolutions, and/or bundles, in order to express conditionals, e.g. raise income tax by 1% if inheritance tax is reduced by 5%
Anyone can add their own proposals in the forms above. If an attempt is made by the person framing the bundle to include unrelated provisions, then by virtue of the fact that anyone can participate, the majority is not subjected to a choice limited to two undesirable options. Bundles can be copied and those copies modified in order to frame a solution which satisfies the majority.
This is a move away from monolithic packages such as the Reform initiatives which have successfully tied up the US Government over the last few years. Rather than allocating months at a time to discuss and fillibuster over 5% of partisan differences, the 95% which is agreeable to most parties can be ratified and implemented right away.
We're talking about a system that would be impossible to implement without our current state of communication technology. There would be no way to keep track of all of the stakeholders positions on a large number of a small issues.
Furthermore - how do we expect an individual to participate in a system of governance which may require any number of smaller-issue votes per day?Discussion and Communication:
We will need to develop a new method of communication. A single forum could not scale to allow the inhabitants of a city to have their say and participate equally. It would be even more useless for a state or country.
So how to you approach a meritocracy and help ensure that good ideas don't get buried? A participant with only one good idea in their life shouldn't have to network and schmooze their way into some elite club before they gain access to the pulpit. But it remains somewhat paradoxical that while the experts in that field may recognise the unique benefit to that idea, they would never see it unless it was first promoted by a much larger group of non-experts who would only note that it ran contrary to conventional wisdom.
I think the answer lies in specialisation and social networks. I might not know much about environmental issues, but my friend Jane does, so I just proxy my vote on issues with an environmental tag, to her. Now if something attracts my attention, like the Gulf Oil spill, I might have a strong opinion on it, and as such I should be able to override that default, or take back full control whenever I want. In a group of acquaintances, there is usually one person who may not be a subject-matter expert, but who cares more about that given subject than you do or is just more informed.
The choices given to the individual at this point is to have no say at all, spend time placing votes on all sorts of issues, or to empower a friend, who just may return the favour. In turn, this friend may vote directly on the issues, or they may in turn proxy their collected votes out to a particular leader they support. It'd look a little like this:
Now your friends may advertise which specialisations they are interested in, and as such it'd be quite easy to get as detailed as you wish, and in the end your control-panel may look something like this: Proxied Votes:
[Environment] - Jane
[Environment/Gulf Oil Spill] - Rod Stewart
[R&D/Biology] - Kai
[Civil Rights/Sexual Equality:Rhode Island] - Dimo
So the graphs at this point start becoming multi-dimensionally incomprehensible, especially as a single issue may overlap multiple specialisations, and if so you have to ensure that an individual gives fractional votes to each proxy. The implementation details get a bit ugly.Anonymity:
Participants would do so under their legal names, and their actions and votes would be recorded and made part of the public record.
I'm not particularly happy with this. But it is a balance of risks.
Public votes will ensure that tallies can be independently verified, and that no votes can be stolen by a trusted authority. I think ensuring this is more important than the risk that peer pressure or intimidation will be used to coerce individuals into voting in a particular way. Any organised attempt at coercion will find itself vulnerable to a single whistle-blower - these issues would generate indignation and publicity - so immediate protections and consequences could be brought to bear against the offenders.
Peer-pressure looks at first glance like it may be a greater threat to the integrity of the vote, but since most people are members of more than one social circle then I expect such contradictions to be commonplace - placing a vote will likely be against the goals of at least one group you're a member of. This won't affect zealots, but most people will have to get used to their working buddies cheering on a decision their drinking buddies deride, or dump intolerant groups whenever possible.Implementation:
It's a good question. First step is to get the software up and running in a stable secure state and make it as scalable as required. I'm going to gloss over that unless there are any specifics which you feel are unanswered.
Once you have the software you have to create a movement behind it. Personally I don't see this as a major challenge, because there are enough people involved in metagovernment now to prove that it can work in a small-medium scale, such as running a company or cooperative organisation/charity. If you have a working demonstration, and not just theory, it's a lot easier to convince people that there is some value to what you propose. I expect very few people to read this, for example, even those who have participated in the debate so far, and as such the idea is an almost impossible sell to a wider public who have no other reason to care.
So the obvious next step is to target local government, such as with Senator On-Line
in Austrailia, and a host of other projects
around the world.
With the proxy-voting method applied to candidates, and not just issues, this could interface with an existing power structure like this:
In addition, you have the potential to allow the institutional power structure to reflect the actual voting which took place:
That's all well and good. But all we are doing here is filling positions for elected officials. The next step is to elect officials who will honour the resolutions as decided by the E-Democracy software system. I don't think this would take much more additional momentum to achieve.
And from there the implementation plan becomes more vague. In theory working out the kinks and quirks at the smaller scales will allow it to scale up to handle larger tasks. I'm too cynical to believe it will be quite that simple though. As much as I'm sure some establishment leaders would jump onto this ship, others would rally against it. Assuming it delivers on its promises though, it's a tough sell to paint it as something which is bad for the people.Rush Limbaucracy:
Will the system be overrun by loud mouth asshole demagogues? Perhaps. It's a risk. But bad decisions have consequences, it's easy to remain a loudmouth when you have no actual power, but when you are accountable for your actions then suddenly things get a little more complex. What can I say, I'm optimistic on that front.Mob Rule:
Proxy voting is not direct democracy. Although on certain highly contentious issues it might be. In those case though, you would have your more educated peers lobbying against you. I think it'd balance out in the end. In the meantime it'd be somewhat chaotic and fun and some terrible decisions would be made. As long as they don't out-weigh the positives though, I firmly believe that attempting this is better than doing nothing.
Images and proxy-voting concept taken and modified from Votorola