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An online implementation of consensus-based direct democracy.

As Jennifer discusses in this talk, politics is such a tiny fraction of government (I would say it is also dispensable). A government of, by and for the people would see the people participating, and their voices and actions being heard.

The gist of my idea is that decisions on any level would only be made on a consensus basis. That is, no concerns regarding any issue will go unheard. This would be implemented via an online forum, the details of which are yet to be sorted out (hence this conversation!).

My question is: does anyone have any suggestions regarding how to manage such a forum? The key point is that everyone must be heard, but repetitive arguments would need to be discarded. Also, irrational arguments would be seen as such and discarded. An important aspect of this system is that everyone has an equally important voice. Thus, I think it is appropriate to construct the system in accordance with that principle - by seeking the input of a wide range of people.

I have written an article which describes this in greater detail - both why it is necessary and how it is to be implemented.

What I quite enjoy about Jennifer's talk, and which I think applies to my idea as well, is that it is not necessary to wait for a government to step in and implement this in the typically slow and expensive way - rather, an independent, motivated group of individuals could take initiative. If it becomes viral, it may then be adopted in an official way.

Any comments/criticisms are welcome. It is recommended that you read the article linked in this explanation, in order to get a good understanding of the idea proposed.

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    Apr 3 2012: Yes - I have been thinking of collaborative tools of technology to be put to use for enabling true democracy. True democracy is not just voting to choose a representative - but to be able to actually be part of the decision making process.
    As a citizen - can I vote for major decisions lin my community that may affect me..?

    An easy option is to have a poll with multiple choice questions.. or like - Does your constituency need a nuclear power plant? You can use a voting machine , an internet poll , and so many other ways that technology can offer today! Wherever internet access is not there - we have the user friendly Electronic Voting Machines! And guess what ? The EVM is fool proof and can easily be used for making major community decisions just like going for a poll!
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    Apr 3 2012: I think this is an important idea whose time is still a little way off because there is not yet 100% access to the internet for those who might be considered eligible, plus there is the thorny issue of deciding eligibility and a method of excluding the inelegible. However, while we are in the TV age/internet age transition, what about this for an idea? A reality style debate/talk show where the viewers get to decide on an issue that will go into the statute books. Proponents get to speak on behalf of an idea, there is a rebuttal phase and a questions phase. Any statements about the impact of the proposal must be evidentiary and it must be clear to the viewers when a statement is assertion, argument, opinion etc. There will be an assistive set of judges who are qualified in a given area but their statements must also be subject to the same scrutiny as the contestants' ideas. People then get to vote and the winning proposal
    goes into law.
    • Apr 3 2012: Kevan, I think the TV show you described falls to some of the same problems. Not everyone has access to a television, either. Also, having select judges and individuals participating on this show while others assume a passive role from their living rooms is just another form of the system we have today, which is to say that some have more power than others. That is precisely the problem that I think needs to be addressed.

      With regards to the accessibility issue, I don't believe it is too difficult to provide internet access to everyone. Public libraries already have free internet access, and it wouldn't require a huge amount of infrastructure to create new stations where people can use government-funded machines to participate in such a system. As I stated in my post, though, even the voting system we have today isn't perfect - not everyone can get out to the voting stations, but we do our best. If voting took place every day of the year on a wide range of issues, people would be more likely to be able to get to their local library to participate. Even if they could only get out once every couple of weeks, they would be participating.

      I'm not sure what you mean when you talk about deciding eligibility - would not everyone be eligible to contribute to the discussion of any topic? To consider some eligible and others ineligible is undemocratic in my view.

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        Apr 3 2012: Chris, Take your point on it falling to some of the same problems however accessibility is less problematic as voting methods are the same as current TV popularity shows that can reach far more than the internet and people without TVs are more likely to go to their local bar to watch/participate than those without computers are to go to a library to participate. Wouldn't necessarily want to be subject to their judgement though :-) . Also, those in their living room are not necessarily passive, they phone in, tweet or email (if they do have the internet) questions. The judges are not there in a power position they have authority only through deeper knowledge to examine the ideas on show and to ensure that proponents don't try to "politic" their answers. The judges have the kind of power to extract answers as a parliamentary or Senate committee. You don't get to walk away if you don't like the question. As to eligibility, the problem is actually more about sifting the eligible from the ineligible e.g. people from outside the jurisdiction, under age etc. Anyway. my idea of a TV show was really more an idea for re-engaging an apathetic electorate as well as being a sneaky electronic democracy pilot idea!

        As to online democracy, it is still very much in the idealistic phase as if, because the internet is this big open thing, we can crowdsource our solutions. I do like the idea but security on the internet is still a long way from being safe enough for democracy; trust me it's a field I work in! It is still too easy to compromise the results. Even if you could get the data secure enough (say to EAL 8 under International Common Criteria, you still have the problem of DDOS attacks on voting hubs at critical times plus weeding out spoofing both of voting sites and eligible voters. And don't forget, this is not just voting on who represents us, this could just as easily be about voting to see what initiatives get the government money or what solutons are piloted.
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    Apr 1 2012: Hey Chris,

    I definitely think our society is headed towards a democratic future like the one you describe. I'm actually currently working on a project along this lines. I would love to hear you thoughts!

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    Mar 16 2012: Hi Chris,

    I have gone through your article and found it very enlightening. I especially like this line => "[Politicians] must instead carefully craft [their ideas] in order to ensure popular vote in the next election."

    I agree with you completely on this matter. It is indeed a very brilliant idea. A few doubts that are troubling me are ->

    1) How would you ensure an equal respresentation? Even with today's level of penetration of technology, many people still do not have access to the internet. Even many people with internet access might not be interested to go through many posts/issues.

    2) Who do you think should be moderating these forums?

    3) Do you think it would be better if the opinions are made public or should they remain private?
    • Mar 16 2012: Thanks for the kind words, Gowtham!

      In response to your concerns:

      1) This is certainly a valid concern. My thought is that even in today's democracies, it is not easy for everyone to get to a voting station on voting day. The accessibility of the internet, however, is becoming more and more ubiquitous. If my proposed system were to be implemented, it would certainly require that some resources were put towards ensuring that everyone had access to it. Also, I think you are right to think that even people who have access might not be interested in going through heaps and heaps of posts. However, people will certainly contribute to issues that are relevant to them and that they have some knowledge of. So, an individual's contribution would be directly proportionate to their desire to contribute (and their accessibility, which would increase over time!)

      2) The forums should be community moderated - the details of which I am still working out, and which I think should also be determined by the community. Because this is at its core a non-hierarchical system, it would be against its philosophy to have any "moderators" who have more control than anyone else. A system related to comment threads (up and down rating) would likely be employed, but would need to be much more sophisticated than that.

      3) I think the opinions would necessarily be public, however they could be made anonymously. Having private discussion would defeat the purpose! :P
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    Mar 16 2012: you can try to change the world but you'll only get half of the world to agree with you. also for any real change to be of value its got to be lasting and consistent.asking us at ted wont make this possible don't the hard work will if you make that choice ill support it if you get it made and soon.
    • Mar 16 2012: You're right in that a lot of hard work is required to get it off the ground - the reason I brought the idea here is that for this idea to really go anywhere it requires input from a wide range of people, for it is a collaborative project.