If you click on this link you’ll find an interesting Vox Pop tool for public deliberation on what should be the “Top [policy] priorities for Australia”. Now although public discussion of this kind is by definition useful or at least wholly in the spirit of democracy, there’s a problem. Or rather a number of problems. One is that it’s a kind of Vox Pop approach to policy – which is to say that as people swim through the issues on the list and vote for or against various propositions, their views may be almost completely uninformed. Since we don’t require people to prove their informed to vote, this isn’t a show stopper. But nor are they representative. Not only are they not representative, but the moment such a site began to have any direct significance it would immediately be a potential target for various political campaigns. IIRC when Barack Obama asked citizens to nominate their top priorities in a similar kind of exercise, a group seeking to liberalise marijuana laws got going and registered thousands of votes to push their issue up the agenda.
Anyway Paul Roberts offers this gloss on the new tool (comment 10 in this discussion thread).
After some more thought I feel that I have a germ of an idea. I’d call it ”layered participation”. It just occurred to me this evening so I’m floating this as an idea without much critical analysis. I’ll see what the crowd reaction is.
The citizens priority tool would be broadly in line with as is developed. It would be used by the digital literati for the most part. I would call this the underlying layer. I’m suggesting an additional layer – an overarching one in terms of participation rate – drawing on the contributions from the underlying layer. The “overarching layer” would have an incredibly easy UI and would invite/attract many more citizens to share their view of priorities by polling them. Like, “Here are the top 5 priorities from the underlying layer, what do you think? Make your selection here”.
In summary, the concept is one of layered influence. Those willing and able to identify and describe a priority, and to make a judgment on a mass of other priorities, can do so. Those that are either not willing or able, through circumstance or whatever, can still participate at another level. Tick the box. As I say this is just the germ of an idea. It may be a silly idea. But I offer it for consideration.
No Paul, it’s not a silly idea – or at least I don’t think it is. It is the beginning of building a bridge between the simple vox pop and something which is offering some tentative possibilities of finding a way ofordering preferences. To do so it imposes opportunity costs on voting for one thing – because voting for one thing means not voting for something else – just as it does in a ballot box. Another thing I think is important is finding ways of building reputation on the net. Of course e-Bay has been doing it for a long time, as has www.ratemyprofessors.com. Slashdot has a protocol through which people can qualify to be unusually worthy commenters. We need to build those kinds of mechanisms to add depth to the discussion, rather than just have a cacophony of voices full of sound and fury and signifying nothing (well at least less than it might).