Spotlight: open government: It's written tools to let participants answer open questions, it's read tools to let citizens decide.
Modern Democracy is based upon the american and the french revolution. From there came the idea of representative democracy, as well as the research on voting theory. After all modern states were too big to all fit in a room, communication too slow to let everybody participate, so it was unavoidable that few people needed to decide for the others. And if this was the case, voting theory tried to solve the problem of finding the most fair way to chose among a set of given alternatives the best solution, based on the preferences of a number of participants. Although this might sound very democratic it has a big drawback. Who chooses what are the possible alternatives?
This is not just a theorethical sterile question. Especially if you consider that a common criticism given toward modern democracy is that our choises when we vote are among parties that are more and more similar to each other. A new form of decision making is necessary. Something that let people not just chose among a series of alternatives, but also insert new solution themselves. And build up, upon existing solutions, to create something truly innovative.
In other terms we need to move from fair decision making among given alternatives, to fair decision making over an open question.
This is not a simple transition, as the tools are all but built, and the theory behind it hasn't yet been studied. I have tried to frame the question in a previous talk.
But the research we developed was not just trying to frame the question, but also trying to answer it. For this we developed two different tools. Both work with open questions, and both are being hosted at Vilfredo.org. The name, Vilfredo, being a recognition to Vilfredo Pareto, the Italian Economist who developed the Pareto Front. A mathematical tool used extensively on Vilfredo.org.
The two tools developed are somehow complementary, and although they don't cover the whole range of the necessities, they do cover quite a bit. Both work on open questions. The first tool is Vilfredo Genetic Algorithm. It is a Human Based Genetic Algorithm where users go through a series of round, In each round they alternatively read a selection of the proposals of previous generation, present new proposals, and vote on the proposals made from others. The system then use the votes of the participants to chose the new selection of proposals in a way to be both exclusive (trying to eliminate as many proposals as possible), and inclusive (making sure each participant point of view is represented in the selection). The result is a series of further approximation where different ideas are investigated in parallel, integrated, voted, and finally when (or if) a comprehensive proposal is presented approved by all. But experience showed that this process worked well with some questions and not others, and if the group of people participating are of a certain size (and not too big or too small).
The second tool is usually referred to Vilfredo Bubbles. In this tool users are invited to present and vote proposals that are then presented as bubbles in a sort of tank. Bubbles enter from the left and move to the right. Bubbles above are considered better than bubbles below. And bubbles start always from the top row. But each new bubble that arrives makes it harder for the old bubbles not to drop. Eventually the highest row will always contain the best and newest proposals. Most similar system tend to show either the newest or the most votes proposals. With the unavoidable result that eventually proposals in the "most voted" list will have gathered so many votes to make it impossible for new proposals to ever enter into that list. Practically closing the system to new proposals.
As mentioned before the two system seem to work on mutually exclusive systems. Vilfredo bubble seem to work well for "what" questions. Situations where an open questions is fully open to receive many unrelated proposals. And more than one can in parallel be implemented. "What shall we do about the economy/immigration/education". All those are what questions. And all are open to different answer, which often can be implemented in parallel. Instead Vilfredo Genetic Algorithm tends to be more useful for "how" questions. "How shall we build this website?", "how shall we organise the edgeryders conference?". While "what" questions are open to multiple indipendent answers, the "how" questions usually are best answered by a single answer. Multiple answers need to have their differences smoothed out to reach an integration that is valid for all the participants.
Also while Vilfredo Genetic Algorithm tend to work best for small group of people (the limit being that each participant MUST reas every proposal, and the filter process become inefficient when too many point of view are considered). Vilfredo Bubbles can be used by any number of people.
As we explained before those are tools. But then the importance is how can those be used in e-Government, and e-Democracy. Vilfredo bubbles was integrated as a Facebook application, and was then used to let people decide how to gather the sorted garbage in Trastevere. An authentically impossible task for one of the most turistic district in Rome. A place with small streets, many turists (that thus will have to figure out the rules), restaurants that remain open until late, and a living community that seem to always be getting more annoyed with the situation.
You can see the proposals presented here. You will have to register in the Vilfredo application to do so.