Democracy and Technology

I had an interesting dream last night – I dreamed about democratic decision making support software. Instead of my regularly scheduled dreams of – well, nevermind. The whole thing is (like all dreams) a bit fuzzy now, but the gist of it was this: a bottom-up wiki-like decision support system with real-time animation and graphics (a bit like an RTS). The wiki enabled reasoning and supporting arguments to be filed and voted on, and allowed alternatives to arise and float up as they gathered support. i.e. avoiding false dichotomies seemed important to my dream.

As people (supporters and opponents) argue and lobby for positions, the decision makers can see the ebb and flow of support on an RTS like map. The map – the terrain – is not fixed, since the appearance of a new consensus position can change the lay of the land. Also, stretching the map metaphor is probably not wise. In reality you would want multiple maps or views on the current state of  opinion.

Democracy is not a simple popularity contest – and the underlying wiki information should provide useful input to the decision-makers.

After waking up, and a bit of googling – there does not seem to be anything quite like this:

  • The Center for Democracy and Technology is more concerned with Internet regulation than with the Democracy part of its name.
  • The Democracy Journal has an interesting article about the topic: how open source wiki technology can make government decisions more expert and more democratic.

The dream is probably affected by some of the projects I’m working on at SuperOffice – and some political discussions before bedtime, but this seems like a generally interesting area.

  • Automatically summarizing information, presenting digests on demand to decision makers. Something like N6 – but wikified.
  • Automatically distilling votes or participant activity into clusters, presenting clusters graphically or as simple charts.
  • Allowing bottom-up participation in the decision making process, and allowing everyone to see the decision basis.

Laws and politics have been likened to a sausage factory before, and while it is easy to ignore where the sausage comes from, we are obliged (I think) as citizens to keep an eye on what goes on inside the factory.

If we can help people make better decisions as well as improve people’s involvement in government, that sounds like a worthwhile goal.

A brief look at the current state of decision-support systems is not exactly encouraging. There is a lot of graphics and statistical modeling and analysis, but the user interaction seems to be very much stuck in the 80s. This is probably just a naïve impression. I hope.