Thursday, April 03, 2008

Experiments in Democracy

We met in a private home not far from Reed College, a retired professor, software engineers, and Mark, our fearless leader, to brainstorm about designing networking infrastructure that might help people deliberate about specific policy proposals, in light of their values, positions on issues.

The goal is not to just duplicate what the pollsters provide, but to give individuals useful tools for connecting the dots in various ways. Popular board games suggest where we might start. We know what Monopoly looks like. How would Democracy look?

My standard example in these meetings is to suggest two icons, say a teepee and a fish. I'm supportive of local NavAm casinos in part because of profits they put into restoring salmon habitats, which makes for a healthier environment overall (plus I like eating salmon). So these icons are now linked in my own world view, a memespace or namespace.

How do others wire up their icons I wonder? This democracy lab would help us study intellectual currents, provide us with summary views. Of course the Web already does this, plus the private sector spends big bucks on polls and surveys. A goal here would be to make such information more available to the general public, not just to paying customers.

Trust and transparency would be key to the success of such a system, but in and of themselves would not be enough. Robust designs will be essential. To that end, we'll need to grow our team, ideally testing some competing prototypes before settling on best of breed (and even then, the improvements will be ongoing).