Monday, 29 April 2013

A Self-improving, Transparent, Democratic, Meritocratic System

The current archaic voting system.
While democracy sounds like a great idea, and generally is much better than a dictatorship, it has some flaws which I've pointed out in a previous blog.  What annoys me is that we have really great democratic and transparent systems in the IT world, like StackExchange, but the way governments run countries seems to be a bit archaic.  I don't know much about politics, but I know a good system when I see one.

Let me start by telling you a bit about StackExchange and why it is awesome.  On StackOverflow, their site for asking programming questions, one can ask a programming question, and, if it is a well written question, based on their guidelines, one usually has the correct answer within minutes.  Amazingly, this is a free service.  I'm not quite sure if that explains just how incredible the system is, so let me try another way:  One can either spend hours or days trying to solve a complex programming problem, or type it into StackOverflow and have it answered in minutes!

So, how does the system work?

My StackOverflow profile.

Everyone can earn points by asking questions, answering questions, doing reviews, improving formatting, etc.  One earns these points democratically, meaning that one only earns points by other people looking at what you've done and awarding you or deducting points.  Once one reaches a certain number of points, one is considered more trustworthy and therefore more functions are enabled for that person.  The details are quite complex, but the system has obviously been shaped over many years into what it is today, a beautiful and elegant solution.

Imagine what a self-improving and transparent democratic system could be like...

Simply, it works like this:

It starts with a well defined end goal, perhaps along the lines of "Increase the level of human happiness throughout the world."

Perhaps you came up with the idea that it might be good for everyone to get benefits instead of just people who are not working, so you go to the website and type your proposal, "Give benefits to everyone, not just those who are unemployed."

The website gives you a list of similar suggestions, and noticing that your proposal is already on the system and is number 273 in the queue, with 834 votes, you click the vote button to increase the value of the proposal and write a comment explaining why it would mean so much to you.

Screen for suggesting a proposal in hypothetical democratic system.

The proposal now has 835 votes and with its new value it is bumped up to position 272 in the queue.  Within the next few weeks a further 7433 people vote for the proposal and it eventually reaches the number one place in the queue.  Your comment on the proposal has been noted by many people and voted up so that it is number five in the list of comments.

People who have earned the most points on the system vote for a group of experts on the subjects involved, including mathematicians and people who are highly clued up about benefits.  This group of experts each records a ten minute video explaining anything that they think is relevant, and then the videos are uploaded to the site and linked to the question.  The people with the most points watch all the videos and then vote on whether or not to go ahead with the proposal.  Each vote includes a the voter's reason for voting for their choice.

70% of the voters decide that it is not a good idea to give everyone benefits, so the proposal is disapproved, but you are not happy.  You believe that the system is faulty and you should be one of the people with a large number of points, so you can be included in the final round of voting.  For this reason you need to increase your points to 200.  This takes a lot of work.

You do a logic test, which bumps up your points from 50 to 100.  Then you read all of the recommended books... some history, some critical thinking, some science, some psychology, etc.  One of them doesn't appeal to you, so you create a proposal that the book is changed.  Eventually you do all the tests on the books that you read and your points are bumped up to 150.  Unfortunately you don't quite get the points that you need, so you decide to try to become an expert on benefits.

You go to the expert section on the website and follow the strategy to become an expert.  Eventually you write an amazing article on benefits and are selected as an expert.  The next time the benefits proposal makes its way to the top of the list you are ready with your well researched video on how amazing the world would be if everyone had benefits.

Your video is watched by the people with the most points and 80% of them vote for everyone to have benefits and the new policy becomes reality.

Unfortunately the new policy doesn't work out as well has you'd hoped, but since there is a democratic way to change things, people propose an even better system and the better system is implemented next.

Of course this is a rough idea of a transparent, self-improving, democratic system.  You can probably find faults in this solution... yip, I can see some already, but this is just the start.  The real system should be thoroughly discussed and thought out and would become more complex as it matures and improves.

Let me know what you think.

Related links:

A similar idea to mine, called LiquidFeedback:
A forum for posting & voting on campaign ideas:

1. Courtesy of ProLife at stock.xchng
2. Courtesy of svilen001 at stock.xchng


  1. I like it! Yes I've been thinking of a system along these lines for years now too. Already the seeds of such systems are being sown:
    I do believe that the votes of those endorsed by their peers and able to prove their credentials in the areas under discussion should carry more weight than just anyone's. This is the problem with our current system of dumbocracy. How many people can actually claim to have read the manifesto of the party they are voting for? A quick run through usually surprises most people that at least one or two of their choices are the policies of the party they most oppose. Therefore a democratic system organised around political parties is clearly nowhere near fine-grained enough to represent the views of the average voter.
    True democracy would involve polling people to find out how what views they hold, but also their level of education about those topics. An ignorant electorate is a dangerous electorate. And a system which allowed everyone to have their say on those topics that they DO know something about has got to be better than the farcical two-horse race that "modern" democracy has become.
    It would be interesting to develop this system as a freely-available open-source webapp and then persuade a few student unions to adopt it as their decision-making process. It would probably dvelop very quickly in campuses around the world. Then if forward-thinking organisations such as charities and co-operatives would adopt it, eventually it would become a commonly used way for people to particpate in decision-making, eventually leading to increased pressure for real electoral reform. Start small, and let it grow, in other words.

    1. Hi longjon

      Thanks for your reply. It's definitely quite annoying that the voting power (or lack thereof) is equal for people who know absolutely nothing and those who are far more meticulous.

      Your idea, to "Start small, and let it grow," is an interesting one. I think my idea is better suited to massive groups, but you've given me something to think about.