Online Experiment with Practical Democracy


I just had the great pleasure to reconnect with Fred Gohlke. I re-read his Practical Democracy paper, and I since then, I keep thinking about ways to implement a small scale experiment, to see what it would give in practice.

My own resources are very limited so I have not much to offer. However, I am the owner of this web site and, with some help, I could get something organized to have a first, limited trial run, with a few interested members.

To start with, we need to discuss the scope, means, objective and modalities of the experiment. Let's start to brainstorm some ideas.

Note: Fred and myself will probably soon re-post his whole Practical Democracy proposal in this web site, so that you can read all about it.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more excited I am. Any election is defined by two things:

  1. The stakes, and
  2. The community (i.e. the electorate).

We can start an experiment with very small stakes (probably this site's Community Manifesto) and a very small community and build up from there. At the beginning, we could have a short electoral cycle (around 3 months) and elect 3 officials and later adapt as the community grows.


Community, stakes and modalities

1) The Community is very small to start with. Dozens of interested people have joined over the years, but I think we're just about a handful active participants right now. But I am confident that if the experiment is successful, the community will steadily grow. Let's start with what we have.

2) Every election is defined by its stakes: winning the presidency, winning the legislature, etc. Also, the stakes are proportional to the size of the affected population. On one side of the scale, we have stakes that affect the livelihood of the whole global population (7 billion people), or the stakes of national election in a super power which directly affects 300 million people (and indirectly the rest of the world!). On the other side of the scale, we have stakes that affect much smaller communities: cities, towns, villages... or the small handful of active member in this web site. What I mean here is that the stakes are proportional to the size of the community. And as this community grows, so will the stakes. Meanwhile, we can only start at our starting point! ;)

Proposed stakes: I propose that we elect 3 representatives who would have the sole power to draft a Constitution for this community and draft a policy document representing the will of the active members of this community. Using the existing tools available here, define who has the right to edit our common manifesto, at what conditions, etc. I will advise on what is technically possible or what can be easily implemented. I could for example grant exclusive powers to those elected representatives to edit certain sections of the sites (e.g. the community manifesto), exclusive powers to decide what is promoted to the front page of the site, etc.

3) Then we must discuss the practical modalities of the whole process. I can create a wiki page where we start to detail the whole procedure: the selection process, the length of the term (a few short months to start with), etc. As mention in the blog entry above, I propose that we use something that as closely resembles Fred's Practical Democracy as possible. His method is very imaginative, and has the potential to solve many challenges that we currently face. It is also completely untried, that's why I thought we ought to give it a try. A small scale experiment would be the best opportunity to start testing it.

4) It is an experiment. It is difficult to predict which way it will go, whether it'll be successful or not. One thing is for sure: even if successful, we will not get everything right. That's why I propose a very short term to start with, which will help us adjust as we go along, identify our challenges and deal with them, while at the same time garner wider interest.