World Forum for Democracy 2013

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Following is a proposal for Metagovernment to participate in the Council of Europe's World Forum for Democracy to be held in Strasbourg, France in November, 2013. The submission is due by March 31, 2013.

Brief description of the initiative or idea (max. 200 words): goals, actions, scope, participants, partners.

The Metagovernment project is building online tools for collaborative governance: enabling citizens not to influence decision-making, but to control it. These tools fulfil the ultimate promise of democracy: where government is of, by, and for the people.

The advent of new technologies allows us to expand beyond the limitations and drawbacks of traditional direct democracy. Our tools support consensus-building, deliberative decision-making, and at-will participation.

Instead of trying to incrementally open and improve archaic forms of governance by increasing citizen involvement in outmoded institutions, this project creates new institutions that enable any kind of community to freely discuss, deliberate, and come to a decision without necessarily vesting authority in any individual(s).

Metagovernment is an umbrella group of numerous projects that are taking many different approaches to building software for deliberation and decision-making. In addition to advocating for and facilitating these projects, we also support a “free-range voting” initiative, which enables these disparate systems to be aggregated. This initiative not only frees individuals to participate in any way they please, but also helps democracy take hold in communities by removing platform lock-in.

By creating new democratic institutions at a community level, we expect to gradually transform human governance from the ground up.

Since when the initiative has been implemented (in case you are presenting an idea which has not been implemented yet, please state the origin, sources of inspiration, relevant academic debate etc.)?

The Metagovernment project started in 2007, though some member projects had started earlier and some more recently. The concept of free-range voting began work in 2009.

The primary work of the initiative and its member projects has been in concept formation, advocacy, and most importantly software coding. We have used various aspects of the project within our own community and on our website, but are not quite ready to expand out much beyond limited trials in external communities.

How is this initiative/idea contributing to broaden and deepen democratic participation?

This initiative fully intends to fundamentally transform democratic participation from one where citizens interact with governments to one where there is no distinction between citizen and government. (In this sense, we mean "government" to be the decision-making aspect of government. The bureaucratic institutions of government -- those that carry out the details of decisions -- are not within our scope.)

We do this by re-envisioning the archaic concept of direct democracy, with the help of modern internet technologies. In the past direct democracy has suffered from both technical limitations and substantial procedural flaws. These can be summed up as: mob rule, demagoguery, issue overload, and tyranny of the majority.

The Metagovernment project posits that, by careful application of sophisticated software, these issues can be used to solve each other. Simply put, mob rule and demagoguery result from focusing governance on a few hot-button issues. Issue overload is only a problem because of the demands of a majority rule system, requiring that there be massive participation on each of these few hot-button decisions. By contrast, collaborative governance opens up every decision to everyone. Nobody is expected to participate in each decision, but those who do must come to a consensus or no action is taken.

Further, the initiative is not limited to political governance (nor is that an initial focus of the project). Our initiative supports tools that allow members of any community to fully participate in governance of that community. Our intention is to vastly expand the democratic nature of any participatory organization.

What have been the results so far?

Member initiatives are in various stages of development of their software solutions. Software development is continually influenced by learning from real-world experiments, and by new developments in our own philosophies.

Most deployment of our tools has been on small test groups; particularly on the community of people participating in the Metagovernment project. Using several different tools at different times, we have repeatedly demonstrated the ability for our community to reach consensus using those tools. Many times, the agreements we have reached have varied substantially from any ideas originally proposed; thus demonstrating the efficacy of our tools and processes to create synthesis.

How have results been assessed?

Almost all of our assessment has been internal. We would appreciate external assessment and critique in this lab environment.

What challenges have been encountered?

Our project and member initiatives have faced and overcome numerous technical and philosophical challenges. Designing a system that can effectively, securely, reliably, and positively act as a governance mechanism is extremely complicated. Some of our main issues have been: whether anonymous voting and participation should be allowed, how to define consensus, how to know when a decision has been reached, how to authenticate participants, how to prevent fraud, and many other issues.

What lessons have been learnt?

We have overcome the issues we have faced by creating an open dialog among us and by trying out many different approaches. One of our vanguard projects, vote-mirroring, allows us to try all approaches. It allows individuals to participate in whatever of our member projects they choose, and then aggregates that participation. This not only helps individuals express themselves more freely, but also allows us to try new things, and determine which techniques work best in real-world environments.

Has this initiative been replicated by others? To what extent it may be transferable to other places and countries, other levels of governance?

Any additional relevant information/references

Please indicate who will present the initiative (Mr/Ms, name, position, city, country, e-mail): it is KEY TO ENSURE GENDER BALANCE IN THE LAB TEAM