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Loomio Collaborative Decision Making: Interview with Richard Dennis Bartlett

Richard Dennis Bartlett is one of the co-developers and co-founders of Loomio, an online  collaborative decision making tool. One of the things I didn’t know was that Loomio came out of the core group’s experience in Occupy in Wellington New Zealand. I had previously thought that Loomio was designed to solve decision making for the Enspiral group network.

In fact, according to Richard, Occupy was foundational as an experience in understanding non-hierarchical and inclusive decision making. As he explains, Loomio was an expression of the reflections and evaluations on Occupy … and as Occupy converged with Enspiral through the development of Loomio, Loomio’s design ecology included solving decisioning making challenges for the Enspiral enterprise, as well as for the next generation of creative activism worldwide.

This is an absolutely fascinating interview, as Richard brings deep insights into both the domain of horizontal and distributed decision making, next wave activism, and the design of a breakthrough innovation.

Richard Dennis Bartlett – Development of Loomio Collaborative Decision Making from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

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Joshua Vial on Enspiral and Trans-national Collectives

Joshua Vial is the founder of Enspiral, the community, network and social enterprise in Wellington (New Zealand) which practices open source, networked and commons based enterprise creation. Enspiral is different from traditional businesses in a number of ways. They have an ethos of collective ownership and social impact, they have a networked form of organization with little hierarchy, and they make their work and innovations open source, contributing to the global knowledge commons. Finally, they take the cultivation of heathy and nurturing relationship seriously, indeed it is a foundation for their success.

Because of these reasons, Enspiral represents one of the critical seeds of the future. In a world struggling to re-invent itself, develop ethical business, and turn relational value into social value (rather than privatised), Enspiral shows a critical way forward.

Enspiral is behind such innovations such as Loomio, the collaborative decision making system, and Cobudget, the collaborative budgeting system. They have innovated networked based, non-hierarchical and inclusive approaches to a variety of organisational needs.

Joshua talks about the history and development of Enspiral and his vision for the development of trans-national collectives of value exchange, what David de Ugarte and Michel Bauwens discuss as “Phyles“.

Interview with Joshua Vial: Past, Present and Future of Enspiral and Trans-national Collectives from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

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Mix Irving on Cobudget

I had the great pleasure of hanging out with some of the Enspiral network members at the  end of March 2016.

One of the more fascinating elements that I learned about was Cobudget, the system that Enspiral uses for sourcing and allocating finds. It is like participatory budgeting, it is also like internal crowdfunding … but it is different to anything I’ve come across so far as well.

It is important to note that Enspiral have been working on a variety of network based and non-hierarchical systems and approaches to decision making, as well as ways to do distributed and remote decision making. Cobudget is definitely a great tool to use for these sorts of things.

In this interview Mix Irving, an Enspiral member and active in a variety of startups, talks us through what Cobudget is, how it is used in Enspiral, and its broader applications.

Mix Irving MVI_4398 from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

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Research Papers

Ramos, J. (Forthcoming), ‘Liquid democracy and the futures of governance’, In Ono, R and Winter, J., The Future Internet: Alternative Visions, Springer, Zurich. (book chapter)

Ramos, J. (2014) ‘Liquid Democracy: The App That Turns Everyone into a Politician’, Shareable, http://www.shareable.net/blog/liquid-democracy-the-app-that-turns-everyone-into-a-politician (magazine article)

Ramos, J. (2013) ‘The futures of power in the network era,’ Journal of Futures Studies, Vol. 17 No. 4 June (refereed article)

*If you have research papers you would like to share on this website, please contact us. 

 

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Liquid Democracy: The App That Turns Everyone into a Politician

Liquid Democracy is one of the boldest contemporary innovations in democratic decision-making. The idea uses web technology that allows users to interact in new ways. Its primary innovators are located in Berlin, and Germany has been the first to adopt and apply Liquid Democracy systems in the context of political parties, parliamentary processes, and some organizations.

Liquid Democracy has a number of key features. In the Liquid Democracy system, a party member can assign a proxy vote to any other member, thereby assigning a personal delegate, instead of voting for a representative. A member can give their vote to another member for all issues, for a particular policy area, or for a particular decision only for any length of time. That vote can be rescinded at any time. Under this system, a person can become a delegate for multiple members within a polity very quickly, wielding the political power normally reserved for elected representatives as a result. But a person can lose this power just as quickly. This is the “liquid” in Liquid Democracy, a process that can also be referred to as “transitive delegation.” If someone is respected as a trusted expert in a particular area, they can gain members’ votes. As a result, every person within a Liquid Democracy platform is a potential politician.

In one of the software systems, any member can also propose an idea. If enough other members support the idea, it moves on to a discussion phase, where the proposal can be modified or alternative proposals can be put forward. Of the proposals that are offered, those with enough support are put up for a vote. A vote is made using the Schultz method of preferential voting, ensuring that votes are not split by almost identical “cloned” proposals. All of this is done online.

There are a number of critical issues within Liquid Democracy applications. The first question is whether a party will make the Liquid Democracy process a binding one—where member votes on the online platform become real law—or use it for reference—where member votes merely inform existing representatives. The second question relates to transparency: Will users disclose their identities, retain anonymity, or use a hybrid system of authenticated pseudonymity?  The third question pertains to whether liquid (or transitive) or direct votes are used.

The idea for Liquid Democracy is not new. Lewis Carroll, the British author of Alice in Wonderland, was the first to propose the idea for transitive voting in a thesis titled “The Principles of Parliamentary Representation.” Only with the advent of computer technology, however, has the technical necessities for creating such a complex and dynamic decision-making system become possible.

Innovators and adopters

Not surprisingly, hackers and programmers in Berlin were talking about the possibility of creating software for a Liquid Democracy political process well before the software was developed. Around 2008, Berlin’s hacker culture held the sentiment that some kind of liquid system of political decision-making was imminent. The question was who would develop it first.

Two organizations eventually created Liquid Democracy technology. In 2009 Andreas Nitchea, Axel Kistner, Jan Behrens, and Björn Swierczek put in nearly four months of volunteer time to create the first Liquid Democracy software called “Liquid Feedback.” They later set up the organization Interaktive Democratie e.V. to promote it.

The second organization, Liquid Democracy e.V. uses a software called Adhocracy, originally designed by programmer Friedrich Lindenberg. Liquid Democracy e.V. is an NGO currently headed by Daniel Reichert, working together with a robust team of project managers and developers who apply Adhocracy software in a number of different contexts.

The organizations used different software programs (based on different programming languages) that reflect different philosophies toward Liquid Democracy with different functionalities.

Interaktive Democratie e.V. sees transparency within the platform as a sine qua non of any application of the software. They also consider the liquid delegation of proxy votes to be a core feature of Liquid Feedback that should not be scuttled. In addition, they do not see the software itself as a platform for deliberation, but rather as a tool for decision-making. If a group wants to deliberate on an issue, Interaktive Democratie e.V. suggests that people use social media platforms to do so, not Liquid Feedback; they do not think of their product as a replacement for live or online deliberation, but believe that the Liquid Feedback system should complement the interaction between people who already know each other—or are at least contextually familiar—instead.

Liquid Democracy e.V., on the other hand, does not see the liquid delegation of proxy votes as an absolute necessity (it can be switched on and off depending on where it is applied). In addition, the Adhocracy software is designed for public deliberation, rather than voting (although it is still possible). Adhocracy includes features such as a collective editing function, where a script or text (filmic or policy) can be deliberated and dynamically developed. Users can be anonymous and it’s not an absolute necessity for people to know each other outside of the Adhocracy platform.

These two organizations with their two distinct software systems have given rise to a number of applications of Liquid Democracy systems.

Liquid Feedback Adopters

Liquid Feedback has been universally adopted by the German Pirate Party as a tool for deepening the party members’ level of political engagement. The German Pirate Party applies the Liquid Feedback software at different levels and in different regions. In other words, their national Liquid Feedback platform is different than their regional platforms. At the national level, Liquid Feedback is still a reference system; actual policy and representative voting processes use a paper ballot. Efforts have been made to use Liquid Feedback to make binding policy decisions, however the issue is currently at a deadlock, with a powerful group of anonymists within the party blocking the way toward a fully transparent and binding system. However some chapters at the regional level have adopted a binding Liquid Feedback system. The Berlin Pirates are currently in the process of making their Liquid Feedback processes politically binding as well. At this time, there are certain legal obstacles related to electoral law that still need to be overcome.

The success of the Pirate Party after the 2011 state and regional elections was bolstered by their avowed use of Liquid Feedback. This set them apart from other parties and, as a result, Liquid Feedback software is often confused as Pirate Party software. But Liquid Feedback does not belong to the Pirate Party—it is open source and can be applied by many different organizations in a variety of contexts.

In addition to its application within political parties, Liquid Feedback has also been used at the county municipal level in a region of Germany called Friesland. The pioneering Council of Friesland enlisted the help of Interaktive Democratie e.V. to apply Liquid Feedback in their decision-making process, which is now called “Liquid Friesland.” Liquid Friesland has been running for several years. It gives local community members a way to propose policy ideas and directions, which are then voted on by people using the software. Only people who are legal residents of Friesland are allowed to join the software platform; authentication systems have therefore been devised to weed out non-legitimate users. Liquid Friesland is primarily a reference system. Community member votes are not binding policy for the county. Instead they primarily inform the Council decision-making process. The system has the dual function of allowing community members to propose ideas and enabling the Council to announce their decisions.

In addition to the Pirates and Friesland, the Italian Five-Star Movement has also applied Liquid Feedback. With 25% of the national vote, the Five-Star Movement is currently a significant political force for change and a serious adopter of Liquid Feedback. Outside of Italy there seems to be little written on the movement’s experience with the system, so it is an important area of further investigation.

Adhocracy adopters

Liquid Democracy e.V. has used their Adhocracy  software in a number of contexts, including government and various youth development and youth inclusion projects. The highest profile example is its application within the Enquete-Kommission Internet und digitale Gesellschaft des Deutschen Bundestages (Federal Parliamentary Commission on the Internet and Digital Society).

Enquete commissions normally include 17 elected representatives working in conjunction with 17 experts. In this particular case, those who established the commission to investigate the impact of the Internet on society decided to use a participatory platform that would enable citizens to provide feedback because it would enrich the commission’s findings. They believed that the experience of using the platform would also provide its own form of commission “findings.”

Adhocracy has been applied in a number of other areas, including, for example, youth inclusion projects where youth are encouraged to give their ideas on local community development.

Other applications of Liquid Democracy

Other reports have pointed toward the application of Liquid Democracy software by the German Slow Food movement as well as the Germany company Synaxon AG.

Acknowledgement

This research has been funded and draws upon work done at Leuphana University’s Centre for Digital Cultures as part of the Grundversorgung 2.0 Project. The author would like to acknowledge co-contributors to this emerging knowledge pool: Volker Grassmuck, Nicolas Mendoza, and Thomas Olsen.

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This article was originally published in Shareable Magazine.

 

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Interview #31, Sonke Klug, District of Friesland

Early on I met Djure Meinen in Hamburg, who talked about a whole number of Liquid Democracy related things, one of which was the “Liquid Friesland” experiment. From what I understood from Djure, the software developed by Axel, Andreas and co (interview #37-38), Liquid Feedback, had been applied across Friesland, a district in Lower Saxony, Germany bounded by the districts of Wesermarsch, Ammerland, Leer and Wittmund, and by the North Sea.

Given this, I wanted to find out about this experiment, and people’s experiences in implementing and using Liquid Feedback.

Djure was instrumental in setting up the trip. I didn’t know anyone there at all, and Djure was able to make introductions and connection between a whole number of people involved in its application, use and evaluation.

One of these people was Sonke Klug, who was the operational drive behind the implementation of the Liquid Feedback system there. As a district based government project, Sonke was the chief person responsible for its implementation. His interview provided some key insights into understanding the dimensions and challenges of applying liquid feedback within this governmental context.

Liquid Democracy Documentation Project – Interview #31 – Sonke Klug from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

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Liquid Democracy Video Sampler

For the project, Volker Grassmuck asked me to prepare a short example of the kind of audio visual documentation we were doing, for Leuphana University’s Centre for Digital Cultures (CDC), through which this research project was funded.

Marcus and I worked for several days looking for shots from the interviews that could convey the kind of audio-visual research we were doing and also which expressed the spirit of a potential film.

We abandoned attempts to find music tracks that would instil emotion into the trailer, the fit didn’t seem right, and the harsh beauty of northern German in winter did lend itself to a more raw portrayal.

The following is a sample of the many interviews and cinematography that makes up the documentation project.

Liquid Democracy Trailer.mp4 from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

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Interview #37-38: Axel Kistner and Andreas Nitsche, Interaktive Democratie e.V.

Axel Kistner, Andreas Nitsche and their developer colleagues ostensibly created the first Liquid Democracy platform, Liquid Feedback, for the German Pirate Party. This interview provides some insights into the development of Liquid Feedback, the rather rigorous logic involved in its use, and a window into the emergence of the effort to built it.

Many thanks go to Axel Kistner, Andreas Nitsche and their Interaktive Democratie e.V. colleagues for giving the interview and for enduring rather cold interview conditions.

 

Axel and Andreas – dec 2015.mp4 from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.