Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Thinking in Packs

  • It is natural for humans and many other animals to want to be part of the group. This can lead to an acceptance of attitudes, values and decisions and means that we may not be quite as independent as we thought. We may even act in accordance with the group despite disagreeing with it. Party politics can thrive on these social pressures but Interactive Democracy provides some balance:
  1. By involving the wider community in political decision making.
  2. By allowing party members to secretly vote against the party in a referendum (on each issue).
Nevertheless, political parties still have their role in selecting and promoting prospective members of Parliament and Government.

Fallible Brains

Psychologists may be able to itemise all of the different ways in which our minds play tricks on us and lead us to poor decisions (remember Mrs Clinton's "miss-speak", her husbands denial or Mr Blair's 40 minute claim). Evidently the greatest political minds make astonishing mistakes. Undoubtedly, some of the population are more fallible than others, but does this undermine our ability to make good collective decisions in Interactive Democracy?
It may be that in some circumstances taking a measure of the choices of a large diverse population is less susceptible to brain error than in a small integrated population like the House of Commons where social pressures may contribute to bad decisions. To some extent this is detailed in "The Lucifer Effect" by Philip Zimbardo and James Surowiecki's altogether different book, "The Wisdom of Crowds".

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Group Think

Psychologists are clear that groups can behave in ways that are sometimes brutal, immoral and irrational; ways that wouldn't normally be considered by most individuals. It is more likely when decisions are made by a small insular group of similar people, under stress and with a dominant leader, such as a Cabinet with an autocratic Prime Minister. This is a potential problem for Democracy and is countered by various social apparatus: a free press, competing political parties, Parliament, an independent judiciary, a police force that applies the law with integrity and of course, Elections. It is also countered by mature and thoughtful Ministers who genuinely look towards their electorate as the seat of their power and seek information from a variety of sources in order to make decisions.

In a diverse society, Interactive Democracy offers another safeguard to Group Think, improved by people voting in private and without peer pressure.

The Lucifer Effect - Group Think

In his book "The Lucifer Effect", Philip Zimbardo describes how context and situation can lead normal, healthy, well balanced and intelligent individuals to perpetrate horrendous outrages on others. It is a type of Group Think. Perhaps one of the advantages of Interactive Democracy is that this is unlikely to happen when power is in the hands of many divergent people - the electorate. Maybe it is more likely when power is held by a small clique without democratic controls, insulated from the outside world?


We all make mistakes, regardless of how clever we are. Which is exactly why power shouldn't reside within a small group of similar people and why there should be checks and balances. Interactive Democracy gives more power to the electorate but maintains the role of Parliament.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Public Whip

This site enables you to track the attendance and voting patterns of members of Parliament and the House of Lords. It also allows you to research votes you are interested in.

Mobile Democracy

This link has information about the application of mobile technologies to democracy, the advantage being that more people may use the system if it is more convenient.

Wiki Democracy - Groups Crafting Documents

You may have seen Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. One of the things that makes it interesting is that anyone can edit it without needing to know a great deal about creating web documents.

Wiki software may have great benefits for anyone wanting to write collective documents. Parliament for instance!... An idea that is being addressed with experiments occurring in a number of different locations around the world (for more information see this link). This may aid the development of laws if this type of system was utilised in the democratic process, adding to transparency if everyone could view the development of documents on-line. People may then contact their MPs to suggest amendments!


This site links to some interesting initiatives. For example:

  • WikiDemocracy in Italy, where people can collectively write the parties program.

  • New Zealand police let the public write the law.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Mastering the Web Master

The web master has special powers that may be used to manipulate the content and presentation of the ID site. It is therefore sensible for their actions to be monitored by a Parliamentary Committee with suitable powers. The manipulation of the system in order to effect a vote is a serious issue and should carry a criminal charge.

Accurate accountability may be facilitated by automatic logging of changes to the ID site which could be traced to individual Web Masters using their personal log in name and password. The log in details may also limit individuals access to some areas of the system.

A complaints procedure where any member of the public can contact the Parliamentary Committee directly would provide a separate level of monitoring.

What's the pay off for voting?

Does your vote change anything? If you didn't vote, would it make a difference to the outcome?... You are one in about 40 000 000 voters!

For me the idea that my knowledge and experience are contributing to a better overall decision is the reason to vote, yet I find it hard to apply knowledge and experience to choosing a politician. After all it is quite difficult to judge how someone may act in the future, in a job they have never done before, reacting to unforeseen circumstances, and much easier to decide your position on issues such as the smoking ban or fox hunting.

... and if I don't have an opinion, why should I vote?

Interactive Democracy, Hijacked by the Party

Politicians and party members may both create proposals and vote using Interactive Democracy. They may even vote cohesively in order to have a bigger effect. Party members are the people who are most involved in politics and I would expect them to to campaign for support for their chosen ID policies as vociferously as for their party in a general election.
Should party members refuse to tow the party line in an ID vote, they will be free from coercion as their votes are confidential.

Herd Instinct and Market Forces

When you see a queue for a restaurant would you consider it evidence that it's worth a visit? This type of thinking is pervasive in marketing, indeed all of human life. Some would say the it leads to the irrational exuberance of boom (and bust).

Such forces of attraction are inevitable in Interactive Democracy (indeed any democracy) and may attract people to vote on popular issues. A counterbalance to voter apathy. Just like the restaurant, once there, they make their own choice from the menu and vote as they please.
It's also a reason not to have running totals on the voting system, in order to avoid bias.