Thursday, 26 March 2009

Public Consultation

Due to the continued high rates of teenage pregnancies and STDs there have been calls for a relaxation of UK rules about advertising condoms and, according to this report, abortion clinics. The proposals are up for review and public consultation.
Interactive Democracy would provide an effective channel for just such public consultation and voting.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


AIDA is often cited as the basics of any advert:

  • Attention (grab it)

  • Interest (seize it)

  • Desire (build it)

  • Action (demand it)

This is why adverts sometimes show shocking images and why headlines are so important to draw you into a story.

AIDA is undoubtedly used in political advertising and I feel sure that it would be employed to persuade voters in Interactive Democracy, just like it is used in General Elections today. However, the budget employed by political marketers on advertising would be diluted across many, many more ballots under the Interactive Democracy system, so the effect of political advertising may be a lot less.

Stories Trump Statistics

Editors know what sells newspapers. It's the heart wrenching stories that grab our attention more than banal facts and figures. And photos of people mean more to most of us than graphs, even if they convey less concrete information. This is because most of what we think is governed by our gut instinct rather than our rational self.
This poses a problem for all human decision making and every form of democracy. Luckily both sides of any debate can be illustrated with both testimony and statistics.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Blame the politicians?

It's par for the course to blame politicians. It's just part of holding them to account. But Interactive Democracy gives everyone the ability to get involved in the political process and with that ability comes a degree of responsibility.
Recently many commentators have blamed politicians for the collapse of the banking system and the economy due to the softening of financial regulation. But how many people foresaw the impending disaster and had the gumption to do something about it? If Interactive Democracy had been in place would we have seen apolitical experts calling for change and drumming up public support? Some how I doubt it.
Will this dilution of responsibility allow politicians to dodge responsibility? I imagine that the majority will look at this on a case by case basis, but it's worth remembering that, with ID, we don't have to wait for a general election to exercise our wrath.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Molded by Parliament

Interactive Democracy gives the public the power to push issues forward and force Parliament to debate them, with the objective of offering the public a small range of solutions from which to choose, in a referendum. I would expect MPs to bring all their experience to bear, their knowledge of the existing laws and policies, and to broaden the debate to involve all aspects of associated issues. The results may be a referendum on something that looks a little different to the original concept.
This balance of power, balance of wants and practical needs, balance of amateur insight and expert law making, is important to the creation of good and realistic government.

Refusal by Government

Imagine the situation: a referendum reaches a decision that the elected government, for whatever reason, can't stomach. Could they refuse to implement the mandated policy? They may have very good reasons for doing so as the situation may have changed or new evidence may have come to light. So I expect that this would be a possibility. However, the government would have to look to their own re-election and the public could use Interactive Democracy to bring that date forward.
In this way Interactive Democracy provides balance between the wants of the public and delivery by government. And it provides a balance of power between elected rulers and the majority.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Political Apathy and the Division of Labour

Much has been written over the years about the division of labour, or specialisation of labour, in economics. From Xenophon to Durkheim, according to Wikipedia. And politics is just another specialist job. Among the disadvantages of the division of labour listed on Wikipedia are

  • Disconnection of effects from actions
  • Lack of motivation
  • Dependency
  • Loss of flexibility
All terms that fit rather neatly with the political apathy often seen in modern society.
So, maybe the division of labour shouldn't be applied to politics quite as stringently as may be warranted on a production line. Maybe we shouldn't have expert lawmakers or career politicians and maybe much greater involvement of the electorate would be a good thing.
There are a number of businesses, using less hierarchical management structures, that provide evidence for increased efficiency with increased involvement: Ricardo Semler's organisation and WL Gore and Associates are examples.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Offensive Protests

When the Royal Anglian Regiment marched through the town of Luton on their return from Iraq they were "greeted" by protesters angry over Britain's role in the war and waving placards reading "... Butchers of Basra" and "cowards, killers, extremists". Not surprisingly, many have taken offense at the protest and have called for them to be banned.

So where does "freedom of speech" begin and end?

Most people concentrate on the "offense" when people are "taking offense". Perhaps we should be aware of the "taking" part of the phrase and advise people to just leave the "offense" where it is!

The limits of freedom of speech should be incitement to damage property or person. Most school children know this: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me!". But abusive behaviour is asking for trouble, emotional animals that we are, and picking fights will soon involve the police.

Interactive Democracy wouldn't completely stop protests, but it would provide a safety valve, offering anyone the opportunity to directly influence the political process. Through ID the majority would make a far bigger and more credible "noise" than a handful of people shouting abuse on the street.

I suspect the Royal Anglians have coped with much harsher abuse than this. Nevertheless, I would have liked to have seen the Sergeant Major call "Halt", "To the right, Salute" promptly followed by each soldier producing a crisp V sign in the direction of the protesters, before resuming their march with glints in their eyes. If you are going to dish it out you ought to be able to take it!

The Value of Evidence

Not all evidence carries the same value:

  1. Reproducible empirical experiments provide the strongest proof.

  2. Statistical evidence may be good, but tricky to handle. Even very bright and scientifically trained people may mishandle statistical data. A typical example is assuming that correlations mean cause and effect.

  3. First hand testimony may be good but people can be tricked either by the deceit of others or miscomprehension. If testimonial can be corroborated by others, then its value goes up, taking into account the risk of collusion and trickery.

  4. Allegory is a step away from direct experience and makes poorer evidence.

  5. Analogy is another move away from direct evidence and belongs in the realm of concept association and logic.

All of these types of evidence are present in politics. Unfortunately there may be little in the way of useful socialogical experiments and difficult to comprehend statistical evidence may be the best we can get. This points to the necessity for scientific governmental advisers in the Interactive Democracy system.

In Love with Ideology

Historically, political parties have espoused one ideology or another. Party members have cherished beliefs. They fight for their sacrosanct values; ideals that are automatically defended.
Interactive Democracy encourages debate, issue by issue, and takes a step away from left/right party politics. There is less need for anyone to tow the party line. This concentration on each topic will engender a more detailed examination of the facts and encourage scientific study of the situation even if some arguments are based on ideology. It could be a step away from emotional knee jerk reactions.

Presenting Statistics

Not all journalists want to titillate with scary and often misleading statistics. Click here for an interesting article about the presentation of statistics, making them more meaningful to the majority.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Fear Mongering

"This is the scourge of the earth and I'm the only one who can save you! Without me you will perish!"

Interactive Democracy is much less about appointing saviours (political leaders) and much more about contributing ideas and decisions. It stimulates debate and questions the validity of mood engineering and political manipulation at every turn.

Strap Li(n)es and Sound Bites

The world is a complex place and its very difficult to convey all the available information on any issue. Explaining the context, accuracy, probability and every other factor involved in a point of view is nigh on impossible and not even useful if you are trying to convince someone of your argument. So the simplification of your message can easily sully the vast and complex 'truth'.

I suggest that mechanisms for gleaning the truth are important to democracy and that advertising standards and the legal system, both have roles to play both in clarifying what is true and as a deterrent to those who may be casual with facts.

However, misconception will never be eliminated. Debates and competition between ideas are just as important in keeping democracy clean.

Types of False

  • Lies

  • Exaggeration

  • Omission

  • Different context

  • Mistakes of data (rounding errors)

  • Mistakes of statistics (spurious correlations)

  • Mistakes of observation

  • Mistakes of conclusion

  • Mistaken measurement

  • Mistaken calculation

Interactive Democracy may encourage people to highlight the mistaken assumptions of others. In particular I'd hope that those with specialist knowledge of the issues being debated would feel empowered to speak out when they hear political leaders making mistakes.

Democracy - Sacred Belief?

Perhaps blindly believing in certain things is important. Perhaps it is wrong to criticise parliamentary democracy and maybe, if we all maintain our conviction in it, our shared values will bond us together in social harmony, peace and prosperity.
Some would say that immutable belief can fly in the face of 'truth' and that 'truth' is the value that we should all hold dear. But if the only concrete proof of 'truth' is evidence then maybe politics would be better served by science than by democracy!?
Is evidence of past 'truths' any predictor of the future of society? Maybe it can be. The social sciences surely have something to offer, providing insight through case history and experiment.
However, improving society surely requires more than facts: Goals, values and creativity are ingredients that can be added and mixed together by effective democracy.
This site challenges the sacred belief that the current political system is as good as it gets.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Arguments For and Against

It would be useful if each ePetition listed arguments for and against. These could be contributed by the general public, added under "Arguments For" and "Arguments Against".

There may also be comments classified under "Interesting Points" (please see De Bono's PMI system) and "Questions". The latter may have answers submitted by the general public.

It may require the webmaster to weed out duplicate points with the danger that this could introduce political bias. Therefore, maybe the best approach would be for the web master to bundle the duplicate points together, in chronological order, thereby making the system more manageable without deleting any opinions. They could be viewed by clicking on the original argument. Search software could make this task much easier and would reduce any "operator bias".

Office of National Statistics

You can visit the ONA website by clicking here.