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Raising Global Consciousness

Challenges to on-line Participatory Democracy - I test drive www.howshouldivote.com.au

I have just been reading an opinion piece written by Cassandra Wilkinson on the ABC web-site titled "New Leadership - for all of us". In it she explores what she calls a hot topic in public policy - participatory democracy - the process of handing over resources and policy choices to direct community decision making. Her observation is that web 2.0 technologies are making this possible.

The idea of direct participative democracy sounds like an attractive idea at a glance. I would certainly like to be able to have my say on a number of issues

Like a number of the other commentators I have a couple of questions about it's capacity to deliver effective participative democracy. There are a number of unanswered issues. For example:
1. Is the voting population cognitively capable of working at this level? Developmental psychologists suggest that normal democracy requires a level of cognition / world view that is higher that that of the average voter
2. Are voters sufficiently interested and motivated enough to participate at this level, and do they have the time to invest to understand the issues properly, especially once the novelty phase wears off?
3. Having said this, will this turn out to be a case of voters loosing through the "divide and rule" principle - large political parties find it difficult to difficult to resist the sway of motivated special interest groups - how much easier would it be for these groups to conquer individual voters?
4. Is it possible to capture the complexity of issues using on-line technology or does it lead to oversimplification?

Having said this , I was talking to someone about the idea of senator-online and he told me he had just been on a web-site set up by www.getup.org called www.howshouldivote.com.au. He sounded very positive about his experience so I thought that maybe I had been over critical in my mental assessment and it might work. So I went and gave it a test drive.


The objective of the web-site is to help you choose which candidate to vote for in the coming federal election based on a comparison between your ranking of important issues compared with the way the candidates have ranked those same issues . It works by post code. It starts by asking you for your post code. Then it asks you to rank 20 issues between a scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree. Once that is complete it asks you select the 3 issues that are most important to you out of the 20. The candidates have responded to the same questions and the web-site uses software to compare your answers with those of the individual candidates standing for your postcode. The output from the software is a compatibility ranking score by candidate. You can also drill down to see how each candidate responded to the same questions. The web-site will also email you or sms you a how to vote card based on the ranking results or you can print one on-line.

So what did I think after completing the exercise?

The first problem was that two candidates had not participated so they were excluded - one of these was the liberal party candidate - but given that my best match was with the democrats with labour third it probably wouldn't have mattered in my case.

The next problem I encountered was that some of the 20 issues were framed in a way that I was unable to express my real opinion. As a result I ended up voting against what I really thought. For example I am in favour of providing extra funding for childcare as long as it ends up increasing childcare services and quality and in the areas in which they are needed. On the other hand I am against using subsidies as a funding method because in the current environment these are likely translate into increased childcare fees and the enrichment of childcare providers rather than increased provision and improved quality of childcare. Most issues aren't black and white.

This problem of oversimplification highlights an inherent challenged that anyone faces when they try to use quantitative techniques to assess complex issues - and these unfortunately the only techniques available for online assessment. And as anyone who has done research before knows, the way that someone answers a question depends on how it is asked and the questions that came before it.

The final problem I faced was when I was asked to choose my 3 most important election issues. Out of the 20 options that I was asked to select from I could only find one of my main issues.

I know that this web-site is not an exact replica of what we could expect but it does highlight some of the issues and challenges that online measurement presents.
I have just been reading an opinion piece written by Cassandra Wilkinson on the ABC web-site titled "New Leadership - for all of us". In it she explores what she calls a hot topic in public policy - participatory democracy - the process of handing over resources and policy choices to direct community decision making. Her observation is that web 2.0 technologies are making this possible.

The idea of direct participative democracy sounds like an attractive idea at a glance. I would certainly like to be able to have my say on a number of issues

Like a number of the other commentators I have a couple of questions about it's capacity to deliver effective participative democracy. There are a number of unanswered issues. For example:
1. Is the voting population cognitively capable of working at this level? Developmental psychologists suggest that normal democracy requires a level of cognition / world view that is higher that that of the average voter
2. Are voters sufficiently interested and motivated enough to participate at this level, and do they have the time to invest to understand the issues properly, especially once the novelty phase wears off?
3. Having said this, will this turn out to be a case of voters loosing through the "divide and rule" principle - large political parties find it difficult to difficult to resist the sway of motivated special interest groups - how much easier would it be for these groups to conquer individual voters?
4. Is it possible to capture the complexity of issues using on-line technology or does it lead to oversimplification?

Having said this , I was talking to someone about the idea of senator-online and he told me he had just been on a web-site set up by www.getup.org called www.howshouldivote.com.au. He sounded very positive about his experience so I thought that maybe I had been over critical in my mental assessment and it might work. So I went and gave it a test drive.


The objective of the web-site is to help you choose which candidate to vote for in the coming federal election based on a comparison between your ranking of important electoral issues compared with the way the candidates have ranked those same issues . It works by post code. It starts by asking you for your post code. Then it asks you to rank 20 issues between a scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree. Once this is complete it asks you select the 3 issues that are most important to you out of the 20. The candidates that are standing for the the election have responded to the same questions that you have just answered. The web-site uses software to compare your answers with those of the individual candidates standing for the seat in your postcode. The output from the software is a compatibility ranking score by candidate. You can also drill down to see how each candidate responded to the same questions. The web-site will also email you or sms you a how to vote card based on the ranking results or you can print one on-line.

So what did I think after completing the exercise?

The first problem was that two candidates had not participated so they were excluded from the evaluation- one of these was the liberal party candidate - but given that my best match was with the democrats with labour third it probably wouldn't have mattered in my case.

The next problem I encountered was that some of the 20 issues were framed in a way that I was unable to express my real opinion. As a result I ended up voting against what I really thought. For example I am in favour of providing extra funding for childcare as long as it ends up increasing childcare services and quality and in the areas in which they are needed. On the other hand I am against using subsidies as a funding method because in the current environment these are likely translate into increased childcare fees and the enrichment of childcare providers rather than increased provision and improved quality of childcare. Most issues aren't black and white.

This problem of oversimplification highlights an inherent challenged that anyone faces when they try to use quantitative techniques to assess complex issues - and these unfortunately the only techniques available for online assessment. And as anyone who has done research before knows, the way that someone answers a question depends on how it is asked and the questions that came before it.

The final problem I faced was when I was asked to choose my 3 most important election issues. Out of the 20 options that I was asked to select from I could only find one of my main issues.

To be fair to the web-site it did provide me with information that I didn't have before even if I couldn't evaluate it all effectively - it is a great service

I know that the web-site is not an exact replica of what we could expect of online participative democracy but it does highlight some of the issues and challenges that online measurement presents.