In an excellent post Ben Rattray, founder of change.org, suggest that technology can help improve democracy by addressing what he calls three core needs:
- Mass Civic Participation: Citizens need effective outlets for expressing their voice on the issues that matter to them more often than every 2–4 years, and at the local as well as the national level.
- Responsive Government: Elected officials need to be responsive to citizen concerns and directly engage with them in a way that ensures they feel authentically heard.
- Trusted Information: We need a new channel of distribution for political information that elevates trusted sources to guide citizens as they take civic action — a trust graph for politics.
Later in the post he elaborates the idea of a trust graph for politics:
This isn’t something we’ve yet developed, but since we believe it will be a crucial component of any successful democratic system and an important part of our future, I’ll outline our current thinking here.
The foundation of this trust graph for politics is based on asking each citizen to follow the people and organizations whose political perspective they most trust — whether they’re friends, public intellectuals, business leaders, former elected officials, or public interest groups.
We would use this data to create a trust ranking index, similar to Google PageRank. The measure of how trusted a source is would not be based simply on their total number of followers, but on the number and diversity of other highly trusted people who follow them, whose trustworthiness would be measured by the number and diversity of other highly trusted people who follow them, and so on. The result would be to surface the people and organizations of all political perspectives who are highly trusted both by the trusted members of that community and by trusted people with different perspectives.
There is a striking similarity between this concept of a trust graph and the notion of “credibility” we implemented in the YourView platform.
The challenge we tried to address with YourView was that of identifying public wisdom on major public issues. Our idea was to create an online forum which would encourage large-scale participation in high quality public deliberation, and to divine from that deliberation a collective viewpoint which gave more weight to those participants who had more credibility which we defined as a demonstrated capacity to effectively engage in public deliberation. Credibility was calculated automatically by algorithms embedded in the platform. These had a pagerank-like quality in that one of the key factors in building a strong credibility score was contributing in a way that met the approval of high credibility people, particularly those who disagree with you. YourView thus encouraged participants to engage productively with people of the opposite persuasion rather than just preaching to the converted.
Now, with major funding from the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency we are embarking on a project to build a platform for crowdsourcing intelligence analysis. our plan is that the new platform will use YourView -like mechanisms, though in much more sophisticated ways, to identify the best analysts and to take advantage of that information in various ways to improve the quality of the results.
My hope is that what we develop and build in this project will be of sufficient generality that it will also be able to be used to address problems of democracy in broadly the manner described by Ben Rattray and in our writings on the YourView project.