OpenDemocracy’s de Borda experiment

de BordaOver the last few weeks, OurKingdom (part of OpenDemocracy) have been running an experiment in using the de Borda process in conjunction with the de Borda Institute and the New Economics Foundation

My experience of the process was that it was good at bringing out the complexities of the issue (funding for political parties in the UK and controls over what they can do with it). In fact so good, that the number of choices presented for voting on became bewildering. As the report on the results notes:

Despite our best efforts, however, [the draft ballot paper] was over 6 options long. Even then, some pointed out that it did not cover all the points raised and so, as you know, we finished up with a ballot paper of 9 options.

The result was that many felt the ballot was confusing (5-7 options are seen as the most that people find easy to cope with), which must have been a factor in only 60 of the 170 registered users bothering to vote.

My thoughts on this are:

  • When an issue becomes unexpectedly complicated, don’t try to cram everything in together. It may be possible to split the issue into two separate issues. For example in this case (a) raising/allocating money and (b) controls over spending are pretty distinct, and each could probably have been limited to 5-7 easily understood options, replacing one mind-melt with 2 simpler choices.
  • The editorial role of grouping together ‘similar’ opinions into a votable option has a real risk of become part of the political process, especially if complex unrelated options are grouped together. How do you convince the participants that a fair process has been used while keeping the number of options manageable?

Sorry about the recent silence on this blog btw – my day job work has been getting in the way lately. I will try to do better, assuming I have any readers left!


About Peter Cruickshank

Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.
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