Some thoughts about large scale decision-making

A comment from Loomio co-founder Richard D. Bartlett in a recent discussion about decision-making at scale:

“Personally the two models of scaling that I’m interested in are delegative & deliberative. (See Wikipedia on delegative democracy and Aaron Swartz on the deliberative model known as parpolity.)

Projects like DemocracyOS and LiquidFeedback are exploring the delegative model, where votes can be passed between people to form blocs of influence. I can imagine that being pretty awesome, and pretty problematic too.

Loomio is currently far down the deliberative end of the spectrum. We’ve stayed away from the “hard” problems that come with scale (e.g. identity verification) and are working on the difficult “soft” problems like teaching people to engage with each other respectfully in pursuit of shared understanding.

When we’re talking about nation-scale decision-making, the problem with either electoral or delegative systems is that the point of citizen engagement is entirely discontinuous with the actual crux of governance: negotiation, compromise and consensus-building. Voting leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, it feels like I’m giving up my autonomy in the hopes that some jerk who I don’t even know is going to exercise it in my interests.

Conversely, the deliberative model is fractal, self-similar at all scales, so the grassroots participants have an insight into what operations look like at the uppermost or innermost decision-making body. Participation is an enriching experience for the individuals, and it draws out collective intelligence greater than the sum of its parts.

There are something like 25,000 Podemos members using Loomio right now, in 1,000 different groups. It’s pretty easy for me to imagine Loomio 2.0, where all those groups are associated together into one network. Imagine sending a proposal out to all the different groups in the network and seeing distinct deliberations underway in each local group, watching points of agreement or controversy or insight or initiative spreading virally throughout the network, everyone participating in their full autonomy and simultaneously contributing to a massive collective roar, or a song, a unity of unmerged voices.”

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Author: Richard D. Bartlett

Loomio co-founder; open source hardware and software hacker; activist;