e-participation

Consensus Building and Decision Making using Free/Open Source Software

We created Rule2Gether to demonstrate a simple, immediate and practical use of a Free Software platform (Drupal) in the hard task of collecting and organizing feedback from a group of citizens on matters that may directly affect all others. In our specific case, commenting and rating on Italian Chamber of Deputies Agenda Items and collecting proposals for new items that are taken into consideration for the next meeting only if the majority of the users support them directly through a vote, or indirectly through rating and comments.

But consensus-building, in any group, goes far beyond this simple feedback process. There are countless situations where decision-making by a group or by its representatives may go through endless types of stages (ie: anyone can propose topics, users x, y, z can sort the proposals, only users j, f, k can comment on the proposals, the committee of experts A must assess the feasibility of each proposal, voting: the "n" best proposals are elected and the selected proposals can be rated and commented by all users; all actions are suspended for "x" days; users a, b, c need to attend a video-conference... etc ...). That is, it is virtually impossible to think that one can list all the possible steps and then offer a one-size-fits-all solution.

We know this and that's why we designed Rule2Gether's future ready for flexible configuration of decision-making and consensus building stages, which is particularly interesting to political organizations or any organization willing to use a self-management system in a democratic manner. We will slowly publish more about it and carefully listen and discuss your comments through this blog.

In the last days I have contacted some groups (because of our intention to present Rule2Gether as a bid candidate to funds available in the European Union) and analyzed their general goal. I saw that each group has a different approach to solve a more or less the same problem. Many times using the same open source software as common ground (such as a content management system - CMS), but duplicating efforts when it comes to the implementation of features specific to the decision-making and consensus building processes.
  • The World Parliament Experiment: the site provides a discussion forum and specific functionality for political debate, with the aim of creating a world parliament, where people can propose, vote directly or delegate their vote on any issue under discussion;
  • Senator On-Line: an Internet political party which will allow everyone on the Australian Electoral roll who has access to the internet to vote on every bill put to Parliament and have its Senators to vote in accordance with a clear majority view;
  • Efficasync: a theoretical concept for self-management through processes of direct democracy. Users, as in a game, may choose to use their turn to change a "rule" already established, or accumulate "points" to gain more decision power in upcoming decisions;
  • GlobalDemo.org: a generic groupware for creating discussion spaces with blogs, faq, calendar of events, wall and discussion forum;
  • Gov2demOSS Light: a modular groupware for the creation of collaboration spaces with forums, petitions, calendar of events and knowledge base;
  • Global Assembly: uses a numerical evaluation for user's interest in a particular argument and his approval level for the statement, with formula value = interest x approval. The topics are then structured as a regular discussion forum;
  • DemocracyLab: calculates the general community view (consensus) on current arguments using a numerical scale evaluation (1 to 7) for agreement and importance to users, classified under 3 categories: values, positions and proposals.

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Rule2Gether wants to serve as a common platform for the creation and configuration of the stages necessary for decision-making and consensus-building that is useful for most applications (like the ones listed above) using different workflows to achieve more or less the same goals, where the visual interface can be completely themed, and settings for the amount of stages, permissions and functions enabled for each active phase are constructed in such a way as to allow greater flexibility of use and a huge savings in the implementation of each feature. Besides the fact of establishing an open platform on which anyone can develop additional modules (surveys, voip, mini-apps ...), similarly to a large LEGO model.

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