Our project aims to develop the software tools that will enable organizations of all kinds and sizes to improve their decision-making processes, regardless if it is about political elections, public policies, social subjects or business discussions. And it can go even further.
The dream of truly democratic processes
Imagine that you have to decide, with other people, about many small or big issues in your company, your town or your country; and you can, through a web application, choose whether to vote directly or to delegate your vote on a friend of yours who shares your point of view about this particular problem, or who is more knowledgeable about the issue at hand. Imagine that you can delegate on different persons depending on the topic, the group or the particular decision to be made. This persons can delegate their votes as well. Imagine that even yourself can receive delegated votes. But, in any case, anyone can later vote for themselves and override the vote of their delegates at any time during the voting process. This is called cascade delegation and revocable delegation.
Imagine that you can see the provisional results in real time, and you can change your vote during the voting period depending on these. This is called continuous-round voting.
Imagine that you can propose, or amend what others have proposed, and the people can vote the original proposal and the one you amended. This is called an open system of proposals and amends.
Imagine that you can create your own decision flow. Imagine that, for any collective decision to be made, you can configure, using menus, the form in which the decision should be written, which group of people should vote it, which percent of approval is required, which group of people will receive the proposal if it is approved or rejected and what they will do with it, and so on. This is an easy creation of decision flows.
Imagine that these decision flows can also be voted and amended, as a normal proposal would. Imagine that you have an application where you can define, again using simple menus, from the constitution of a country to the decision process of a particular working group in a company, or a small process for your friends to decide where to travel this summer. This is an open system for decision workflows.
Imagine that this process can run not on a central server, but on the computers of each and every person who wishes to connect to the cloud. For example, your own. Imagine that even after the voting process is finished, you can count again all the votes with your own software, so that there is no possible deceit. This is called direct verifiability.
Imagine that you can know how much each proposal costs you, and you can know in real time how the budget is spent. This is called direct budget and execution control.
Imagine that you can choose either to make your vote public to everyone, to a particular person or group of people (the people who delegated his vote to you, for example) or to make it anonymous. This is called customized confidentiality.
Imagine that you have access to a tool that, besides all that, can also automate any kind of decision process that is established now (He who can do more, can do less). You can limit the delegates, you can establish who will be able to propose, amend or vote. You can define weighted votes, quality votes, etc.
That would be the full implementation of the promises of the Internet for politics and decision making. That would mean to give back the power and the responsibility to the people. That would be to harness collective intelligence.
That is Friction-Free Democracy.
It feels a bit strange to travel back to 1996 and have a look at what what was being said at the time when the use of the Internet was spreading. As it is usually the case in times of change, the good and the bad effects then envisioned have been attained in a distorted manner, so it is not possible to know if either they were right or wrong.
In the year 2006, Bill Gates wrote in his book “The road ahead” a chapter entitled “Friction-Free Capitalism”, a form of marketplace that he argues will be ushered in by the spread of Internet-style electronics. That same year a magazine wrote something that is still featured in business web sites:
Economic friction is everything that keeps markets from working according to the textbook model of perfect competition: Distance. Cost. Restrictive regulations. Imperfect information. In high-friction markets, customers don't have many suppliers to choose among. Owning a factory -- or a store with a good location -- counts for a lot. It's hard for new competitors to get into the game. The marketplace moves slowly and predictably. Low-friction markets are just the reverse. New competitors crop up all over, and customers are quick to respond. The marketplace is anything but predictable.
The term "friction-free democracy" (FFD) is a parallel to friction-free capitalism that exists in a market where information costs have been dramatically reduced with the use of the Internet. For example, the stock exchange has changed forever due to the use of electronic means at its core. Companies transform their structure to maximize the available technology in order to fight the competition. It is possible that the public election system and public institutions in general, which are also information movers, will redesign themselves to use new electronic tools at their cores and not as mere additions to traditional mechanisms. The problem is that, unlike the stock market and the market in general, in the case of public institutions there is no competition to drive this change.
But this is also changing. The current crisis is in part a consequence of the tremendous increase in productivity of developing countries due to friction-free markets. That was predicted 15 years ago. This crisis is also a consequence of the failure in the response of public policies to the changing environment. The rapid pace of circumstances contrasts with the slow pace of governments and the rest of institutions under the falsely secure protection of laws and regulations made for some environment that no longer exists. All that is falling apart now.
People want changes. Whether these changes are for good or evil, they are right as long as the people feel responsible for their consequences and not mere beneficiaries or sufferers of a system where representatives deserve all the credit or discredit. That is evil and childish. To be able to make the wrong decisions and feel responsible for the failures is priceless, since no person, and therefore no country, will learn from the failures of others. A better mechanism for decision making involves the ability to let good ideas quickly rise up over bad ones by trial and error, the possibility to amend errors on time and the traceability of success and failure of each idea, a healthier way for discovering leadership and legitimate authority and its accountability.
Friction-free democracy is a parallel concept to friction-free market or friction-free capitalism. It does the same, but for the market of ideas. Ordinarily, in order to interchange ideas and make decisions it is necessary to meet in a location in space and time. Due to these constraints in communications, the number of persons that can meet is limited. It is therefore necessary to arrange a kind of representation where the decision-taking unit is large enough. The selection of representatives is yet another collective decision, which needs for people to meet, and so on. Thus the decision-making process has various levels, is complicated and needs a set of procedures. There is also a separation between representatives and those represented.
What FFD does is to use the full potential of the Internet in order to break the space-time barrier for communication and decision making. The voter can choose the degree of involvement in decisions by choosing representatives at different levels of detail: for a particular issue, for a group of them, or for the entire process. Anyone can be a representative. The representative can in turn delegate. Anyone can override the vote of their representatives whenever they want. Anyone can make proposals. There is no separation between representatives and those represented. There is no separation between direct vote and the selection of representatives.
This change is not a rupture but an evolution. Current organization structures are neither oppressive nor evil, but a product of the compromises of past circumstances. We do not believe that the new structures will give us a happy “End of History”. We only recognize that things are going in that direction for good and for evil. Neither we believe that democracy or any kind of present or future organization is the cure for all evils. All this is just the realization that, once an organization of any kind --be it a government or a private company-- recognizes a dependency from a group of people, then the process of mutual knowledge and influence can be made far better than is being done now by means of a systematic use of electronic tools at the core of the process, not just as a support of current methods. This influence does not have to involve a decisional quality, but a advisory one. Friction-free democracy, as democracy, is intended as a first step, for advisory purposes in public and private institutions and for decision processes in private institutions. See the use cases for more information about this.
The issue of representation does not only happen in political units. Private institutions and private companies face similar problems in decision making. Sometimes the groups that make decisions are formed by people that have the required expertise or the required authority derived from the investors. But sometimes, these reduced groups that make decisions are a consequence of the same basic limitations of communications. Ultimately the success of any institution, whether private or public, depends on the involvement and agreement of the consumers/customers and the producers/workers in the decisions of said institution. A company executive has to guess what the current and future customers will need and what would make the workers to better fulfil this need. This guess-work is due to a lack of information, and that is the reason why social media is becoming an important element, not only as a marketing tool for the company to spread their output, but also as an input track for their continuous improvement and future strategy. Friction-free democracy can formalize the process of feedback acquisition.
Additionally, due to the dispersion and size of the companies/institutions and clients, to teleworking and to the stable agreement between sparse institutions, there is an increasing amount of workflows carried out by means of electronic mail and web applications. But they lack a clear definition, ranging from communications and demand of advising from the people in some political institutions and private companies, to the big amount of electronic mail interchanged between institutions and departments which have defined but flexible procedures to deal with them. Although many decisions are made by a single person or few people, there are decision workflows where the features of friction-free democracy can benefit the process: A person with decision power can decide to delegate his vote to other. He can decide to make a subflow where a group of advisors may complete the proposal with their vote and opinion before the decision is made.
FFD offers a flexible, decentralized workflow system where each user autonomously, on the fly, define and change the part of the flow for which he or she is responsible. This way, the decision about whether to use or not a FFD web application for communications becomes something like e-mail, something which use is not decided at an organizational level, but at a personal level. This low-profile approach will allow for the extension of the idea to more formal workflows.