Why Tech has failed Politics

About 7 months ago, Ben Rattray, a founder of Change.org, wrote an article about some ideas for how tech could help politics. Unfortunately, they weren’t well developed. They were not solutions.

How Tech Fixed Search

Imagine it was 1990 and there were no good search engines yet. People spout ideas like, “We need more people searching,” “We need better communication,” “We need trustworthy information.” Those thoughts did not create a search engine.

Then someone says, “What if we made information easy to submit and readily available, so people can type in a phrase and get good information back quickly.”

This specifies what people do. People with information post it to the web. Users type. And the system returns good information quickly.

The analysis of what that makes possible is lengthy. But the description is short. And the messages are succinct. To searchers, “Quickly find what you’re looking for.” To people who want to be found, “We’ll find you.”

After this, search engine teams could focus on doing a good job building it.

How tech has failed politics

Politics is a much more involved thing. It’s purpose isn’t to give trusted information or to elect good people or to enable people to compete for office or for parties to compete for power. The purpose of politics isn’t to get more people to vote or be involved. But these are what systems (companies and consultants and web sites and organizations) offer. So these efforts don’t make much of a difference in politics.

Besides working on the wrong things, tech didn’t do what many in tech are good at- identifying and solving problems. Instead, founders like Ben assumed their understanding of politics was sufficient, even though they didn’t have a solution. It’s not Ben’s fault- he’s been like everyone else, doing the best he can. But more is needed.

With the exception of PeopleCount, no one has proposed a viable system. Change.org offers petitions, but they mostly seem to do nothing. “Make your voice heard” isn’t a solution. There are others that have tried, AmericansElect, Brigade, Simpolfy and Countable. But none have thought through to a whole solution.

What’s the purpose of politics?

The purpose of politics is to “enable the members of a society to collectively achieve important human goals they cannot otherwise achieve individually. … politics procures safety, order and general welfare within the state.”

There are all sorts of ways of doing this, but America want one that’s democratic within the bounds allowed by our Constitution, guaranteeing certain rights and liberties.

One solution

One solution, the one proposed by PeopleCount, is a system whereby politicians are accountable to citizens. I’ve written a lot about accountability. And I’ve created a succinct description of what a solution looks like:

Citizens vote on issues to express themselves and be counted. They see the results so they can form expectations of what they want and what’s possible. They request accountability on the issues important to them. Politicians regularly report to them. Citizens grade them and share the grades.

There’s much more to the details, included trusted information and deliberative democracy and crowdsourcing topics, issues, and questions. But this is a robust beginning. Working on this will allow tech to fix politics.

PeopleCount is leading the effort with an entire design of an MVP complete with a growth plan, marketing partners and sustainable financing. But we’re currently 1 guy with a full-time job, so it’s going slowly.

What’s needed is to invest in this area.

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