Pol.is

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= "a way to gather open-ended feedback from large groups of people".

URL = http://pol.is


Description

Liz Barry:

"Pol.is is a way to gather open-ended feedback from large groups of people. The polls can be anonymous or linked with social media accounts. A graphic interface shows how opinion clusters emerge, cluster, respond, divide, and recombine; this is possible because pol.is creates and analyzes a matrix comprising what each person thinks about every comment. Minority opinions are as well-defined as the majority opinions are, “dissent is data.

...

Because anyone can enter a new statement, the agenda-setting power is held by the people, a critical advance on a very sticky sticking point for mass decision making.” (http://civichall.org/civicist/vtaiwan-democracy-frontier/)


History

Liz Barry:

"In 2011, I spent some time in Zuccotti Park. Back then, public conversation tech in OccupyWallStreet utilized classic forums with topics and replies (see Nycga.net and Occupywallst.org/forum). There was some prototype location-specific anonymous messaging, a preface to what FireChat would become in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. Briefly, an anonymous txt2projection installation “Our Wall,” sought to “amplify thoughts and ideas in and around the park […] without actually being loud.”

The iconic technology of Occupy was the People’s Mic, by which the crowd turns themselves into a speaker system to have a conversation at scale: Mic Check! + twinkling fingers to indicate agreement. The modes of interaction in Occupy amplified individual voices into a cacophony, and out of that noise, the loudest discernable voices were the ones jockeying to speak on behalf of everyone else. Not a big difference from US speech-making personalities. Fewer provisions were made to pick up signals from a broader base of quieter folks, or to identify points of consensus within complex, divisive issues.

Colin Megill, founder of Pol.is, has said that watching the People’s Mic in action, as well as the communication challenges faced by Arab Spring organizers in Egypt and Iran, inspired the creation of Pol.is. As he says,

We wanted a comment system to be able to handle large populations and stay coherent, while preserving minority opinions and producing insights automatically. AI made that possible. We wanted people to feel safe, listened to and be able to jump in and out as they please. Overall, we wanted to make it easier to successfully decentralize power in organizations of all kinds." (http://civichall.org/civicist/vtaiwan-democracy-frontier/)


Discussion

Liz Barry:

"Colin Megill, the founder of Pol.is, says:

We’re working to change the relationship between citizens and governments in all levels in all places by making feedback something that happens automatically, not something governments have to “go get.” We’ve worked to make it so simple to deploy on a daily or weekly basis that there’s no excuse to not find out what a given population thinks. That’s been really time consuming and labor intensive until now, but leveraging AI will dramatically change the calculation for robust social research.

Getting high dimensional, organic feedback from the population during a problem identification phase—as early as possible in the formation of rules—is categorically different from voting. In voting the cake is baked, and there are literally hundreds of issues at stake. The goal is to engage citizens far earlier, when everyone is arguing over the ingredients. At that point, it’s not legalese yet. It gives citizens much more leverage in shaping policy, and involves them at the phase the process is most accessible, and their input is most valuable as well.

As the complexity of our economy increases, it’s critical to increase the speed with which governments are able to respond to regulatory demands in a collaborative, transparent, and sophisticated way. We’re working to help governments move faster and with more confidence to meet complex challenges posed by new technologies, while embracing diversity of thought and balancing interest groups." (http://civichall.org/civicist/vtaiwan-democracy-frontier/)


The experience in Brazil

Ricardo Poppi:

"First of all, our decision in adopting and expanding pol.is’ engine is based on the above diagnostic that we need to improve our collective deliberation tools in two main complementary challenging aspects. First, the deliberation tool should achieve higher levels of mass engagement in free (as in freedom) collective deliberation. Second, it should foster collective engagement that overcomes the confrontation logic of social media (swarming and campaigns) and enable collaboration between government and society towards common goods.

The pol.is engine is well suited to address the first challenging aspect of acheiving higher levels of mass engagement because it proposes a seamless and minimalist way of participating. The easiest way people can participate on its engine is just casting a reaction to atweet-size comment (proposal) randomly selected from all comments submitted. This kind of participation can be completed in less than a minute.

In a progressive way, after reacting to a comment, people can keep reacting until they reache the last of the comments or, submit their own perspective as a comment. This new comment will then be part of the comments deck and available for the other participants to cast reactions to.

In the pol.is engine, participants can’t reply to a comment. Its architecture does away with replies in order to formulate a matrix of commentss and reactions. All the information gave by participants is accounted. Good comments and ideas will not be lost on enormous discussions trees but will be presented as an equal to other participants cast reactions. Discussions architecture like pol.is — that we call “Crowdsourced Discussion” — are different from traditional forums — that we call “Threaded Discussion”. In a “Crowdsourced Discussion” all information given is utilized. In a “Threaded Discussion”, as it depends on later systematization, part of the information (sometimes most of it) is discharged by the process. We’re not specifically advocating for abandoning the “Threaded Discussion” architecture, as we think it’s still important for many deliberation experiences, specially for small-medium groups. But we realize that it poses serious mass engagement limitations.

Now, let’s go to the second challenging aspect, that is to foster participants engagement on collective actions. The pol.is engine uses machine learning algorithms to interpret the data matrix built by the comments and people reactions in real-time. That matrix is processed in a way people can be organized in affinity groups based on how they participate on each comment.

The information about those group formations is updated in real-time and is exhibited in a way people can had a sense of moving around in a physical, tactile space towards their tribe. That’s very innovative, as the pol.is interface provides a democratic and transparent dashboard that not only the system administration can see but every participant or viewer. Everybody can understand and download the data about the groups that were formed on the discussion, how each comments performed in each group, what were the majority comment within all groups, which group you are in and who are the other group members. Very well done, pol.is!

On the other hand, though pol.is is very good at identifying these affinity groups, currently it stops on the exhibition of this information, which is not enough to help these people to organize around autonomous collective action.

In our opinion, there are improvements to be developed in the application precisely to carry out this type of action, and that’s how we want to use it on our experiments. Still, that’s how we intend to contribute to the pol.is community, starting in Madrid’s laboratory. Within Madrid’s selected project we intend to develop on top of pol.is some engagement and collective action add-ons, promoting face to face processes based on pol.is’ groups formation that will be organized on the last days of laboratory time. All our work and use cases will be documented so the experiments can be replicated and software reused as a way to contribute to this newborn commons community where we felt very welcome by its members." (https://medium.com/cidades-democr%C3%A1ticas/how-pol-is-is-being-adopted-by-cidade-democr%C3%A1tica-in-brazil-1fd744b2aece#.5p7ouso71)

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