Liquid Democracy

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See also: Liquid Feedback

Definition

1.

'The basic idea is a democratic system in which most issues are decided (or strongly suggested to representatives) by direct referendum. Considering nobody has enough time and knowledge for every issue, votes can be delegated by topic. Furthermore delegations are transitive and can be revoked at any time. Liquid Democracy is sometimes referred to as Delegated or Proxy Voting." (http://liquidfeedback.org/)


2. Luis Daniel:

"Think about how you would vote on where to go to dinner when hanging out with five of your friends. The five of you would sit around the living room, discuss what each of you are in the mood for and then vote on a place that would suit most people’s cravings. This is a very simplified version of a direct democracy. However, what if instead of 5 friends, you’re hanging out with 30 friends? You might not remember the last time you had to discuss and agree on where to eat with 30 people, and that would be because as a group grows larger, discussions get longer and reaching a consensus gets harder. Also consider that Billy and Jane are from out of town, and what do they know about local food?

Direct democracy — one person one vote — does not scale well. The voters might not always be knowledgeable on the matter being discussed. That is why today, many governments use a form of representative democracy, where people vote on representatives they trust who will represent them when voting on policy decisions.

As most voters can attest, however, your representatives may not have expertise on every topic and won’t always share your same opinions on every single issue. We don’t want Billy and Jane choosing the restaurant.

Liquid democracy tries to take the best of both direct and representative democracy by allowing the voter to decide whether to delegate her vote to a representative on a given issue or simply vote on her own. Say you’re an expert on education, wouldn’t it be great if you could have your representatives vote for you on all health care issues, but when it came down to education issues, you could cast your own vote? This is what liquid democracy attempts to do. This video, by German designer Jakob Jochmann, provides a great introduction to liquid democracy. Liquid Democracy would have been unworkable prior to the Internet but is becoming a reality today and ready for prime time testing." (http://www.thegovlab.org/democratizing-policymaking-online-liquid-feedback/)

Concept

"Liquid Democracy is the combination of networks and democracy. It is a term designed to capture a more fluid and responsive participation of citizens in the democratic process through the use of both online and offline networks. Votes flow through networks of trusted relationships and in this way a range of types of “delegation” can be created, from forms we are familiar with such as conventional representative democracy, to fluid parties and direct democracy." (http://liquiddemocracy.org/)


Jose Ramos:

"Liquid Democracy has a number of key features. In the Liquid Democracy system, a party member can assign a proxy vote to any other member, thereby assigning a personal delegate, instead of voting for a representative. A member can give their vote to another member for all issues, for a particular policy area, or for a particular decision only for any length of time. That vote can be rescinded at any time. Under this system, a person can become a delegate for multiple members within a polity very quickly, wielding the political power normally reserved for elected representatives as a result. But a person can lose this power just as quickly. This is the “liquid” in Liquid Democracy, a process that can also be referred to as “transitive delegation.” If someone is respected as a trusted expert in a particular area, they can gain members’ votes. As a result, every person within a Liquid Democracy platform is a potential politician.

In one of the software systems, any member can also propose an idea. If enough other members support the idea, it moves on to a discussion phase, where the proposal can be modified or alternative proposals can be put forward. Of the proposals that are offered, those with enough support are put up for a vote. A vote is made using the Schultz method of preferential voting, ensuring that votes are not split by almost identical “cloned” proposals. All of this is done online.

There are a number of critical issues within Liquid Democracy applications. The first question is whether a party will make the Liquid Democracy process a binding one—where member votes on the online platform become real law—or use it for reference—where member votes merely inform existing representatives. The second question relates to transparency: Will users disclose their identities, retain anonymity, or use a hybrid system of authenticated pseudonymity? The third question pertains to whether liquid (or transitive) or direct votes are used." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/liquid-democracy-the-app-that-turns-everyone-into-a-politician)

Tool

"Liquid Democracy is a fast, decentralized, collaborative question-answering system, which works by enabling chained answer recommendation. It occupies the middle ground somewhere between direct and representative democracy, and is designed to ensure that the things we all hold in common stay properly maintained." (http://seed.sourceforge.net/ld_k5_article_004.html)


Jose Ramos:

"Two organizations eventually created Liquid Democracy technology. In 2009 Andreas Nitchea, Axel Kistner, Jan Behrens, and Björn Swierczek put in nearly four months of volunteer time to create the first Liquid Democracy software called “Liquid Feedback.” They later set up the organization Interaktive Democratie e.V. to promote it.

The second organization, Liquid Democracy e.V. uses a software called Adhocracy, originally designed by programmer Friedrich Lindenberg. Liquid Democracy e.V. is an NGO currently headed by Daniel Reichert, working together with a robust team of project managers and developers who apply Adhocracy software in a number of different contexts.

The organizations used different software programs (based on different programming languages) that reflect different philosophies toward Liquid Democracy with different functionalities.

Interaktive Democratie e.V. sees transparency within the platform as a sine qua non of any application of the software. They also consider the liquid delegation of proxy votes to be a core feature of Liquid Feedback that should not be scuttled. In addition, they do not see the software itself as a platform for deliberation, but rather as a tool for decision-making. If a group wants to deliberate on an issue, Interaktive Democratie e.V. suggests that people use social media platforms to do so, not Liquid Feedback; they do not think of their product as a replacement for live or online deliberation, but believe that the Liquid Feedback system should complement the interaction between people who already know each other—or are at least contextually familiar—instead.

Liquid Democracy e.V., on the other hand, does not see the liquid delegation of proxy votes as an absolute necessity (it can be switched on and off depending on where it is applied). In addition, the Adhocracy software is designed for public deliberation, rather than voting (although it is still possible). Adhocracy includes features such as a collective editing function, where a script or text (filmic or policy) can be deliberated and dynamically developed. Users can be anonymous and it’s not an absolute necessity for people to know each other outside of the Adhocracy platform.

These two organizations with their two distinct software systems have given rise to a number of applications of Liquid Democracy systems." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/liquid-democracy-the-app-that-turns-everyone-into-a-politician)


Liquid Feedback Adopters

Jose Ramos:

Liquid Feedback has been universally adopted by the German Pirate Party as a tool for deepening the party members’ level of political engagement. The German Pirate Party applies the Liquid Feedback software at different levels and in different regions. In other words, their national Liquid Feedback platform is different than their regional platforms. At the national level, Liquid Feedback is still a reference system; actual policy and representative voting processes use a paper ballot. Efforts have been made to use Liquid Feedback to make binding policy decisions, however the issue is currently at a deadlock, with a powerful group of anonymists within the party blocking the way toward a fully transparent and binding system. However some chapters at the regional level have adopted a binding Liquid Feedback system. The Berlin Pirates are currently in the process of making their Liquid Feedback processes politically binding as well. At this time, there are certain legal obstacles related to electoral law that still need to be overcome.

The success of the Pirate Party after the 2011 state and regional elections was bolstered by their avowed use of Liquid Feedback. This set them apart from other parties and, as a result, Liquid Feedback software is often confused as Pirate Party software. But Liquid Feedback does not belong to the Pirate Party—it is open source and can be applied by many different organizations in a variety of contexts.

In addition to its application within political parties, Liquid Feedback has also been used at the county municipal level in a region of Germany called Friesland. The pioneering Council of Friesland enlisted the help of Interaktive Democratie e.V. to apply Liquid Feedback in their decision-making process, which is now called “Liquid Friesland.” Liquid Friesland has been running for several years. It gives local community members a way to propose policy ideas and directions, which are then voted on by people using the software. Only people who are legal residents of Friesland are allowed to join the software platform; authentication systems have therefore been devised to weed out non-legitimate users. Liquid Friesland is primarily a reference system. Community member votes are not binding policy for the county. Instead they primarily inform the Council decision-making process. The system has the dual function of allowing community members to propose ideas and enabling the Council to announce their decisions.

In addition to the Pirates and Friesland, the Italian Five-Star Movement has also applied Liquid Feedback. With 25% of the national vote, the Five-Star Movement is currently a significant political force for change and a serious adopter of Liquid Feedback. Outside of Italy there seems to be little written on the movement’s experience with the system, so it is an important area of further investigation." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/liquid-democracy-the-app-that-turns-everyone-into-a-politician)


Adhocracy adopters

Jose Ramos:

"Liquid Democracy e.V. has used their Adhocracy software in a number of contexts, including government and various youth development and youth inclusion projects. The highest profile example is its application within the Enquete-Kommission Internet und digitale Gesellschaft des Deutschen Bundestages (Federal Parliamentary Commission on the Internet and Digital Society).

Enquete commissions normally include 17 elected representatives working in conjunction with 17 experts. In this particular case, those who established the commission to investigate the impact of the Internet on society decided to use a participatory platform that would enable citizens to provide feedback because it would enrich the commission’s findings. They believed that the experience of using the platform would also provide its own form of commission “findings.”

Adhocracy has been applied in a number of other areas, including, for example, youth inclusion projects where youth are encouraged to give their ideas on local community development." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/liquid-democracy-the-app-that-turns-everyone-into-a-politician)


Projects

Project 1

"Liquid Democracy is a theoretical concept of redefining decision-making procedures to enable a broader participation. The idea behind this is a fusion of direct and representative participation opportunities in order to make them accessible to preferably all areas of society. Within the Liquid Democracy Association this concept is being advanced as “Direct Parliamentarism“ and is applied to the participation software Adhocracy." (http://liqd.net/en/about/einfuehrung/)


Project 2

URL = http://wiki.uniteddiversity.com/liquiddemocracy


Josef Davies-Coates:

"United Diversity's wiki contains an article by the original articulator of the idea titled Liquid Democracy In Context or An Infrastructuralist Manifesto.

It's rather long but it's key points are bolded and those bolded points are repeated here to give "the gist":

While LD would work great in contexts like shareholder meetings, city councils, and online forums, it was initially designed for one very specific purpose: To render obsolete traditional military hierarchy. Our civil infrastructure currently depends on our society's institutional underpinnings, which have failed, and will continue to fail, to adapt to radical change. To stave off societal collapse, then, we have but one path available to us: We must systematically render our most vulnerable (and perhaps cherished) institutions unnecessary, and our less vulnerable institutions more adaptable. Only then can have we any hope for the future. Perhaps instead of revolution through violence, or art, or music, or culture, maybe we could live to see a revolution through institutional design...?

Liquid Democracy is a fast, decentralized, collaborative question-answering system, which works by enabling chained answer recommendation. It occupies the middle ground somewhere between direct and representative democracy, and is designed to ensure that the things we all hold in common stay properly maintained (by small, stealthy, distributed teams of anarchist kung-fu badasses, if need be), even in the face of radical technological change." (http://technologyandsocialaction.org/node/190)


More Information

  1. See also http://campaigns.wikia.com/wiki/Liquid_Democracy for more recent round up of discussion.
  2. Decision-Making Tools


Characteristics

==Transitive Delegations

"It’s not always possible for everyone to make a well-founded decision on every topic. To overcome this problem of direct democracy, LiquidFeedback provides the possibility to delegate your vote to someone else – and to revoke those delegations at any time. This leads to

   transparent division of work within the democratic process, while keeping everyones ability to directly participate in any issue at any time
   nondiscrimination of those people who do not have the time or ability to vote for each issue themselves

Delegations in LiquidFeedback are transitive. That means, if you don’t know who is the most skilled person to decide about a particular topic, you may delegate your vote to someone else you trust. If your trustee feels confident to participate in the subject him- or herself, your voting weight may be used directly. But if your trustee knows another person, who is better suitable to decide about the issue, then he or she can further delegate your vote to someone else, and so on. Knowing that these rules are in effect, people are not obligated to delegate their vote directly to a final decision maker (e.g. a prominent politician known for dealing with a given issue).

Do transitive delegations lead to a concentration of power?

Transitive delegations create chains of trust.

As delegations are revokable at any time, each person within such a chain of trust can break the chain and reclaim the power, taking away many votes from the final representative at once.

Yet it is sometimes argued that transitive delegations can still lead to a few delegates, who over-rule many other directly voting individuals. While at a first glance it might appear undemocratic, it is a desired effect: Only if delegating members are counted in the same way as directly voting members, their vote is taken into account equally. Treating directly voting members in a different way than delegating members (i.e. canceling the voting weight of delegating members under certain predefined conditions) would actually undermine the democratic principle of “one man, one vote”." (http://liquidfeedback.org/2012/07/07/transitive-delegations-in-liquidfeedback/)


Discussion

Liquid Democracy is not a voting system

"Liquid Democracy has been getting a lot of attention around here recently, and much of that attention seems based on dodgy assumptions, and dangerously inadequate metaphors. For example, although Liquid Democracy was originally described as a voting system for the sake of convenience, and although it resembles a voting system in some ways, I designed it as a distributed, scalable, question-answering algorithm... And I think the difference matters.

In this article I'd like to explain that design decision, among others things. I'd also like to explain how Liquid Democracy has especially interesting implications for k5. I hope you'll find my rationale interesting, and even if you don't accept LD as useful in any sense, hopefully this essay will inspire you to design something better.

In essence, Liquid Democracy works by chaining recommended answers to questions, like so: Lets say I think you really know your stuff with respect to medical policy issues. Every time a question about medical policy issues is raised, I ask you (or my computer asks your computer) for a recommendation about how to answer that question. I might collect recommendations from multiple sources, pass some on to other people, review the ones I like, and answer the question accordingly - or I might just set up my Liquid Democracy software to automatically answer the question in the way you recommended.

When described this way, LD seems to belong to a more general class of things then voting systems. Would we call representative democracy a voting system? Usually when people say "voting system", they mean a specific implementation of representative democracy, rather then representative democracy itself. The same distinction comes in handy here. Liquid Democracy stands as an alternative to direct and representative democracy, but they each can be implemented in 17 hojillion ways - all kinds of voting systems can be designed which use direct, liquid, or representative democracy.

Liquid Democracy can be thought of as a function, if you will, which takes a question as an argument, and returns a list of answers to that question, sorted in order of popular preference (via approval voting - an integral but often-overlooked aspect of LD).

Also, I'd to clarify the distinction between answer recommendation and vote proxying. People need to see what answers are being recommended to them before they decide how to answer the question at hand. With vote proxying, they can't do that! Vote proxying puts the power in the hands of the proxy - answer recommendation keeps the power in the hands of the people (or, at the edges of the network) where it belongs.

With answer recommendation, I can decide to ignore your recommendations if I don't like them - or I can quietly pass them on to other people, with or without your permission. Contrast this with vote proxying (as traditionally understood), where I can't do either of those things. Vote proxying seems far too similar to representation in traditional democratic systems - rather then a mechanism through which we are informed by others, vote proxying (and traditional democratic representation) acts as a mechanism through which we cede power to others.

This seems like a very important distinction, with interesting technical (with respect to implementation strategies) and social (with respect to means of discouraging vote buying/coercion) implications." (http://seed.sourceforge.net/ld_k5_article_004.html)


2. Josef Davies-Coates:

" a very important point made by Sayke, the guy who came up with the idea, is almost universally missed by most people who talk about it these days, and by every single software implementation I’ve seen to date.

And that is the difference between vote delegation/ proxies and vote recommendations.

See here, where he writes:

“Other systems similar to LD have been designed, but as far as I know they employ vote proxying, rather than answer recommendation.”

And here, where he re-eiterates the same point :

“I’d just like to stress the difference between vote proxying and vote recommendation. One’s “pull” and the other’s “push”, and that’s a big part of what makes liquid democracy unique. With liquid democracy, people can request recommendations from multiple people, and from there they can do all kinds of things – take the average, ignore some recommendations, ignore all the recommendations and vote their unique conscience, etc. with proxying, you can’t do that, and that’s why proxying isn’t enough.”

He doesn’t spell it out, but vote recommendations also help to keep power at the edges where it belongs, and makes it harder for people to become too influential. Please, everyone, stop saying delegative democracy is liquid democracy, because, really, it isn’t.

As Sayke wrote at the end of that article from 10 years ago:

“I felt like LD was being sorely misinterpreted – people were basing their picture of LD off of 3 year old information. I didn’t want to see mischaracterizations surround an idea I came up with. If people are going to hate it, I want to make sure they’re actually hating it, and not a strawman of it, you know? So, I wrote this article.” (http://blog.oi-london.org.uk/post/60362268621/liquid-democracy-is-not-delegative-democracy)

Examples