Introducing Crowdocracy — Harvesting the Wisdom of the Crowd
At Oview, we want to make the world more democratic by giving people the chance to voice their opinion on all kinds of matters. But we were not the first to come up with the idea. In 2016, Alan Watkins and Iman Stratenus wrote a book called Crowdocracy — The End of Politics. Drawing on their experience as consultants and advisors, they developed a system for the implementation of direct democracy using today’s technology. With this blog post, I would like to give you an overview over their book and the vision inside it.
In the Chapters one and two, the authors sum up why there is a need for Crowdocracy. The central message: Today’s representative democracy is not up to the challenges of our increasingly complex world. They point out that our current political system is prone to corruption, that it promotes division and self-interest instead of cooperation. Our representatives are not professionals in their field. Most of their votes depend on the opinion of experts and the party line.
Of course, the current form of government is better than the past of dictatorships, monarchies and tribes. The authors draw a line from the beginnings of self-organisation in the form of tribes with one chief over the emergence of monarchies to the current reality of democratic states. They categorise the different forms of government according to their ability to navigate complexity. Their take-away is that every new step in the evolution of governing takes the advantages of its predecessors, and tries to improve on the mistakes. Their conclusion: We need to improve on the advantages of democracy, while working around its problems.
This is where the crowd comes into play. The crowd is a smart collective of individuals. It is not a mob. In the mob, people give up their individuality and become easy to manipulate by a strong leader. That is not what Watkins and Stratenus have in mind. Their crowd depends on four things:
1. Diversity of knowledge and opinion
2. Independence of thought
3. Decentralisation of power
4. Integration of ideas
Members of the crowd are from diverse backgrounds, they need to be independent from each other, outside of hierarchy, and their opinions need to be integrated into a whole. The independence of individuals is a key factor in preventing the crowd from descending into mob rule. In later chapters, the authors illustrate how they plan to prevent mob rule in practice. The authors demonstrate the wisdom of the crowd with some real-life examples, like guessing of the number of jelly-beans in a jar. When a crowd is asked, every person by themselves, the average of their guesses is very close to the correct answer
But the world of politics is not a jar of jelly-beans. Can crowds work together in practice when it comes to complex problems? In chapter five, Watkins and Stratenus give several examples of crowds in action. In products and services, the most successful example is one of the most visited websites in the world: Wikipedia. In a crowd-like manner, every member can edit articles. But instead of descending into anarchy, Wikipedia has developed into the biggest collection of knowledge online. Next to successful instances of crowd wisdom in research and organisations, the political arena holds some very promising examples. In Iceland, the population came together and wrote their own constitution. In Switzerland, the people can put forth propositions, and the parliament must hold referenda if they want to change the constitution.
With these positive examples in mind, the authors begin to lay out the principles of Crowdocracy, and explain how their political system would work. The biggest difference will be the remaking of the legislative. Instead of elected representatives, the people themselves will decide over and propose laws themselves. The crowd will organize itself on an especially designed platform (ideally our app (; ). The executive will remain in place, and with it the apparatus of bureaucracy, the ministries and the official bodies. But its role will be that of an empowered enforcer. The ministers will be elected directly, and they will not have to deal with party policy and other political hurdles. Their task is simply the implementation and oversight over the laws that the crowd voted for. The judicative will be the guardian of the crowdocratic future. Its independence will be guaranteed by a constitution, which will at the same time work as its base of ruling over legal disputes. A new important task of the courts will be to check the constitutionality of new proposals and to protect the principles of Crowdocracy.
The principles themselves are designed to keep the crowd from descending into mob rule and group think. They include for example the semi-anonymity in the crowd platform, which separates your public identity from your identity within the crowd, but at the same time keeps you accountable in case of a rule violation. Another principle is that of participation, which guarantees everyone’s access to the crowd, to safeguard its diversity. The semi-anonymity and the oversight of a judiciary will prevent the focus of the crowd from shifting to the personal traits of an individual, and will limit the emotional factor, which is characteristic for mob rule.
But how exactly will the legislative work on new laws? Any change of the law or proposition will go through the same process:
- Proposing: Any person can propose a new law or change an old one.
- Shaping: An adequate group of interested individuals start working on the proposal, work out its details, and shape it in a way that makes it presentable.
- Public consultation: The public is asked to give feedback on the proposal, which is then integrated.
- Final Check: The shapers and the judiciary take a final look over the proposal.
- Vote: The people affected by the proposal (city, region, country) vote on it.
- Implementation: If the proposal is accepted, it is implemented into law by the executive.
In the last parts of the book, the authors take a look at how we could reach this future of direct democracy, and they embed the idea of crowdocracy in the context of their book series “Wicked and Wise”.
The ideas presented by Watkins and Stratenus are a glimpse of what a truly democratic future might look like. Their Crowdocracy tries to transcend our representative democracy, keeping its advantages, and scrapping its weaknesses. Obviously, the concept is far from perfect and would take decades to be implemented, but the book nevertheless fulfilled its purpose. It presented us with a possible alternative to the status quo. A future that is worth fighting for.