OpenEvocracy — the first major test

One step towards digital democracy

Jannik Luboeinski
7 min readJul 9, 2023

Background

OpenEvocracy¹ is a free software application that aims to enable democratic decision-making processes for a large variety of institutions. The term “Evocracy” refers to the idea of a self-organized, evolutionary process in which anyone may participate. The concept has some relatives, including Liquid Democracy², Decidim³, citizens’ assemblies, and classical council systems. The distinctive feature of Evocracy is that for each topic, a separate evolutionary process is initiated. This process is intended to lead to the selection of the respectively best ideas and capabilities. Evocracy is further characterized by a high degree of user’s anonymity. Recently, in a first major test, it has been shown that the concept can work.

Back in 2011, Carlo Michaelis and Patrick Charrier started working on Evocracy besides their studies and professional careers. Although they received support by some collaborators for a while, the two of them mainly developed both the theoretical concept of Evocracy and the associated software, OpenEvocracy, on their own. I joined the project in 2017. Although I had some programming experience, I was not very familiar with JavaScript. Therefore, the two patiently explained to me the code they had developed over the years. At that time, significant parts of the Evocracy concept had already been implemented. But since some of the software libraries employed by OpenEvocracy had become outdated or incompatible with newer versions, in 2017, a major change to the software’s frontend was necessary. We decided to transition to the Angular framework, on which the current version of OpenEvocracy is still based.

Besides this technical transition, we continued to develop the concept for democratic decision-making (i.e., Evocracy). In early 2020, this resulted in the publication of a whitepaper in which we describe the democratic principles and the medium-term objective technical functionality of OpenEvocracy. We have recently released a new version of the whitepaper in English.

The idea for the first test

By 2022, the OpenEvocracy web app had reached a stage where it seemed appropriate to conduct a larger-scale test. However, not only the software had not been adequately tested, but also the theoretical concept had not been put on trial properly. We had no idea whether it would function in the self-organized manner that we expected.

Our idea for the test was to have a specific group of people make a decision about expending a certain amount of money. In the spring of 2022, we invited some relatives and friends to participate. To increase the motivation to actively participate in the test, we asked for a small investment, collecting 2 euros from each person. Subsequently, we provided access to the OpenEvocracy platform that we had deployed on our web server. On the overview display (see Fig. 1), which is initially empty, we created a topic titled “What should we do with our money?” with the following description (translated from German):

“Each person has transferred 2 euros to an account. In this topic, “What should we do with our money?”, we discuss what we would like to do with the collected funds […]

We will test the proposal stage and the consensus stage. The goal is to determine if the essential parts of the evolutionary concept as well as its implementation do work. Additionally, we would like to gather feedback on user-friendliness and identify possible bugs in the software. For this purpose, there is a feedback button (…).

The proceeding is as follows:

1. We wait until the selection stage has ended (2 weeks).

2. Each person writes their own proposal on the topic (2 weeks).

3. In the consensus stage, we systematically synthesize a solution, drawing from the proposals (2 weeks per level).

[…]”

This was visible to every person who had registered for the test in their web browser. Once everyone had deposited the necessary 2 euros and registered on the OpenEvocracy platform, they could actively participate in the test.

The actual test

The duration of the crowd investment test was set at a total of 8 weeks. Following the Evocracy concept, we had a “selection stage”, a “proposal stage”, and a “consensus stage”, with the latter consisting of two levels (in the particular case).

The purpose of the selection stage is to choose which topics are worthy of discussion (more details can be found in the aforementioned whitepaper on the Evocracy concept). In the test this step was relatively irrelevant because there was a predetermined topic to be discussed, namely “What should we do with our money?”. The waiting time during the selection stage was nevertheless useful for the participants to accustom themselves to the platform.

During the next stage, the proposal stage, each person could submit their own proposal on the selected topic. In the test, 19 valid proposals and 1 invalid (empty) proposal were submitted.

Overview of the topics on the OpenEvocracy platform.
Figure 1: Overview of the topics on the OpenEvocracy platform. The main aim of the test was to deal with the topic “Was machen wir mit unserem Geld?” (translation from German: “What should we do with our money?”).

In the subsequent consensus/group stage, things became particularly interesting. In the first level of the group stage, 4 groups were created, consisting of 4–5 people each (see Fig. 2). Every group was tasked with developing a joint proposal, which they did quite successfully while utilizing the provided communication features (which are important for users to remain anonymous).

All persons registered on the platform were able to observe the progress of the topic and could comment in forums specific to each group. The active members of each group had the additional option to use a group-specific chat room.

In the second and final level of the group stage, only a portion of the initial participants could still participate actively, as the principle of “evolutionary” selection now came into play. With one representative from each group in the previous level, a final group of 4 individuals was formed to work on the “final document”. Using a specific algorithm, these individuals were selected according to the evaluations that could be submitted by all participants from the previous level.

The test ended with the deadline for the final document which had been set to July 15, 2022. The final decision that emerged was¹⁰:

  • to donate half of the money to OpenEvocracy,
  • to spend the other half of the money as a little reward for writing and publishing an article about the test.

The finalized document should have been provided automatically as a PDF file on the test platform. However, this functionality did not work, which was one of the few technical errors that were discovered during the test!

Tree structure of individual proposals from the proposal stage, and of the groups from the consensus stage.
Figure 2: Tree structure of individual proposals from the proposal stage, and of the groups from the consensus stage. The groups were assigned random fantasy names. The header displays information about the final group. Note that while the image here shows the German version, in the software, the language can be switched by clicking the globe button at the top.

Many decision options had been discussed throughout the test, from donations to NGOs to spending the money for a recreational activity such as having ice cream together. However, we felt of course humbled that it was ultimately decided to dedicate some support to the OpenEvocracy project itself! Apart from that, I volunteered to write the requested article¹¹, and following this, we donated the second half of the money to the platform effektiv-spenden.org, which had been proposed and extensively discussed during the test.

Evolving self-organization

Throughout the test, it was fascinating to witness how new ideas were continually introduced and how they developed in the evolutionary process. The final decision was partially based on ideas from earlier stages (regarding a direct donation to OpenEvocracy), but its specific form (with the proposal to create an article and the concrete allocation of the money) was formulated only towards the end. As intended in the Evocracy concept, the selected individuals of the final group created a novel solution while also considering ideas from earlier stages.

Interestingly, in addition to the main topic “What should we do with our money?”, participants in the test spontaneously created and discussed other topics. This demonstrates that Evocracy’s participation concept indeed provides a low-threshold opportunity to actively provoke new thought processes.

Overall, the test has shown that OpenEvocracy offers diverse possibilities for active engagement in collective decision-making processes, both for existing topics and by creating new ones. Participants were particularly impressed with OpenEvocracy as a tool that enables highly efficient and goal-directed processes, especially when being compared to currently prevalent tools for collective discussion and solution development, such as forums, video conferences, or social media.

Next steps

We are continuously developing the OpenEvocracy software in addition to pursuing our main occupations. Following the successful test and processing the feedback, our next goal is to work on those features described in our whitepaper which remain to be implemented. Additionally, we are working on establishing a legal framework and acquiring funding to accelerate the development of OpenEvocracy. The latest version of the software is provided on GitHub and GitLab under a FLOSS license, meaning it is available freely and open-source. Contributions from other developers are highly welcome!

We are planning another, larger test to happen soon, while we are also preparing for the application of OpenEvocracy in various institutions.

The first version of this article was published in German — see here.

Footnotes

  1. ˄ openevocracy.org
  2. ˄ liqd.net
  3. ˄ decidim.org
  4. ˄ JavaScript, or rather its superset TypeScript, is the programming language used for the majority of the OpenEvocracy software.
  5. ˄ The English and German versions of the whitepaper can be accessed on our website openevocracy.org.
  6. ˄ This instance of OpenEvocracy was specifically set up for the test; further instances can be operated on an arbitrary number of web servers.
  7. ˄ The number of levels depends on the number of participants.
  8. ˄ The specific selection algorithm, like the entire code of OpenEvocracy, is openly accessible (see https://github.com/openevocracy/openevocracy).
  9. ˄ In the test, 32 editing steps were made to produce the final document (measured in QuillJS operations).
  10. ˄ The whitepaper proposes that after the final document has been created, all participants of the topic are asked to vote on their approval of the decision; however, such a voting mechanism was not yet implemented at the time of the test.
  11. ˄ This refers to the first version of the present article which was published in German (see https://jlubo.net/download/OpenEvocracy_-_der_erste_Test_2023-06-25.pdf).

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