Crowdsourcing the future of dutch democracy

Jon Barnes
Democracy Squared
Published in
5 min readDec 21, 2016


On Friday 16th December, Pakhuis De Zwijger, Amsterdam, we tried to spark the beginning of a project to crowdsource the future of the Netherlands as a part of Democracy Squared. This is how the evening went.

What a night!

It looked like a rally in there! Not intentionally. The venue team were amazing at organising the event and promoting it. To the point where they took the visuals for the book and put them on 7 screens! 7 big red screens with pixellated fists pumping all around us. Amazing the impact design can have on a space.

I was feeling unusually nervous because it was the first time I’d shared the takeouts from the research. Nervous because Democracy is a pretty big topic for somebody’s first book. Nervous because putting 330 pages of writing into 15mins is stressful. Nervous because doing something as participative as facilitating a mass conversation about the future of a nation and its values means having difficult conversations. And of course nervous because I care!

After a great introductory talk from our partners 72U, I shared the thinking behind Democracy Squared. Skip to 13mins to watch that bit:

For a 20mins talk on Democracy Squared, go to 13mins

If you prefer reading, here are a few articles I’ve written:

Crowdsourcing the future. Inspired by Iceland.

The more interesting thing to talk about is the process we went through. Inspired by the story of Iceland’s ‘crowdsourced’ constitution, Jim took around 100 people through a process to discuss their vision for the Netherlands and the values they would like to be known for in the future.

Jim taking the room through the Icelandic process

Defining vision & values

We used a combination of technology and traditional techniques. Each table was armed with marker pens, flip charts and a facilitator to support constructive dialogue and equal representation.

Taking them through several phases, we then asked each table to enter the main takeouts from their conversations into a live polling system (called mentimeter). Each participant was then allocated 100 points to vote on the future of their nation.

Tangible Outcome #1: Vision

Laid out cabaret style, the room allowed for open dialogue and for conversation. Like I said, at the end of each phase we converged using technology to end with tangible outcomes. This first conversation around vision, was more of a conversation starter to get into the topic. But nonetheless here is a screenshot of some of the outcomes (each table submitted 1 answer. Ignore some of the more trivial uses of technology, democracy can be fun too!).

Tangible Outcome #2: Values word cloud

We then moved into a conversation about the values which underpinned the previous discussions. Asking the crowd to define the future values they would like the Netherlands to live by. It was great to see that whilst some people are the same table had drastically different political views, they were still able, when left to their own devices and with the guidance of a facilitator, to find the values that underpinned these views. We then asked each group to pick just a few values which they entered into a real-time word cloud.

Tangible Outcome #3: Voting on the future values of the Netherlands

Having crowdsourced some of the broad value areas that the room felt were important. We gave every individual 100 virtual credits to allocate to these values. Using a form of ‘single transferrable voting system’ to arrive at a shortlist of values shared by the room. The top 5 were:


Jim training facilitators before the start of the session

Tangible Outcome #4: A council to kick this off

Note on representation: This group of 100 was diverse in some ways (aged between 20–75 years old; good gender split; reasonable religious and ethnic diversity) but not in others (they were brought together using the networks of Flux, 72U and Pakhuis, who I think probably have pretty similar views).

This is a starting point. To crowdsource the future of a nation we must reach far more people and these conversations must be FAR more representative. Which is why individuals at the end of the night signed up to help take this forward. With our support they are already organising events to build on this work by reaching out to parts of society which may not naturally join this conversation. They will be working together to improve this document, publish it for public commentary online and iterate on a regular basis. Just like in Iceland.

Mum was on the book stand for the night ;)

Wrapping Up. Intangible Outcome #1: Dialogue & Community

The work from this evening is documented in this post and also on a specific Democracy Squared Netherlands. The tools used are being documented in the form of a guide for anybody to run this in their own country. The hope is this raises awareness about the need to change our systems using technology, to create genuine change in countries and to propel this civic tech movement further.

But the main goal we reached I think this evening is that we got 100 strangers to talk about the future of their country and in the space of 1.5 hrs to reach some agreement over what that future might look like. Showing that creating constructive public dialogue and incorporating the will of the people is possible pretty easily.

This event was well received and ended up with a bunch of new friends downstairs continuing the conversation in the bar. We have been asked to return to Amsterdam in April to ‘Hack Politics’ at the Uprise Festival where we will have a couple of hours to create ideas for new digital products and service to democratise democracy. Things are starting to gain momentum ;)

Be well.


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Jon Barnes
Democracy Squared

Helping people change organisations. Author of ‘Democracy Squared’, ‘Tech Monopolies’ and ‘Tales of Cool Companies’. Visit