The ever-growing success of existing voter advice applications (VAAs) is evident from the many millions of people who use them at each election.
These huge numbers are something to be very proud of — VAAs are having a significant impact on how informed voters are when they turn up to their polling station.
However, the vast majority of voters have never even set eyes on a VAA, let alone used one.
Our goal should be to inform every single citizen. And to do that, we at Explaain think it’s time for every organisation building voting advice tools to now work together.
So we’re signing up organisations to collaborate on building a single tool in time for the next UK general election.
First and foremost, the goal is to produce one tool. This will minimise wasted effort, along with confusion on the part of voters — and will give legitimacy to the single product that we build.
That said, there must be multiple ways of using the tool, depending on the user’s needs, level of knowledge, interests and learning style.
Secondly, our stated aim is to achieve official endorsement, and eventually official sponsorship, from the Electoral Commission as soon as we possibly can.
This is an ambitious task but it is achievable. Successful state-sponsored tools exist in Germany and The Netherlands, reaching 1 in 2 voters — and with our combined skills, experience and resources there’s no reason why we can’t build the best VAA anywhere in the world.
The UK therefore has an opportunity to leapfrog other countries, by creating a state-sponsored voter advice tool with a world-class user experience. It’s time for Britain to be a world leader in digital democracy.
The number one focus should be on building a tool that people want to use, and that fits into their existing habits.
Existing VAAs already put most government services to shame by being simple and enjoyable to use — but by joining forces and collaborating we can raise the bar even higher.
The tool should be 100% user-driven in its design. It’s all too tempting to end up building things that only political geeks would use, but we should be relentless in testing and refining based on real user feedback and not compromising on user experience.
The aim will be to fit this into the user flow of an election. Citizens first register to vote; they then use this VAA to inform their decision; and finally on polling day they go and cast their vote.
Governance and structure
This focus on user experience should also drive how we work together as organisations.
Many of us have built VAAs, and it will be a challenge to put our individual brands and organisational strategies aside to build a single tool that is not ‘designed by committee’. But we cannot end up with a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ of existing tools glued together.
It has to be seamless: a new, cohesive product from the ground up.
It therefore makes sense to structure it as its own not-for-profit entity, with each of the participating organisations owning a stake. This would also eliminate any fears of a single VAA having a ‘monopoly’, since it is actually owned by a large plurality of organisations.
Our funding can come from a combination of four sources:
- Grants that we apply for from organisations looking to fund non-partisan projects to improve democracy
- Equity crowdfunding, so that members of the public with a passion for improving democracy can have real buy-in and own a share of the project
- Official funding from the Electoral Commission (this won’t come on day 1, but the aim will be to make this the primary source of income)
- Potential top-up funding from core partner organisations (the aim will be to avoid this)
Transparency and Accountability
To achieve the world-class experience that we’re aiming for, and to be fully trusted by the public and the state, we will need to be rigorous in terms of openness, transparency and accountability.
The process of creating the tool, right from day 1 (the publishing of this proposal), must be open for scrutiny. The data sources that we use, the algorithms we develop and the code we write must be entirely open-source and easily available to anyone who wants to inspect it. The same goes for the teams and organisations behind it, and all details of the funding involved.
We will need oversight on all of the above from a board of advisors, including academics, journalists, civil servants, politicians, think tanks, institutes and more.
There must be a continuous feedback loop of improvement to the tool, which itself is open to scrutiny.
And it goes without saying that the tool will be completely neutral and non-partisan.
Organisations already signed up
- Explaain (That’s us! We built GE2017.com)
- Vote for Policies
- Newspeak House
- Bite The Ballot (built Verto)
Organisations we’re inviting to join
The following is an evolving list, and by no means comprehensive.
- Organisations that have built VAAs or provided useful tools/data: , , WhoShouldYouVoteFor, Unlock Democracy (built Vote Match), iSideWith, Represent, PositionDial, Democracy Club, MySociety, SixFifty
- Think tanks, research institutions and individuals who have researched or funded this area: Demos, The Institute of Fiscal Studies, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Electoral Reform Society
- Official organisations: The Electoral Commission, the Cabinet Office, the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy
Join us now
We will update this post with input and feedback that we receive.