A wisdom-generating deliberative democracy game app?

Most virtual forms of democracy that involve discussion, debate, networking and/or voting may facilitate individual voter expression and learning, but are not designed to generate collective policies that wisely serve the common good, as seen from diverse perspectives. To facilitate this latter objective democratically requires at least serious deliberation among politically diverse perspectives. This can be achieved in a game format using virtual volunteer transpartisan teams competing to produce the best proposals with the highest level of agreement among the most diverse perspectives. Agreement in each case would be furthered by the teammates co-creatively addressing any concerns any team member raised regarding any proposal being considered by the team. The high quality transpartisan proposals resulting from this process could then be fed into existing (or new) political processes to organize support and promote implementation.

Some Background

This idea was triggered by a Fast Company article about billionaire Sean Parker and CEO Matt Mahan’s promotion of Brigade, their new app for increasing mass civic participation.  I have for over a decade been researching and promoting methods to increase the wisdom-generating capacity of democracies. This article about Parker and Mahan’s innovation made me wonder if they would be interested in adding a transpartisan deliberation game function to Brigade. My proposal below – although designed with Brigade in mind – could also be adapted to direct democracy, liquid democracy, and online/mobile voting projects including, most particularly, Argentina’s Democracy 2.0 Net Party and Democracy OS (for a good reflection on it all see here).

The main point here is that the current adversarial democratic culture uses debate, organizing, voting and/or pressuring (or bribing) representatives to get officials to adopt one’s own proposals or to serve one’s own interests. There is no guarantee that the resulting policies will be especially “good” in terms of serving the common good or the interests of other stakeholders or – especially – being wise from any big picture or long-term perspective.

Democratically generated wisdom requires diverse people engaging in creative, informed deliberation together, using their different perspectives, interests, and needs as raw material for solutions that can serve them all. My experience leads me to believe that the principle of diversity combined with the principle of creatively addressing everyone’s concerns offers a simple formula for creating wiser public policy proposals – a formula that could be readily incorporated into virtual public engagement platforms.

I believe that if the approach I describe below were successfully implemented, it would (1) totally disrupt the popular assumption that diverse partisans can’t work together productively on solving public issues and (2) embed the idea that addressing people’s upsets and disagreements as “concerns” is an extremely powerful way to tap the gifts of diverse perspectives in order to create wiser and more appealing public policy (as well as any other form of agreement). (My focus on concerns is derived directly from successful face-to-face processes like Dynamic Facilitation and certain forms of consensus process. It also shows up in Nonviolent Communication [which addresses all parties’ basic needs] and Principled Negotiation – the “Getting to Yes” approach [that addresses all parties’ legitimate interests].)

IF – and this may or may not be a big IF – Parker and Mahan (or any other virtual democracy enterprise) were interested in this, the Co-Intelligence Institute and myself could assist their creation of a social network game aspect of their platform to accomplish this.

While Brigade’s current vision is basically social networking to carry on political debate, advocacy, and organizing, my idea is to add the transpartisan deliberative dimension as a game in which the challenge to player teams is to create wiser solutions to social problems that get good transpartisan ratings from people with very different perspectives. Novice players would start as members of deliberative teams with like-minded teammates. They would progress (as they became more ambitious or recognized masters of the game) to participate in teams with progressively more extreme diversity.

In any given deliberation, their personal and team “points” (or whatever status symbol was decided on) – AND the status of their proposal – would depend on a combination of the diversity of their team and the level of agreement (e.g., 90% as compared to 50%) they were able to achieve with their final proposal. This test would apply within their team, in the larger community of all players of the game, and in the public at large (who could also vote on the proposals produced by the game).

Players would be part of different teams at different times (or not, if they chose to remain together in one team) and all proposals would be publicly posted – organized by topic – for rating by people outside the team. These postings would also constitute a challenge to other teams to see if they could do better than the top proposals posted for a particular issue (like the provocative high scorers posted in video and pinball games).

This could evolve from in-game recognition and status into real-world rewards and public competitions, as well as intersecting with face-to-face citizen deliberative councils, opinion polls, news coverage, activism, punditry, elections, and all the other dimensions of our political process. I expect it would start off with only hundreds of participants. But as its reputation grew, I suspect that it might generate hundreds of thousands of participants within the first year of full operation. Within very few years it would become a political force to be reckoned with, very possibly stimulating a significant upgrade in the quality of democratic decisions.

In the Fast Company article linked above, Parker says of America’s democracy: “We’ve gotten to a point where the population is much larger than we could have anticipated during the founding of the country and where the issues are more complex. So in order to create a better informed citizenry, we need to create better tools.” The proposal below addresses this situation in a way similar to the approach of face-to-face citizen deliberative councils: Because the issues are too complex and numerous for ordinary citizens to track, we delegate their deliberation not just to politicians (in the case of a representative republic), but to randomly selected citizen panels and/or to volunteer groups who embody the diversity of the public (such as this proposed transpartisan deliberation game). The results of these groups’ deliberations would be available for citizens and advocates to use in their self-directed real-world civic engagement.

The Proposal


Regular users of Brigade who want to be more deeply and creatively involved can volunteer to be part of online deliberations on issues they care about. To participate, they must register, have their identity verified and provide demographic info. They also say what issue(s) they are interested in deliberating. They would be briefed on the difference between debate (regular Brigade) and this team-based competitive transpartisan form of deliberation.

An algorithm assigns each participant to a deliberative team of 4-10 people (ideal team size subject to experiment) to find the best possible public policy on an issue they all wish to work on. The team contains the level of significant political diversity that the players have specified they wish to try working with (i.e., more advanced players would engage with more diverse teammates).

The teammates co-create an overall document “framing the issue for deliberation” based on their diverse knowledge and perspectives. To do this, they each present their favorite initial approach or solution with its arguments and evidence – perhaps 400 words maximum (but subject to experimentation) – and those, collectively, constitute the framing.

Teammates then read each other’s initial statements and, as they do so, write down their concerns (in spaces provided by the software). These are not arguments; they are statements of “what makes this proposal not totally acceptable to me – which, if addressed well, would make it more acceptable.” There would also be space for people to offer ideas on how each concern could be addressed (perhaps in a “What if we did X?” format), as well as for the person originating the concern to respond with their sense of how well their concern is being met by any particular suggestion(s).

At any point, a teammate could offer a new proposal designed to handle some/most/all of the concerns associated with the various initial proposals. The existence of this new proposal would be communicated to all team members with an invitation to check it out and note any concerns. At this stage, all teammates would be invited to also rate the proposal (which might be called a Stage One Transpartisan Proposal).

As the concerns regarding the new proposal accumulate, someone may offer a new proposal that attempts to address THOSE concerns. This new proposal might be called a Stage Two Transpartisan Proposal.

This iterative process would continue until the team decides to stop it and post their final results. Their aim is to get as close to 100% agreement on a Transpartisan Solution as they can. (Note: There are no wheeling and dealing opportunities on this app. All increases in the level of agreement arise from addressing concerns, not making deals that don’t relate to the substance of the proposal. Compromises are admissible but culturally acknowledged to be inferior to addressing everyone’s concerns in inclusive, creative, wise ways that don’t require compromise.)

If there are many proposals or concerns, the software may shift to a CoDigital.com type of prioritization process (through rating paired comparisons) to help the team focus on what seems most important to address.

It might also happen that the effort to address concerns produces either (a) a break between two seemingly irreconcilable factions who proceed to develop Transpartisan Proposals characterized by a narrower level of agreement or diversity (which is fine) or (b) someone generates a proposal that reframes the original issue (e.g., as a symptom of a larger issue) and either offers a solution to that new issue or proposes to convene a new team or a subgroup to deliberate that new issue. (This allows the kind of creative branching that often happens in Dynamic Facilitation, Consensus Process, Nonviolent Communication and other such processes as participants’ understanding of the issue deepens.)

As noted above, resulting proposals would be made available by topic to players in all teams, to be evaluated and possibly improved by other teams. The response to a particular proposal would be represented in ways that show the level of support (and lack of it) from different political perspectives (a) to help casual partisan observers find solutions they would tend to agree with and (b) to help more serious deliberators estimate what might be necessary to improve a given proposal. Proposals could be sorted and searched in a variety of ways to serve those two purposes.

Individual players can join new teams at any time. But also any team who wishes to stay together can tackle other issues. Teams and players that get the highest votes for their proposals from the widest range of political belief networks would get special recognition and status, to increase the spirit of the game while enhancing both the wisdom of the proposals and the capacity of the game to influence the wider democratic culture.

Any proposal can be transferred to the regular Brigade mode for advocacy, debate, and activist/lobbying action, thus providing an “empowerment” dynamic to promote any transpartisan wisdom generated by this process.

Note that the proposals (and even the records of each deliberative process) could (a) provide input to any face-to-face citizen deliberative council convened on a topic or issue (and vice versa) and/or (b) be subjected to a public opinion poll to see how much the broad public (who haven’t participated in the deliberations) support a given proposed policy. That would add a “random sampling” level of legitimacy to the results, although the well-handled diversity of the original teams would be the primary source of any wisdom that might result.

The proposals and deliberative records would also be a resource for academic research and many other purposes yet to be realized.


Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440
Calling forth the wisdom of the whole for the wellbeing of the whole

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