Mr Michael La Costa – written evidence (DAD0017)

Preface             

1.1            This paper suggests how new, unique and innovative digital technology could offer significant potential benefits for the support and evolution of democracy whereby every aspect of the current democratic deficit could be properly resolved, specifically:

1.1.1                 Participation by any accredited citizen, through engagement

1.1.2                 Universally understandable Transparency producing

1.1.3                 Open and public Accountability

1.2            This paper is, therefore, confined to questions 12, 13 & 14 of the suggested framework; it does not concern itself with other aspects of democracy listed in the Call for Evidence.  In the absence of any de facto methodology, it is simply a better way to ensure that anyone, or any group, always makes the best choice (sic), openly and transparently.

1.3            The facility proposed herein is peerless and, in some ways familiar yet radical in other ways.  Nevertheless, it cogently addresses every aspect of the democratic deficit, to produce a much-improved form of democracy, one which could be applied at any level from direct democracy (e-democracy) through deliberative democracy to representative democracy.  More importantly, a consensual form of democracy promoting unity and commitment would emerge, starkly contrasting the present adversarial system.

1.4            Empowerment through participation and engagement, enfranchises citizens.  Each ‘voice’ should be heard, equally, properly taken into account, transparently and with full public accountability.  Indeed, the oft-obscure ‘will of the people’ could be gauged, accurately and demonstrably.

1.5            Moreover, to encourage participation, this suggested facility is to be freely available, easy to use and understand whilst assuring all concerned that the best choice is always made, no matter how many participants may be involved. 

1.6            To ensure the facility is beyond reproach, it is also devoid of commercial influences; no vested interests to affect participants’ views unduly.

1.7            Such an extension of democracy would invoke the most powerful governor of all, to wit, universally understandable transparency - an all-pervading yet benign force and the foundation of real, meaningful, public accountability.

 

 

  1. Areas of concern

2.1                   The challenge/opportunity

To varying degrees, we are all politicians with wide-ranging views.  At the same time, we are also consumers with varying needs according to our circumstances, but we all make choices in various fields of activity, be they professional, private or public.  In any walk of life, when faced with multiple choices, we strive to choose the best one, but, paradoxically, none of us has been trained how to do this in a way which can be applied to any subject and/or issue, and ensure the best choice is always made, whether alone or jointly with others; there is no de facto methodology.  This affects both sides of the divide, i.e. those making decisions (contributory/active participants) as well as those affected by decisions made in their name (interpretive/passive participants). 

Decision-making everywhere is scientifically inexact and ill-defined, but this can now be resolved with new, innovative technology, thereby giving succour and support to the next evolutionary stage of democracy.

      2.2    Governance

Moreover, decision-making in general is far from transparent and seldom structured.  Any ‘processes’ used often disguise ignorance, incompetence, corruption and nepotism to name but a few dubious aspects.  Nor can we be sure the best choice is always made, especially when many people are involved.  If the process is really transparent (we are not talking here about just a simple declaration of financial sources) public accountability can be exacted as well as improving the quality of decision-making all round.

Nothing strengthens governance like transparency – the most powerful, all-pervading, yet benign force.  By lifting the veil on the ‘dark art’ of decision-making everywhere, technology could make a significant contribution to improving democracy itself; we are now on the cusp of achieving this. 

2.3            Democratic Deficit

Any solution which addresses all the foregoing neatly resolves the paucity of three aspects that make up the present democratic deficit:

2.3.1     (Free and unfettered) Participation and engagement = empowerment

2.3.2     (Simple and universally understandable) Transparency leading to

2.3.3     (Open and public) Accountability

2.4            Belated Legislation

2.4.1     As our world becomes increasingly complex, so regulation, control and legislation are all correspondingly cumbersome and notably laggard and reactionary.  A de facto methodology, applied as a precursor to launching any new product/ service could, like a ‘kite-mark’ approval, set standards, codes of conduct, legal aspects, etc. BEFORE THE EVENT and therefore manage our affairs better, for the benefit of all concerned.

 

  1. The facility

3.1            Democracy is all about choices, the people’s choice, and in representative democracy there is an inherent conflict between the ‘will of the people’ and party politics, making today’s democracy almost self-negating.  The population’s sense of disengagement is thus heightened and, without a universally understandable transparency, true public accountability is ever more distant.  This, in essence, is the democratic deficit which could now be cogently addressed by modern technology through a new, innovative and unique App entitled “Informed Choice – “ic!®” 

3.2            For brevity, it is referred to as “ic!®” (I see). 

3.3            ic!®” initially structures any choice to be made as per the basic anatomy of decisions (criteria, weighting and options), and then further builds on this in two unique, distinct and innovative ways:

3.3.1                 First, it uses a universally understandable ‘language’ so that participants can express or understand subjective viewpoints.  Expression is for those who actively contribute (the decision-makers) whereas understanding is for those who passively interpret (those who are affected by decisions made in their name). This is transparency writ large.

3.3.2                 ic!®” departs from all conventional thinking - a unique, innovative algorithm [1] that always produces the best choice, no matter what the subject or issue, nor how many participants are involved.  Based solely on the views expressed and/or understood by participants, as in 3.2.1 above, all can rest assured, collectively, that the best choice has been made with each of their ‘voices’ properly ‘heard’.

3.4            By making “ic!®” available free of charge, (like www.), wide use should be encouraged by both active and passive participants alike.  And, on a website devoid of commercial influences (no advertisements, subscriptions, commissions, donations or sponsorships), it remains beyond reproach, unlike whiffs of suspicion about comparison websites. 

3.5            And, it must be easy to use and understand.  Whilst early versions of “ic!®” will always be open to improvement, ‘what-if’ facilities are already available to ‘flex’ and ‘test’ the result.  Furthermore, planned development of “ic!®” will enhance matters considerably in due course. For example, a library of decisions/choices is envisaged to provide a basic template for any subject or issue under review (à la Wikipedia, but with attitude) plus a sensitivity analysis to highlight vulnerable areas, and many more.

3.6            Because “ic!®” applies to any subject or issue, copes with any number of people (whether alone or jointly with others), and always makes the best choice, its ubiquity will, in time, be realised.  Procurement, recruitment, financial services, medicine, corporate governance, etc. are just some areas of application.  So, for choices made professionally, publicly or privately, “ic!®” may well evolve to become the de facto methodology.

3.7            Finally, ic!®” always makes the best choice no matter how many participants are involved, ergo unity and commitment.  And, with a universally understandable ‘language’, this form of transparency begets real, meaningful public accountability.

[1]   subjected to the rigours of Academia and proclaimed by Professors of Decision Theory as “unique and ingeniously simple”.

  1. Informed Choice – ic!® – a working example

4.1           Please visit www.eunicorn.uk for an example of how the Referendum could have been approached using this new methodology wherein the ‘will of the people’ would have been unequivocally clear instead of open to the vagaries of interpretations. 

4.2           First, you will see the criteria have been clearly defined, both briefly and in depth (click on the chevron next to the relevant criterion).  Note that the prose used for these descriptions is distinctly neutral so as not to influence the user in any way, neither overtly nor covertly.  First, the user expresses how important each criterion is to them, using a percentage scale.   Starting with the most important (100%) – and there may be more than one criterion at 100% - whilst the rest are graded according to their importance to the user, and relative to other criteria, right down to 0% meaning of no importance at all.

When completed, save the results and move to the next stage.

4.1            By focusing on each criterion, merit values can be awarded to each option (choice) by way of a universally understandable ‘language’.  Using a personal ‘yardstick’ (the gold bar), this is the user’s ‘ideal’ or standard ‘measure’ of expectation which defies definition or description; it is mostly intuitive and/or conditioned thinking, an opinion or viewpoint.  Against this, measure whether the option under review is better or worse than your own ‘yardstick’, and by how much, producing a simple ‘pairwise’ comparison.  This needs to be done for every option against every criterion.  A disciplined and focused thinking on every element of the subject or issue under review and to the exclusion of all other elements, as well as genuinely transparent.  Confusion gives way to clarity of thought.

4.2            When complete, the algorithm calculates the best choice for any participant, whether alone or jointly with others.

4.3            By focusing on the elements of the decision, discrimination evaporates.  Scrutinising any such decision, the background of any participant is not visible.  None of the following characteristics of any participant is revealed - religious persuasion, age, gender, sexual disposition, political proclivity, ‘class’, etc.  Only their ‘voices’, or opinions/views are ‘heard’ and properly taken into accountDistorting emotive hyperbole and irrelevant rhetoric are thus avoided and unnecessary.

4.4            Coupled with transparency, any dubious aspect of decision-making is either eliminated or revealed. In particular, corruption would be difficult, if not impossible to disguise in pursuit of the best choice for both decision-makers as well as those affected by the same decisions made in their name.

4.5            Sunshine is the best disinfectant!

4.6            The software has been thoroughly beta-tested and is available as described above (free of charge on a website devoid of commercial influences) so all we need now is to implement it as a basic procedure, say for Representatives in either or both Houses, or perhaps even for Select Committees (!). 

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