thank you for your interest and the introduction of the Policy Incubator, which we think is a well done prototype for top-down policy-making with an improved participatory government-style.
If you like, we want to show you, how the Policy Incubator incubates within the field of Extended Liquid Democracy (ELD). Therefore, we first want to specify in more detail what I) characterizes top-down and bottom-up tools in the ELD-Eisberg model.
In a second step, we want to II) intensify (y)our understanding of the Eisberg model and then III) integrate the Policy Incubator as well as the Schulze preferential method within the ELD-Eisberg model and show you, what is missing for a Real Liquid Feedback.
If you like, we can afterwards discuss ELD and the Policy Incubator within an example as @Guy proposed. Perhaps you have some other ideas for important practical questions (or scenarios) to be discussed?
I) First, please let us make our ELD-inherent distinction of collective top-down and bottom-up processes more clearly (see figure 1: The ELD-Eisberg model):
A (single) top-down process on the community-level is characterized by a closed question including 1 to 2 proposals (e.g. “Do you want/prefer proposal A (or B)?”), coupled with nominal (non-metric) black-or-white scales (i.e. Yes/No; Yes or No; A or B).
A (multiple) bottom-up process on the community-level is characterized by (multiple) open questions concerning the most important problem to be solved (e.g. 1. “Which is the most important problem at the moment?”, 2. “What are the things that need to be changed concerning the most important problem?”, 3. “What are our goals to solve this problem?”, 4. “How can we solve this problem at best fit/match with our values and goals?”), mostly associated with an open gathering of more than 2 proposals or perspectives answering multiple open questions (which is integrated in the ELD-method or module called “Konsens-Café”). In bottom-up processes, open questions are further coupled with quality-specific, metric scales that measure the extent of every issue-quality P in question (e.g. P-rating scale from 0 = problem/solution has no importance; no fit or match with values and goals until 10 = highest importance; best fit or match with values and goals). Also possible are metric scales in terms of semantic differentials (e.g. a P’3-scale from -3 = very un-important until +3 = very important), which also includes the categorical information of majority votes as every negative answer reflects a ‘No’ - no agreement’, and a positive answer reflects a 'Yes" - agreement.
According to our ELD-Eisberg-Model a multiple bottom-up approach follows a certain minimal scheme that incorporates a universal concept of problem solving or a fully defined intention, respectively (and to be comparable, self-similar and interoperable, a (multiple) top-down approach should also include these stages). In our paper “What is Real Liquid Feedback”, we describe these requirements of a fully defined intention in terms of 4 parts of a proposal or stages of self-coherent decision-making:
1. Priority of problem(s),
2. Current state, background and causes of an important problem,
3. Desired state and goals/criteria of best solution for an important problem,
4. Solutions to solve the problem or actions to reach the desired state according to common values and goals.
Psychological research has shown, that on the individual level, one is at risk of performance deficits, alienation, external determination, helplessness, apathy and depression, if the defining issues of an intention are not transparently and fully developed or “degenerated” (e.g. Kuhl & Helle, 1986; Kuhl, 1994).
In case of top-down majority votes, a position paper or proposal should therefore also reflect 1. Priority of the problem, 2. Background and causes of the problem, 3. most important criteria for a good solution, and 4. a solution, finally to be chosen by a sufficient amount of supporters. In contrast, with multiple bottom-up voting, the result is a ranking of concrete priority of problems, background/causes, and goals, as well as a ranking of suitability of solutions concerning their gradual fit/match with common goals. A leader, group or community can also act self-coherently with a well chosen top-down position or policy but it will not be possible to validly measure, sensibly differentiate and prove precise quantities of priorities and fit/match with people’s needs, common goals and expectations, i.e. to precisely measure the people’s will and representativeness of politics, without the implementation of mass-deliberating bottom-up methods.
II) Let us further intensify our understanding of the ELD-Eisberg model. Philosophically, we have three forms of self-consciousness and stages of our emerging will represented by the “Eisberg”, and realized by our ELD-capable brains:
Above the water, we have the emerging/materializing Eisberg, reflecting a categorical (self as) object perception, as well as a more or less conscious decision realized by (self- to externally) controlled action. Philosophically spoken, above the water means “I am doing or ruling - so I am”.
The water-surface mediates the emergence/materialization of the Eisberg, and reflects the moment of self-realization or emerging self-consciousness and a cognitive precondition for self-controlled action, which is an action plan or ranking of more or less valued/prefered issues, i.e. of problems, goals and solutions. The water-surface (with larger doubts representing larger waves) thereby may represents Descartes’ ‘res cognitas’: “I am thinking - so I am”.
Under water, we have the more or less unseen potential of the Eisberg or the self and the will, reflecting a rather fuzzy pool of interests, wishes, needs, and more or less adequate goals and coping solutions that remain in a sub-conscious till unconscious motive-structure of un-/wishful alternatives. What’s happening under water is a more or less detailed matching, rating, comparison, and ranking of all sensations, needs/goals and solutions with associated positive or negative feelings as results. The Eisberg under water therefore may represent Damasio’s “I am feeling - so I am”.
Please notice: The ELD-Eisberg-Model aims to include all possible forms of self-consciousness and connects it with all possible discussion and voting methods by means of their inherent type of question (open vs. closed), scale-level (i.e. metric = bottom-up; ordinal = surface; nominal = top-down); and complexity (i.e. from single till multiple questions, alternatives and P-scales, different argument-levels and process iterations) to measure agreement, common welfare or well-being and to transparently depict the (emerging free) will.
III) So far and to our knowledge, circa 90% of existing open source voting and discussion tools, including the Policy-Incubator, only realize a rough depiction of a reduced little part of the self and the will with a more or less distorting, alienating and enslaving top-down design which is related to the top of the Eisberg above the water. In case of more complex problems, for example, there always is the risk of a false dilemma.
With the Schulze preferential method, in comparison, we have a method that is related to the surface of the water, as it measures the individual and collective ranking that results from pairwise, but intransparent comparisons of issues or candidates (under water).
Thereby, the result of voting via Policy Incubator and Schulze preferential method does not include any information about the absolute/concrete level of priority, suitability or precision of each issue, as it is possible only via bottom-up methods from the underwater-sphere. With Policy Incubator and Schulze preferential method, we only know that one issue is more preferred than the other(s), but we don’t know the concrete levels of and differences in priority, suitability, or precision, and why. The more we miss data from “underwater”, the more we are at risk of alienation, since we can not recognize and consequently correct the errors or corruption of thinking and action according to our implicit values, needs and goals.
The Policy-Incubator, related to the upper Eisberg-level called “Republikstandard”, thereby seems to be in a process of developing a top-down voting standard that increasingly incorporates the elements of a fully developed intention, which is a very wishful structure for structured collective problem-solving, more transparency and controlled action and to experimentally integrate and compare multiple top-down and bottom-up voting methods.
Thus, we appreciate and like to support a further development of the Policy-Incubator that may complete the cognitive elements of a fully developed intention (plus add-ons). We thereby recommend to think about additional scales at ordinal scale-level (besides Yes, and Yes or No), e.g. of an ordinal traffic lights-P-Scale that measures suitability, depicts conscientious decisions and implements an informative majority voting, including the circumstances and requirements under which people would find it a suitable solution, which helps to transparently optimize proposals.
However, compared to the possibilities of self-regulated and self-controlled policy-processes associated with open-questions and quality-specific bottom-up methods from the “underwater”-sphere of the ELD-Eisberg model (e.g. Schrotta, 2011; FixMyRepublic, for further examples see footnotes), there are still some problems of alienation and actionism that grassroots-communities are at risk of when using tools like the Policy-Incubator, or the Schulze preferential method.
For example, if a tool misses the open gathering of problems and their metric priority-ranking, all further discussions and policies might not meet the needs of the people the policy is made for, probably leaving a majority in passivity, and keeping politics and activists at risk of irrelevant actionism or corruption by foreign interests, not solving the causes of most relevant problems of the people or the grassrouts-base.
Another risk of alienation lies in the missing of a fully defined intention, or transparent problem and solution spaces, for example, when it comes to the missing common goal criteria the most suitable solution should be rated and found with; and the less informative value that lies in Yes- or No- and Schulze preferential votes concerning a solutions’ match with common values and goals. Thereby, some conscientious decisions contributing to the overall-result may be mixed up with another majority of voters that desided based on criteria that are foreign to their own or common needs, goals and criteria for a good solution, e.g. because they were smashed up in fights against each other, or manipulated, and were not explicitly asked to think about, simulate and (pi-) rate the concrete goal-fit of solutions.
Additionally, it does not systematically support intrinsic motivation and self-determined learning of common values, goals and the materialization of goal-coherent solutions, because the method-design misses an explicitly and participatory, open goal-setting and a Real Liquid Feedback about quality of (political) performance according to the common values, needs and goals. Therefore, most of the issues and risks we speak of and criticise in our article “Old LQFB is not Liquid Feedback” are also relevant for the Policy-Incubator.
But, if the Policy-Incubator increasingly and explicitly integrates the elements of a fully defined intention (plus add-ons*) into its structure of proposals, and maybe integrates a new traffic lights-P-Scale for conscientious reasoning, as well as multiple P-voting, e.g. for every element of a fully developed intention represented by multiple questions, it would become a better standard for participatory decision-making at the edge to (multiple) bottom-up voting that we could probably upgrade in the direction of a Real Liquid Feedback, and a fully developed Extended Liquid Democracy.
* As add-ons for fully defined intentions we recommend a standardized metric measurement and comparison of ratings of the current state (Ist) with ratings of a desired state (Soll), and of proposal(s) to change something (Was tun?). Besides ratings and discussion of Ist, Soll, Was tun, we recommend to additionally discuss chances, risks and barriers of doing nothing (passive solution reflecting the current state) and of the action proclaimed in a proposal (change solution). With bottom-up methods, a high resistance against the passive solution implicates a high motivation or urgency to change something; and a change proposal that has a higher resistance or lower suitability than the passive solution would indicate an unreasonable step backwards (e.g. Schrotta, 2011).
Kuhl, J. & Helle, P. (1986). Motivational and volitional determinants of depression: The degenerated-intention hypothesis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95(3), 247-251.
Kuhl, J. (1994). A theory of action vs. state orientation. In: J. Kuhl & J. Beckmann (Eds.), Volition and personality: Action vs. state orientation, Göttingen: Hogrefe, 9-46.
Schrotta (2011): Wie wir klüger entscheiden: einfach - schnell - konfliktlösend, Styria Print.