Human beings make thousands of decisions a day. Luckily for us, many of them are simple, binary dilemmas, with answers that are self-evident to the question. Getting out of bed in the morning leads to going to work and getting paid; remaining on the right side of the law keeps you out of jail.
The more difficult decisions to make involve multiple parties and issues. These are the decisions that keep politicians and businesspeople up at night; they are also the decisions that Ethelo—from Vancouver’s own Party X—are hoping to help solve.
Techvibes first mentioned Party X in June of 2011, when they provided a digital platform to help voters explore the pros and cons of the now-revoked HST so that they could cast the most informed version of their vote. The platform proved effective: the predicted result came within 1% accuracy of the actual HST vote results. We announced then that they were working on a more comprehensive platform. That platform is known as Ethelo, named for the word ‘intention’ in ancient Greek. It’s ready for market–though it needs a little help in getting there.
The Indiegogo campaign, which is live as of the 2nd, has a goal of $40,000 to achieve in 45 days. The money will go to recoup the costs of their BC Mandate, an implementation of the Ethelo platform that will allow voters to weigh in with what they want their elected officials to work for once in office.John Richardson, Ethelo’s CEO, was kind enough to walk me through it. Party X, the original organization, is still the brand that approaches public policy. Ethelo is the company side, the platform, the commercialization. They make sense as a pair of water skis–the same physical object, with the same purpose, taking people in the same direction. Party X just happens to be the water ski that was carved first.
“When we did the HST Debate app, that was a Facebook app, really, and it didn’t have the same kind of technology as Ethelo, which is the important (creation). Ethelo is based around finding collective outcomes that generate high support among a group of stakeholders. Say people are working on a benefits package. Normally you’d have to hire facilitators and it’d be an involved process. But on this, once you’ve weighed out the costs of the various components, you can calculate all the outcomes. Ethelo calculates not only how many people would approve of a certain outcome, but how many people would resist the outcome if it would happen. The algorithm looks at how unfairly happiness would be distributed, and the more equal people are in their happiness, the lower the resistance score would be.”
As excited as Ethelo is about the BC Mandate, John sees the mandate as just one way out of thousands that the platform can be put to use.
“The election is a case study. The larger problem is decision making, collective decisionmaking, using the internet. It can apply to policy mandates for political parties, developing collective agreements, public infrastructure projects…Any time you need a multi-factoral decision made, you can get complicated on it. If you can break it down into its complexity, the algorithm can look through all possible outcomes and find the one that maximizes support. The goal of this platform in terms of the election is not to meddle; the task of the government is to represent who voted for them. But how can they do that while balancing all these different interests? That’s where we think Ethelo can be useful. If you want to have a mandate to represent all the different interests of British Columbia, how can you do that? Ethelo is an option to decide what that can look like. It’s going to be our first live demo, but we’ve got a lot in the pipeline.”
Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government, aside from all of the others that have been tried. Through the Party X brand, Ethelo is hoping to make democracy just that little bit better. The reach of Ethelo is already spreading–the platform has already been noticed by national organizations, and some particular characters in the ICC.
Here’s hoping that the Party X initiative brings people to the ballot box. Government–and the success of Party X and Ethelo–depends on public participation. I asked John what the biggest opportunity facing Ethelo was.
The service is set to launch in full on April 15th. The revolution, as they say, may not be televised. But it might stream on YouTube.