Creating a Good Democracy

Peter Levine has discussed the concept of Good Democracy, where inclusive process should be accompanied by the efficient reaching of outcomes (and, of course, vice versa). Meanwhile, Adam Grant in his latest book, "Originals: How Non-conformists Change the World", describes how one notable business organisation foments criticism by all levels within a hierarchy to all levels within a hierarchy, often in internally very public ways, with the aim of achieving highly creative and persistently democratic environments, that at the same time operate efficiently. In order that such democracy does not disintegrate into monolithic battles between a number of often rigid ways of thinking - or, alternatively, engender highly negative groupthink where large numbers of voices agree with the loudest and most important - to the mix that is one person one vote, a series of indices based on previous achievements in particular areas of expertise is assigned to each individual - or in our case, it could be to each Party member/supporter/voter. These indices would serve to determine the "believability" of each person with respect to their opinion and vote on a particular matter. It would *not* mean their opinions would be prioritised over others in everything, but simply in those areas that statistical analysis had shown their worth, accuracy and efficiency on previous occasions. Such indices would be continually assessed and revised as per a complex set of principles around organisational culture, already devised and created before the weighting processes were employed for the first time. The weighting process would never fix a person forever, but would form part of a path, a trajectory of growth re themselves and in relation to their colleagues - ie other Party members, workers, supporters and so forth - where an emphasis on objective performance, results and thought processes would replace the ability of people to get their own way through simply knowing how to impose via force of personality. I'd underline that neither would these indices give the same believability rating for an individual in all areas - unless, of course, it became plain that via the statistics and trajectory - the recorded history of their decision-making - their performance deserved such judgements. In this way, whilst such a system might appear at first sight to be highly elitist, it could actually make it possible for people who are often excluded from major debate through their inability to impose via force of personality and/or presence to make huge contributions as a result of having a system which made it possible for their ideas and proposals to be measured by common criteria, thus giving them the structured voice and reputation a celebrity democracy rarely allows.

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  • Miljenko Williams
    commented 2016-07-30 21:59:55 +0100
    That should’ve been “repeatable way”, not “repeatable was”!!!

  • Miljenko Williams
    commented 2016-07-30 21:58:01 +0100
    I agree with you re science. And I’m sure business uses a lot of scientific tools. But if you’d started by reflecting that the tools democracy uses from biz were originally developed by science, I wouldn’t have gone off on the extensive and moderate tangent I went off on.

    And I’m not sure why you find science so much easier to have as a friend of democracy than business. There is plenty of bad science which has hurt humanity tremendously; plenty of good business which has helped astonishingly. Again, I would revert to my original assumption: it’s not this or that field of endeavour we should accept or reject, but how well it operates in terms of the outcomes it aims to achieve.

    And I go back to Peter Levine’s arguments on democracy: I paraphrase a tad, but there’s no point in being inclusive if the decisions aren’t taken in time, or are clearly the wrong ones. Equally, there’s no point in taking the “right” decisions, if you don’t have people onboard. You can’t say outcomes are more important than process, but similarly you can’t argue that process overwhelms the importance of outcomes.

    It is a balance, and our perception of business – its often breezy and fresh ability to experiment in an audited and repeatable was – should see its virtues for what they are when they exist, and also manage to maintain our sense of balance in our conversations around such virtues.

    Business isn’t bad. Bad business is bad.

    Science isn’t good. Good science is good.

    Democracy isn’t effective or better. But a democracy which combines inclusive process with efficient outcomes – in a balanced way – is bound to be something we should all want to pursue, whatever professions, roles or mindsets we inhabit.
  • Sue Fewster
    commented 2016-07-30 21:34:21 +0100
    Flow charts have been scientific tools for a long time. Businesses only began to utilise them when there was a drive towards “quality” – efficiency – in business in the 1980s, which culminated in the application of planned obsolescence in product terms; and the drive towards Business Process Reengineering in the 1990s that referred to people as “human resources”, and their skills becoming “human capital” and culminated in businesses “sweating the assets” of those resources. It dehumanises people.

    The big problem with applying mathematical modelling where people are concerned is that maths, like logic, is always black and white and people come in every shade of grey… The biggest failure of the recent teaching in economics is taking human beings and all their flaws out of the equation.
  • Miljenko Williams
    commented 2016-07-30 21:13:54 +0100
    Thanks, Sue, for your comment. Am not sure if it’s useful to associate tools and methods with one field or another. Surely it’s more useful to look at them, and say how can we use them better than anyone else. I remember a couple of years ago seeing some representatives of the 15M movement giving a presentation in Manchester (I think it was them) on how they used flow charts and organisational tools of all kinds commonly used in business to help structure and enable the committees which sprang up in Madrid and across Spain at the time.

    I was astonished, though I shouldn’t have been. It wasn’t a question of “if you can’t beat them, join them”; it was more a matter of “if they do someone well, how can we learn from them to beat them at their own game?”. You may or may not like big corporations, but you have to give it to them: where the Soviets in the Soviet Union failed to make command and centralised economies work at all well for the benefit of anyone but the very top of the elites, the US and Asian tech corps such as Apple and Samsung have shown us that such a variant of socialism, at least in business, isn’t dead – and at least in terms of material wellbeing for customers does operate quite well. Surely here the challenge is not to reject business, but analyse how it manages to make such command and control structures a beneficial reality, where Communist and other left-wing politicians failed us so dreadfully in the 20th century whilst they were attempting something pretty analogous?
  • Sue Fewster
    commented 2016-07-30 20:36:52 +0100
    I dislike importing tools and methods that have worked in business into politics, social structures, or public services. This happens far too often already and is rarely beneficial to governance. Especially the failed methodologies as evidenced by the dominance of mathematical influences in economic circles.

    To be democratic having an equal opportunity to influence things is a necessary if not sufficient element, even if one chooses to influence things by not voting.
  • Sue Fewster
    tagged this with dislike 2016-07-30 20:36:52 +0100
  • Miljenko Williams
    commented 2016-07-30 08:42:11 +0100
    Hi Bob – appreciate, understand and know where you’re coming from. Am not sure what sort of person you think I am, tho’, nor how you know what I’m like. Sometimes it’s worth asking around. And if you have, maybe try asking around a different crew.

    Would underline one thing. In a democracy, whatever the tools used to structure it or support it or make it truly inclusive as well as necessarily efficient, the tendency for those in power to ensure by all means possible that they remain in power always remains. “One person, one vote” has never been the case. Those with access to the media already have their ability to determine outcomes weighted in their favour. Those with the ability to rouse a mass of individuals who mostly choose to play follow the leader, also. All I’m suggesting here – and on the basis of practice elsewhere already demonstrated – is that this weighting process, inevitable and currently operating, be determined by maths, giving everyone – but everyone – an equal ability to determine the reach and extent of their various voices.

    By the way, just to contextualise, I’m self-employed, heavily in debt, have a family of three adults who are battling to achieve their goals in creative industries on the back of the imagination, ingenuity and sheer balls I have tried to engender in them, and it’s precisely positions of power you claim I’d love which I’ve been running away from all my life. Because I believe, as David Brin once observed:

    “It’s said that ‘power corrupts’, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power. When they do act, they think of it as service, which has limits. The tyrant, though, seeks mastery, for which he is insatiable, implacable.”
  • Bob Crossley
    tagged this with hate 2016-07-29 19:31:49 +0100
  • Bob Crossley
    commented 2016-07-29 19:31:08 +0100
    I think this is what is called “blue sky thinking” in some circles. But who sets the criteria by which we are all judged? Just take away all the techno-fluff and you’re left with the same tired old premise that supporters of oligocracy trot out regularly in one form or another – that “only people like me should be allowed to vote”. Your idea sounds like the premise for a Sci-Fi dystopia, in which the ability to play some horrible and soul destroying game is the criterion for acceptance into the clique of world rulers. No thank you. “Hate” is too gentle an assessment for this. I think it’s a dangerous and disgusting idea, and I’m thankful that people like you are in no position now and are unlikely ever be in a position to promote your “blue sky” ideas.
  • Miljenko Williams
    published this page in Join the debate 2016-05-03 13:40:54 +0100