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A Meta-layer for Restoring Democracy and Open Society: Part Three, the IVCS

8:40 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone


Joseph M. Firestone and Henk Hadders

This is the concluding post in a three-part series. The first post highlighted the problem of lack of representativeness in modern societies, characterized human societies, economic, and political systems as special kinds of Complex Adaptive Systems (CASs) called Promethean CASs, and then argued that such systems needed continuous self-organization to maintain democracy and open society in the face of tendencies toward oligarchy endemic in PCASs, and that e-participation platforms might enable continuous self-organization, if such platforms were designed appropriately. In Part Two, we spelled out the general and IT requirements needed for an e-participation platform that could provide a meta-layer for democracy enabling continuous self-organization. In this post we’ll conclude with a case study.

The Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) platform: A Case Study

All systems using IT and human agents relating people to one another, including political parties, and formal organizations generally, are PCASs, and in their formative stages after the introduction of the IT component to users will involve some additional degree of self-organization, network effects, and emerging collective behavior patterns, beyond that existing before introducing the technology. But, some IT platforms/tool sets will do a better job of enabling self-organization initially, and maintaining it continuously, than others. That means that some applications will serve democracy better than others in that continuous enabling of new self-organization outside any formal organizational structure within their IT application environments will more effectively prevent formation of entrenched oligarchies than will other applications ostensibly directed at similar problems.

How well IT platforms trying to heal modern democratic political systems such as the United States, will perform in enabling self-organization depends in great part on the power of their central symbols, or “tags” to attract self-organizing activity with a propensity to generate higher-level collectives such as voting blocs and electoral coalitions out of the self-organization.

The IVCS is a platform and set of tools being developed that is expected to fulfill all the e-platform requirements given above. It has policy options as its key tags, the central symbols around which people will self-organize to create voting blocs and electoral coalitions. In addition, when using IVCS, people prioritize their policy options and create policy agendas based on their options and priorities. Policy options, priorities, and policy agendas are the most effective tags for political self-organization because 1) people can locate others based on similarities in these matters, and 2) they can also engage in developing voting blocs and electoral coalitions by first finding people whose agendas are similar to their own, and then negotiating out differences among them by collaborating on how policy agendas may be changed, consensus created and differences resolved.

And because of these tags and other features that enable and encourage participation in the process of building voting blocs and electoral coalitions by negotiating and re-negotiating policy options, priorities, and policy agendas, IVCS is the platform that can best maintain continuous self-organization, continuous refreshing of “bottom-up”, democratic participation, in building and re-building voting blocs and electoral coalitions. The most important thing is that CASs are always poised at “the edge of chaos,” between the disorder of chaotic dynamics and the orderly dynamics of lifeless mechanical equilibrium.

They remain in this state, because their continuous self-organization allows them to cope with environmental challenges through problem solving. Their continued existence as PCASs, therefore, depends on this continuous self-organization. If that fails or is undermined by the institutionalization of oligarchies that can protect themselves from replacement, then the adaptive capabilities of the PCAS will fail and it will change its state.

The IVCS enables the U.S. electorate to bypass the current system and circumvent institutions that have corrupted it. It does this by enabling voters of all persuasions to build voter-controlled on-line voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can get control of all vital processes that determine what the nation’s legislative priorities are, who runs for office, who gets elected, what laws are enacted, and which office holders will be made accountable for breaking their commitments made to voters prior to their elections.

These blocs and coalitions can work together outside the system, prior to elections, to democratize political parties so that their supporters control them rather than special interests. The blocs and coalitions can form alliances with democratically-run parties while supplanting all parties as the driving forces of U.S. politics (see figure 1).

ivcs as a PCAS

Figure 1: IVCS as a PCAS with self-organizing emergent collectives

IVCS’s agenda-setting, political organizing and consensus-building tools enable voters to set their legislative agendas and build voting blocs and electoral coalitions to elect representatives who will enact their legislative priorities, not special interest priorities, into law. The tools empower voters to change the whole political system by creating self-organizing voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can perform all functions political parties perform to get their candidates elected, and their legislative agendas passed. This includes raising money for their candidates from individual donors throughout the country, rather than special interests.

In addition to doing the same things that parties do to run winning candidates, the voting blocs and coalitions that voters build, using IVCS tools, can do two things absolutely essential to democracy that traditional political parties have failed to do. First, they can overcome the parties’ failure to allow voters to collectively set and vote on party platforms and legislative agendas, And second, the IVCS and its consensus-building tools, especially the voting utility, collaboration, and problem solving tools, and knowledge bases containing both claims and meta-claims, enable voters to resolve conflicts. Space limitations prevent our dealing with IVCS in more detail; more information can be found on the prototype website.


Aristotle pointed out that monarchies were subject to transformation to tyrannies, aristocracies to oligarchies, and constitutional governments to democracies (mob rule). He had no way of knowing that such transformations may have something to do with whether the processes of self-organization decay to such a degree that lack of adaptive success in each of these systems drives their transformation to their perverted forms.

He also had no way of envisioning the need for modern constitutional liberal democracies to continuously renew themselves with new distributed ‘wicked’ problem-solving capabilities and accountability mechanisms that can only be produced through openness and self-organization supported through modern IT web-based e-participation platforms. These platforms can provide a meta-layer of new knowledge, cultural norms, and self-organization, for democratic political systems, unconstrained by and not open to, manipulation by emergent globalizing elites.

Without these new e-participation platforms, and the continuous self-organization they will bring, the iron law of oligarchy will continue to dominate representative democracies, and they will travel further along the real road to serfdom. IVCS can create the meta-layer necessary to strengthen self-organization into voting blocs, electoral coalitions, and web-based social networks in such a way, that new policy solutions can be continuously introduced, along with new mechanisms of accountability. That meta-layer can ensure that policy elites either become representative, or are quickly replaced by new officeholders who won’t rely on the financial and organizational resources now co-opting self-organizing movements, the heart and soul modern democracies. It can repeal the Iron Law!


This conference paper on which the posts in this series are based was written in collaboration with Nancy Border, PhD., inventor of IVCS. We thank Dr. Bordier for her contributions, insights, and support.

(Cross-posted from

A Meta-layer for Restoring Democracy and Open Society: Part Two, Meta-layer Requirements

8:48 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone


Joseph M. Firestone and Henk Hadders

Requirements for an e-participation platform in human political CASs

We won’t be able to stop the movement toward oligarchy unless we can create a new institutional framework that allows us to change those aspects of our present situation supporting oligarchy and undermining open society. We need a framework that will operate within the context of existing rules and laws to create changes supporting increased self-organization and distributed knowledge processing shifting our democratic PCASs back towards an open state.

The new institutional framework must provide a meta-layer of political interaction and networking that places new ecological constraints on the current political system, driving it back towards a condition in which the ability of individuals to both arrive at more accurate constructions of reality, and act on them, through increased self-organization and distributed knowledge processing, is dominant. The meta-layer can be provided by a web-based platform eventually incorporating most of the eligible voters in a political system, and providing capabilities for political organization that can overcome the impact of big money and media on political parties, legislators, legislatures, and politics generally.

Here are the requirements for such a framework. It must provide or enable:

– social contexts and milieus within which people can organize themselves and others around public policy agendas, comprised of policy options and policy priorities, into voting blocs and electoral coalitions ranging from very small to blocs of millions of voters without needing sizable financial resources from sources external to these social milieus, and without being subject to external mass media communications influenced by financial oligarchs and other special interests;

– social contexts and milieus offering the possibility of informal group and social network formation around these policy agendas;

– social contexts and milieus that are transparent and inclusive in providing participants with previously developed data, information, and knowledge, and in allowing them freedom to participate in communicating, organizing, collaborating, critically evaluating, problem solving, and decision making within voting blocs and electoral coalitions;

– social contexts and milieus in which participants have a modicum of trust in other participants;

– participants and voting blocs to communicate their policy agendas to candidates for public office and office holders, and also securing either commitments to these agendas, or clear refusals to support them;

– participants and voting blocs to continuously monitor and rate performance of office holders against agendas and to decide whether to continue to support them after performance ratings are arrived at;

– tools for voting blocs and electoral coalitions to organize efforts to get both major party and third party candidates and initiatives onto ballots, and to get people to the polls to vote. Simply, it must provide tools to enable voting blocs to do all the things political parties now do to support candidates they want to elect and ballot initiatives they want to pass.

In brief, the new institutional framework must provide an alternative network of social and political relations to the contemporary world of political parties and established interest groups. The alternative world must embody the key attributes of open society, which means it must provide an informal communications and knowledge network that is very much independent of the mass media, and also capable of enabling creating highly cohesive voting blocs and electoral coalitions of many millions of people, and even new political parties, which can offer decisive support to candidates and office holders in return for their continuing support of voting bloc agendas. The alternative world will then work as a meta-layer constraining the prior political world, and preventing it from concentrating power in oligarchies by subjecting them to continuous self-organization and a cultural background of new knowledge arising from distributed knowledge processing.

Information Technology Requirements

What are the Information Technology (IT) requirements to provide this new meta-level of political interaction and networking? Below we present our view on functions and facilities needed:

a. Application software available as web services within an architecture capable of easily incorporating new web-service enabled applications when they appear. Fulfilling this requirement makes the platform adaptive;

b. Facilities (e.g. forums, web conferencing) people can use to jointly clarify with one another and state the problems they see, and store the problem formulations in a knowledge base, linked to people who formulated them;

c. Facilities for creating policy options, selecting others from a knowledge base, rating policy options relative to one another to establish ratio-scaled priorities, entering and storing policy options, and priorities in a knowledge base, making annotations linked to the options text, explaining why policy options make sense, and describing how they’ve performed;

d. Facilities for gathering information both internal to the system, and across the web, to help people arrive at their policy agendas. System search facilities employing the best available semantic web technology, newly emerging in web 2.0 and 3.0 applications, to help people locate information relevant to policy option formulation. Facilities for content aggregation “mash-ups” drawing on hundreds of web sites for content related to issue areas linked to policy options. For more advanced users facilities/tools for modeling, measuring, and projecting policy impact;

e. The search and content aggregation facilities mentioned, will supply people with tools to help them critically evaluate policy options, and annotation and linking capabilities will enable them to tie their evaluations to their policy options, and to create a track record that they and others will be able to use in the future;

f. Facilities for accessing an already existing policy options knowledge base, using platform search capabilities, learn about other people’s policy agendas, creating new policy options, and adding them to the knowledge base. Facilities for accessing existing policy options by using folksonomies established by users over time, producing content by participating in forums, by blogging and micro-blogging, and by contributing to wikis they’ll create on various issues. Facilities for cognitive mapping allowing people to compare the cognitive profile of their own policy agendas with other policy agendas available in the knowledge base, helping people place their agendas in context, and preparing the way for collaboration with others in voting blocs;

g. Facilities for annotating policy options and creating the track record of criticisms and evaluations of all policy options, as well as all reasoning recorded in the knowledge base supporting them. The best practices in policy and the lessons learned will be there. The history of performance will be there, and will be organized, searchable, and navigable due to the annotation and linking capability present in the platform and people’s use of this capability over time;

h. Facilities for social networking including building and mapping networks, and analyzing them like those in such well-known applications as Facebook and LinkedIn, and for accessing social network graphs, using social software for creating communities and discussion groups, exchanging ideas, searching for and locating experts, using text and data mining, cognitive mapping, and finding and contacting voters with statistically and/or conceptually similar priorities and cognitive maps;

i. Facilities for team-based workflow so teams of people can plan and implement common tasks involving specialization, virtual team workspaces, application and desktop sharing in virtual collaborative sessions, collaborating on documents such as policy agendas, policy options, impact analyses, wikis, blog posts, and discussion forums to use in creating voting bloc coalitions;

j. Facilities for project, task, and event management, web-conferencing for online meetings to recognize and formulate problems, develop solutions, criticize them, and mobilize support for policy agendas and for voting bloc campaign activities; collaborative prioritizing of policy options as well as planning and prioritizing political initiatives to get policy options passed into law; collaborative e-learning for getting access to content fragments gathered from across the internet relevant to a problem they’re trying to solve, and a variety of virtual environments for social collaborative learning for teams;

k. In addition to the facilities mentioned earlier, a voting/polling capability for collaborating and getting agreement in voting blocs, using agreed upon policy agendas as a legislative mandate for elected representatives and electoral candidates, a rating tool for evaluating announced candidates and recruiting new ones, a tool for monitoring elected representatives’ legislative actions, and a scorecard and decision making tool for evaluating their track records and deciding whether to vote for or against them;

l. Facilities for a mass e-mail blaster; “Write-your-rep” campaigns and petitions using voting bloc agendas; web conferencing between voting bloc members and reps, if they agree to attend; voting bloc donation solicitation and management; political event management; and voting bloc chapter management.

m. Facilities for identity management for members, a hierarchical system of access rights guaranteeing the security of sensitive data, content, or applications, assigning access rights to any object, a central user and rights directory allowing access rights of individual users or groups to be assigned with a mouse-click. Facilities for creating unbreakable security for privacy protection including, if necessary, quantum encryption.

Next we look at the case of the platform and its Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) tools being developed by a team led by political scientist Nancy Bordier. The platform, IVCS tools, and voters using it will together form an open PCAS, solving the wicked problem of overcoming Michels’s Iron Law which, today, is threatening to transform the US and other modern democracies into oligarchies.

(Cross-posted from