Our approach

In developing our approach we considered several interconnected facets:

  • Community: what things define a community and move it forward?
     

  • Empowerment: what will ignite in each and every member a sense of communal belonging, a want to engage, and satisfaction from affecting communal self determination?
     

  • Trust: how to establish trust between community members and the officials they elect to handle issues, carry out actions, or make decisions on their behalf?
     

  • Technologyhow can technology support the above and what additional benefits can it provide?
     

Detail

Community

Consider a small community with a fair degree of autonomy in self determination, such as a village or even a school.

  • Goals define a community's sense of purpose, play an important role in guiding decision making, and once defined are relatively stable. 

    A village, for example, may decide: "we want to provide an environment where everyone feels safe", "we want to preserve the historic nature and beauty of our village", "we want to provide jobs to our residents", or "we want to minimize our carbon footprint".

    A school, for example, may choose goals such as: "we want all students to surpass state achievement standards", "We want to develop critical and creative thinking for problem solving", or "we want students to work collaboratively across a diversity of academic disciplines, social backgrounds, and ethnic origins." 
     

  • Issues are things that stand in the way of achieving goals. If a village goal is community safety, then examples of issues may include: "there have been many traffic accidents involving children on their way to or from school", or "many homes are being burglarized." Issues keep piling up. Resolving some may be trivial, while others may require considerable time and resources.

    Identifying and prioritizing the most important issues to tackle is not simple. This can be done by assigning each issue a severity. An Issue Severity considers both the impact of a given issue on achieving community goals and the resources required to resolve it. The same issue may have different severity levels in different communities, even if their goals are similar.
     

  • Actions are the things that can be done to resolve an issue. Typically, there are many different actions that may work. The choice of one of the other may reflect differences in points-of-view or even values. If, for example, a village issue is a "high level of burglaries", then some possible actions may include "increase police force and presence", "create resident night patrols", "install high luminescent street lamps in every street", or "require an alarm system in every home."

    Selecting the best, or even right action is not simple. Community goals should serve as a first guiding principle. But even so,  different residents may have different opinions for or against each action. If, for example, a village goal is to preserve it's historic nature and beauty, then installing high luminescent street lamps may not be an option. Yet residents may still object to increasing police presence, or having to take part in resident night patrols.
     

  • Decision Making is the process by which goals, issues, and especially actions are determined. It is inherently complex because it must consider multiple facets. Not only can each facet itself be complex, but different facets may conflict with each other. Functional facets include things such as cost, time, resources, and complexity. These have to be balanced with non functional facets such as community's goals, its projected image, and the feelings of its residents. On top of that, an action may have a side-effect on a other issues or goals. For example, installing high luminescent street lamps may best address a safety issue but may also conflict with a goal of reducing carbon footprint.

    Three things have to considered in making decisions. First, they must be informedeach facet and possible side-effects much be clearly understood. Second, decisions should be made in a way that will not dampen the sense of engagement or empowerment in members that disagree. Third, there needs to be a way to track their impact over-time on the severity of issues. 

 
 
 

Empowerment

 

A sense of empowerment is achieved when every member feels he has an equal say in determining their community's future and can verify progress over time. This depends not only on what mechanisms a community provides its members, but also on how they are designed and implemented. We considered three underlying requirements:
 

  1. Member ability to make informed decisions regrading community goals, issues, and actions;

  2. Community decision-making in a way that supports its member's sense of empowerment, especially with members that do not agree; 

  3. An ability for all members to track the long-term impact of past decisions.

 

Below are key mechanisms:

  • Propose. Every member should be able to propose a goal, raise an issue, or propose an action. Proposals are visible to the entire community and are attached to a workflow that tracks all actions and decision that take place until a proposal is accepted or rejected. Other members can start a Dialog (below) on a proposal, to voice their support, opposition, or provide additional information.
     

  • Dialog. A mechanism for community members and their elected to openly discuss any proposal, goal, issue or action. Members can share support, opposition, or provide additional information. However, Dialog is especially important to help the community understand different points-of-view held by individual members.
     

  • Survey. A mechanism to gather information that will clarify what members think about community goals, issues, decisions, or actions. Whereas survey results are typically anonymized, each member should clearly see how their personal position relates to that of the community. 
     

  • Vote. Voting is a mechanism for community decision making. There are many voting mechanisms, ranging from selecting one option from a list, to determining a value on a scale between support and opposition. 

 

Trust

 

Establishing community trust in the officials they elect to make decisions and/or act on their behalf is critical for maintaining each member's sense of engagement and empowerment. This is typically achieved through transparency and accountability. 

Our approach further leverages the community's already established goals and issues (see above), where each issue has already been assigned a severity measure. This is done through the mechanism of a campaign, and in a way that is designed to maximize transparency and accountability.

Campaign is the mechanism by which any member can declare himself a candidate for an official position that is required by the community. To become eligible, a candidate must openly declare the following:

  1. His personal view in support or opposition of every community goal, issue, and action;

  2. The specific issue or issues he plans to address;

  3. For each issue, the specific action or actions he plans to carry out;

  4. And for each issue, project the impact of his action/s on the severity of that issue in a specified time in the future.

Based on these declarations each member can make an informed decision regarding which candidate to vote for. But more importantly, by comparing past declarations and projected impact with actual outcomes and changes in issue severity, a trust index can be calculated for each official. 

 

Technology

Whereas the concepts described above are not new, we consider technology the key to enabling in each and every community member a sense of inclusion, engagement, and empowerment i. In our view, the reason for the widespread social issues we observed (see why), is not a lacking in approach, but rather, a lacking in efficacy. Moreover, the how is critical: the architecture of underlying systems and the design of the user experience.

Things may seem simple, but they are not. The reality is a massively complex system with many interconnections between sub-components. As in any complex system, trying to optimize one facet may have negative effects on others. Community issues are impacted by different facets that often conflict with each other. Moreover, the handling of an issue within a village may span many different departments, each typically working in its own silo, yet must both be informed by, and inform, all others. For example, addressing "home burglaries" (as discussed above) may involve police, utilities, zoning, safety, school, inclusion, sustainability, and other village departments; it may also require coordination with additional town, state, or even federal entities. Even the notion of a small community as an autonomous unit that can self determine its future is complicated. Consider for example a village school. Its board represents the entire school community. But to function correctly it must interact with many other entities that often represent other communities, such as the village (and its many departments), students, parents, teachers, education (town through state), utilities, and many more. Such inherent complexity is not simple to manage.

In developing our approach to technology we considered several interconnected facets:

  • Data, workflow, interconnection, and time. There is a lot of data from many different sources that needs to interconnected in a way that will optimally address the many community needs described above. Moreover, It has to be done in a way that can help explain cause-and-effect of ongoing decisions and actions, and enable exploration of data, decisions, and events over a timeline. Workflows will require adaptation to individual community needs.
     

  • Algorithms for metrics. Goals issues and actions require prioritization, often over conflicting concerns. Issues require a severity measure so that the effectiveness of decisions and actions carried out to mitigate them can be assessed. Accountability needs to be measured in order to establish long-term trust. These algorithms will require careful design, and further, will have to be adapted to the unique needs of each community.
     

  • Community Dashboard. Progress can be verified through dashboards. Metrics in a dashboard need to be updated in real-time. Information related to establishing or updating a metric should be clear. The change of any metric over time, together with the data that affected change, should be stored in a time series in a way that every member can explore, understand, and learn from.  
     

  • Interconnecting Communities. No community is really isolated and self contained. A village, as a school, has many communities with which it interconnects. Understanding and supporting these interconnections is a critical aspect of both system architecture and experience design. After the mechanisms of interconnections within a single autonomous community are worked out, then a focus can begin on interconnecting communities: villages to a town, towns to a county, etc. This will open the doors for different communities to share, collaborate, learn from, and help each other.
     

  • User Experience Design. Design must focus on the most important component: an individual as a member of a community, and on creating his experience of inclusion, engagement, and empowerment.

 
 
 

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