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Power to the People

Offutt Air Force Base on Flickr

Does pineapple belong on pizza? How would you feel if the next pizza party you went to served nothing but pineapple pizza? Much like the important pineapple on pizza question, governments are always looking for ways to find out what their citizens want. It’s tough to do because often the loudest and the most extreme opinions are the ones that get the most attention; sort of like how sometimes the loudest kid in your class is the only one that gets heard. Since this is a worldwide problem, there have been a lot of attempts to fix it. For example, in Taiwan, the government embraced its civic hacker community for help.

Taiwan’s civic hack community is organized under the banner of g0v (pronounced as gov zero). g0v helps the Taiwanese people be more active members in shaping government policies. It does this by taking advantage of – what else – the internet, of course. A good example of how g0v has helped the Taiwanese government in recent years is the creation of the virtual Taiwan or vTaiwan platform and the use of a platform called Polis.

Polis is a survey app that acts as a sort of stage for anybody who cares about an issue to make short statements (140 characters, like Twitter used to be) about the subject being discussed (like should pineapple be allowed on pizza?). Anyone on the platform gets to agree, disagree, or pass on other people’s ideas about the subject. These responses then run through a clever algorithm that organizes them and helps push the conversation forward.

After a few weeks of this, both the statements of agreement (people should be allowed to choose pineapple on pizza) and negative ones (nobody should ever have to eat pineapple on pizza) are passed on to decision-makers who use the information to inspire policy creation that is inclusive of everyone’s opinions.

The Polis model has been used widely in Taiwan and, so far, it has helped to influence how public money is spent, and also how best to regulate businesses like Uber.

This isn’t something that’s just happening in Taiwan. Polis and internet-enabled ways of increasing communication between governments and their citizens have been rising globally, with the Polis algorithm being used in London, UK; Bowling Green, Kentucky; and Berlin, Germany.

Guess what? You can also use the Polis software, too. It’s free and the code is open source in case you want to take a peek under the hood. Polis is just one of the ways that technology is being harnessed to help people make better decisions.

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Computational Democracy Project


Open Source Initiative


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