Several years ago some software programmers in Berlin came up with a new software platform to let diverse groups of people self-organize themselves to make democratic decisions online. The program, LiquidFeedback, gives everyone a chance to participate without the need for physical assemblies or in-person voting.
The program was first used by the German Pirate Party, but it has been also been used by citizen associations, cooperatives and even corporations to elicit the collective sentiment of groups of people, including for binding votes. The idea behind the program is to avoid the classic problems of representative democracy and hierarchies. As we all know, elected leaders are often happy to ignore or misrepresent the will of the people if it helps them stay in power. LiquidFeedback was intended as something of an antidote.
Now, the programmers behind LiquidFeedback, the Public Software Group of Berlin, have published a book, The Principles of LiquidFeedback, describing the philosophical, political and operational details of the software system. The authors – Jan Behrens, Axel Kistner, Andreas Nitsche and Bjorn Swierczek – bill their book as “a must-read for anybody planning to make online decisions or to build online decision platforms and is also interesting for anybody interested in the future of democracy in the digital age.”
At a time when elections, legislatures and other democratic processes do a poor job at representing the will of the people, LiquidFeedback is a welcome experiment in demonstrating a better way. It is not seen as a substitute for representative democracy, but more as a complement to it. I blogged about the program in 2012 and concluded that it “clearly shows the potential for re-imagining more open, legitimate and responsive forms of governance.”
LiquidFeedback empowers any accredited member of a group to propose a new initiative; make suggestions about it; create alternatives to the proposed initiative; and vote on a final proposal. Discussion generally takes place on other platforms, however, outside of LiquidFeedback. But the authors warn that "in the real world it is not possible to implement a secret electronic voting system whose functionality can be verified by the voters." Liquid Feedback uses open ballots.