GovLab fellow Darshana Narayanan recently published an article for The Economist as part of the publication’s series of opinion pieces on how to fix democracy. An excerpt from the article is below – for the full article, click here.
Technology and political will can create better governance
by Darshana Narayanan
Mar 22nd, 2019
Current forms of democracy exclude most people from political decision-making. We elect representatives and participate in the occasional referendums, but we mainly remain on the outside. The result is that a handful of people in power dictate what ought to be collective decisions. What we have now is hardly a democracy, or at least, not a democracy that we should settle for.
To design a truer form of democracy—that is, fair representation and an outcome determined by a plurality—we might draw some lessons from the collective behaviour of other social animals: schools of fish, for example. Schooling fish self-organise for the benefit of the group and are rarely in a fracas. Individuals in the group may not be associated and yet they reach consensus. A study in 2011 led by Iain Couzin found that “uninformed” fish—in that case, ones that had not been trained to have a preference to move towards a particular target—can dilute the influence of a powerful minority group which did have such preferences.
Of course fish are not the same as humans. But that study does suggest a way of thinking about decision-making. Instead of limiting influence to experts and strongly motivated interest groups, we should actively work to broaden participation to ensure that we include people lacking strong preferences or prior knowledge of an issue. In other words, we need to go against the ingrained thinking that non-experts should be excluded from decision-making. Inclusivity might just improve our chances of reaching a real, democratic consensus.
To read the entire article, which goes on to cover digital-democracy initiatives in Decide Madrid and vTaiwan, click here.