The History of the Crowd Wisdom Project

The Crowd Wisdom Project (CWP) was formed on my birthday, as a present to myself. Some people might want a spa day for their birthday treat. Not me. Founding a non-profit, which is politically neutral, is what I wanted. So that’s what I did.

CWP emanates from my personal journey. Let me explain.

No doubt most people know someone who is currently in a political party. Quite possibly, you might even know someone who has been involved in two political parties. But me? I’ve been involved in four political parties! It would be fair to describe me as “politically promiscuous”.

I was a Conservative at school and – very cliched – after studying politics for my degree, I went left – very left – wing. Over the years, I’ve stood for Labour a few times and chaired my local Labour Party. I left the Labour Party five years ago.

I experimented with the doomed Change UK – remember them? – also known as The Independent Group, before joining the Liberal Democrats for just one year.

I enjoyed my time in these parties, however, I found the visceral hatred that many party members have for others – sometimes even hatred of factions within their own party – very difficult to stomach. I prefer to get on with people; to get to understand their viewpoints. I wasn’t always like this. I have changed. I have matured.

Not only have I been involved in political parties, but I have also run an anti-fascist campaign. I also ran a debating society. In my last job, I was the elected trade union rep, and I’m still in a trade union. Politics courses through these veins as I type. Even my daughter is named after a political figure.

I’m proud to write that some of my good friends are UKIP and Brexit Party organisers. (For those not in the UK, these are the two most right-wing and Eurosceptic parties).

But how can I have such a wide circle of diverse political contacts?

Because I adore being around people who discuss ideas – as opposed to discussing gossip – and I admire people who want to make their societies better. I like to hang around with people who devote so much of their energy to their cause, as their passions and positivity is infectious. Such people, of all political stripes, are, in my book, heroes: defending, enhancing and participating in democracy, imperfect though our democracy is.

Can Polis Heal Brexit’s Wounds?

I need to mention the “B” word: Brexit.

Brexit very nearly tore my family to bits. Like many people, who are energised by politics, through political disagreements, I’ve lost good friends. Surely this doesn’t need to be so. The 2016 Brexit referendum time was the nadir for political debate in the UK.

In my view, the tone of political debate on social media is, simply, horrible. But what is often worse than social media are the comments section on newspaper websites. Yuck.

When Covid struck, I saw that everything was going online, except for our democracy. In the UK, the debacle surrounding Cambridge Analytica set back the involvement of technology in our democracy by years. Democracy had been tainted by technology, went the argument.

Two years ago, after chairing some round-table meetings of political-types, a tech friend of mine came across Polis. Experiencing Polis in action for the first time, blew my little mind. My mind remains blown.

I shall explain more about Polis in another blog, but in one sentence, I would say that: Polis finds the very best ideas within a large group of people and then builds consensus.

Had Polis usage been commonplace during the Brexit campaign, the wounds would not have run so deep.

Polis is the tool of our time. It is the political tool that we desperately need. It is my mission to proliferate the usage of this little-known tool.

History of Polis

Around ten years ago, some very capable and altruistic tech geniuses in Seattle created Polis. This team are based at the Computational Democracy Project. Their Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk figure is Colin Meghill.

What this crack team of tech geniuses knew was that technology was enmeshing itself in all areas of our lives, but when it came to politics, technology was only being used when it came to targeted political ads. Tech surely had more to offer than better ads.

These forefathers of Polis harked back to what voting was like in Ancient Greece – in the Polis. Polis meaning “city state”.

In Ancient Athens, men – just men, no women and no slaves – went to hear the debates at the Acropolis. Each man in attendance had one vote. Voting was either by a show of hands or by throwing a pebble into a container.

Whilst everyone could hear the debates and vote, this system functioned reasonably. This is direct democracy. The purest form of democracy: one man, one vote.

As cities grew and as issues became more complex, the representative democracy system was born.

The advent of technology provides so many possibilities to enhance our democracies. But our democracies have not adapted. Those with power are loathed to relinquish any.

Hence, Polis was created.

Polis allows millions of people to be surveyed, in their own words. Using machine-learning, Polis finds the areas where people agree – where there is consensus.

Polis is copylefted technology, rather than copyrighted. Most people have some understanding of copyright– i.e. there is property in intellectual works. Copyleft is a beautiful concept. It means that anyone can use copylefted property, but if they improve the property, then they must share it with the world.

Perhaps you haven’t heard more about Polis, because there isn’t tonnes of cash backing it, nor much funds for improving it.

The most famous use of Polis has been in Taiwan.

Using Polis, what has the Crowd Wisdom Project Achieved?

We’ve really only been in operation for 6 months, and only in a part-time capacity. In this limited period, however, we’ve facilitated over 100,000 votes. We’ve run Polis conversations in Harrogate, Wigan and Knaresborough. We’ve worked for a Law Society, a church group, and partnered with some environmental campaigns.

I have used Polis in my own law firm – Truth Legal – of thirty people – to harvest the best ideas within our firm. As you might have guessed, law firms can be quite hierarchical, which often inhibits people from speaking their mind. Junior staff and new starters often find it hard to share great ideas. Polis solved that problem, because we run the conversation on an anonymous basis.

The purpose of the Crowd Wisdom Project is to partner with organisations in order to extract the very best ideas from within a group of people and then to build a consensus around those great ideas. By doing this on a local level, eventually, in a bottom-up way, Polis after Polis, we expect that people will demand so much more from their democracy. Engaged citizens produce stronger societies.

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