Living Platform in Practice

Living Platform in Practice, 2004-2005, is a process paper in progress by Craig Hubley.


It details actual experience with the innovative use of a political wiki to attempt to write a Canadian federal political party platform in the full but short Canadian federal election cycle between the calling of the Canadian federal election, 2004 and the runup to the 2005 election. It focuses on issues:

Issues specific to the current GPC Leader and GPC Council, which are unlikely to recur - see GPC Council Crisis - are not covered in this paper in any detail.

successes and failures

The Green Party of Canada Living Platform as it existed in the full but short Canadian federal election cycle between the calling of the Canadian federal election, 2004 and the runup to the 2005 election, was successful in several respects:

The GPC-LP was sadly not successful in several other key respects:

The above assessment is preliminary and proceeds from a model of the role of platform development and party politics as follows:

parties and platforms

The conventional view of political parties is that they are a "necessary evil", that they provide a means to form ready made coalitions of citizens of similar views who will agree at least on how to discuss issues and thus develop positions that can be used as a basis for leadership choices. A party produces a platform. The platform needs planks, so, the party must research them with reference to voter preferences.

spin doctrine

In the political marketing view, the platform needs "any voter" to vote for it. As with commercial products, it does not seek to create long term loyalty or relationships immediately but only to form a voter habit - a "message" is sufficient for this purpose. Candidates, especially leaders, are required to "stay on message" and are usually supervised by a "spin doctor" tasked with simple linear increase of the reach of money, message, members. This model is best symbolized by the following diagram:


If there is any trust in this model at all, it is between the voter and the candidate (or leader), not the party. No role is apparently played by the actual policy in forming the important relationships - accordingly it may simply be discarded after elections: see politics as usual.

This is party politics as comprehended by the spintern.

what do voters trust?

A true spin doctor knows that party loyalty and persistent voting patterns cannot be explained by this model. Historically, voting patterns are extremely consistent and rely on family ties and locality no matter what is promised in a platform. Trust is actually attached to something somewhat deeper:


While less than 2% of Canadians typically belong to any political party, about forty times that, or 80%, are extremely likely to vote for one party consistently over time, or one political formation consisting of the same candidates (where a party has dissolved - see zero wing - and reformed). The party "has" a candidate and the candidate "has" a party. But while voters may know and like candidates, they are not "owned" by any party at all - and small parties are gaining their vote entirely from the voters who have lost their party loyalty or never had any. What do voters trust? What, if not the "message", and not the candidates, do they place trust in when they vote?

deep framing

There are various answers to this question, most having to do with ideology. A trollish theory is as follows:

According to George Lakoff's theories of conceptual metaphor, Moral Politics and deep framing, the way that voters learn or choose to trust a political party or candidate is by recognizing that the choice of metaphors used by these in committed public communications - such as a party platform - is roughly that they would use in their own interpersonal communications. Lakoff proposes that the deepest frame in left-right politics is the choice of "fatherly" (right) or "motherly" (left) ways to portray state services and their relation to the voter.

While any voter will perceive, conciously or not, the deep frame, the conceptual map that is being presented, the only voters that will answer the party's own ballot box question when voting, thus, trust the party's framing of what issues become important to them in the future, are those that shared those conceptual metaphors to begin with.

The trust is therefore invested in the metaphor and its deep frame, and the values that are reflected by these - it is considered impossible or at least highly unlikely by a voter that appropriate and comfortable metaphors could be used by a party or candidate consistently without their being deeply held and believed. Voter preferences play a role (the voter likes the candidate, and likes the way the candidate presents metaphors in the media, and either likes the media's choice of metaphors in describing the candidate, or strongly dislikes them and sides instead wiht the candidate). However, it is the trust in the framing and the deeper metaphors that bind the voter to the party.

In this model, candidates exploit the media, media exploit the candidates, both exploit metaphor and counter-metaphor, and the voter does not "trust" any of what they see on TV or read in a platform. Instead they trust the deep framing and conceptual metaphors that were embedded in its language:


safety and closure

What aspects of this model could actually be tested? How could it be disproven? First, recognize that the party and its relationships to candidates exist to provide leadership and authority - to build social capital. According to Paul Adler, markets, hierarchies and communities are three different ways to make decisions. The party clearly has a command hierarchy if not a single command hierarchy. It provides closure: "the buck stops here".
A party must prove capable of achieving closure, e.g. on its nominations via a candidate protocol that is at least capable of settling the issue before ballots are printed.

Meanwhile, the voter reading the platform and recognizing the conceptual metaphors is seeking safety: assurances that whatever they perceive government (the ultimate provider of safety) should be doing, it is going to be doing. The balance between market and community-based mechanisms (a more conventional economic view of right versus left) will be safer, in the voter's mind, in the hands of one party or another. They choose based on that belief - which is fundamentally a belief about safety. A platform must resonate a feeling of safety:



A voter probably does not deeply examine the degree of power sharing or hierarchy in any party that they vote for, since, if they share the values, they want them expressed.

That is, they consider it "fair" to impose those values on everyone, since they are "correct" and "well-balanced" in the voter's own mind: they express the values of the voter, and, their conceptual metaphors are "common sense" and the deep framing is entirely appropriate. For instance if the candidate believes in retributive justice, and a strong punitive state, then, harsh fixed penalties for crime are perceived as "fair":


However, if the voter perceives fairness as more of a transformative justice model, they will not expect to hear metaphors of retribution and "an eye for an eye", but instead talk about reconciliation, peacemaking, and etc.

Fairness is then a function of safety and closure in some combination - to avoid cognitive dissonance the voter's moral cognition must recognize a fair metaphor in the "message". Indeed, no "message" exists without that metaphor, and without the satisfiction of the voter's own concepts of safety and closure that leads to them seeing the positions taken, and metaphors employed as "fair". Voters do not perceive the deep framing or conceptual metaphors employed at all - they are simply subconcious. The voter perceives only a simple message:


It is the capacity to comprehend and analyze the construction of the message, however, that distinguishes the naive voter or mere spintern from a spin doctor par excellence. And it is sincere belief in the fairness of the constructed message that probably motivates the troll bard to express that message with total clarity.

Even anonymous trolls can convey such messages with perfect effectiveness since they do not depend at all on interpersonal trust. This is extremely powerful and is the basis of the invincibility of the trollherd in politics.

community and tensegrity

The above model seems to deal fairly well with left wing politics, right wing politics, and green politics. It has weaknesses when dealing with libertarian politics and ethnic groups as power networks. And, according to Jane Jacobs' conception of the Guardian Syndrome supposedly shared by all who seek public office, any interaction at all between these and the commercial POV of the Trader Syndrome is a form of corruption in itself. The two are in a dialectic and when they combine they create only "monstrous hybrids". These, however, Adler calls in his own model "community", and proposes a more stable tensegrity between the three: markets, hierarchies, and communities which mediate between market price as value, and authority-imposed values. The tension may be similar to that between Carol Gilligan's ethical relationship and Lawrence Kohlberg's moral reasoning model, which was never fully resolved. Some research issues associated with this, and the moral development of organizations and organization protocols, is covered at the author's own unpublished paper on this, circa 1999.

framing, trusting, growing, learning

The first Living Platform was proposed to the Green Party of Ontario at about this time, simultaneous with the development of the above model and this detailed theory. A full list of references is visible at en: hubley.org: cite

It is from the perspective of this model that the success and failure of the Living Platform experiment can be seen most readily:

As a learning organization, a political party is constantly learning the deep framing that a larger and larger spiral growth of voters will trust and perceive safety emanating from. As they seek to be trusted to protect nature's services and provide state services - most basically to do that protection of life itself - they must align the voter's perception of safety with their own, and (as a secondary matter), that of closure.

classifying and centralizing

In the time frame discussed in this paper, links and tags were the only mechanisms used for organizing. There was deliberately no category nor ontology scheme although distinctions between types of pages did emerge, e.g. between a policy term and a platform proposal. Some other distinctions, e.g. between a user page and an article, were essential, and imported using distinctions from GFDL corpus namespace.

primary vs. secondary

Meanwhile, several projects at different levels (the Imagine Halifax municipal platform, some Ontario and Nova Scotia and Alberta organizing efforts) were using similar technologies but only to organize secondary plank development relying mostly on draft planks and some position papers.


A living ontology suitable to guide classification of the policies, protocols, etc., was emerging, but was not imposed in any way on the GPC-LP. A few basic requirements such the need for primary plank development to support multiple point of view pages led to the introduction of issue/position/argument and a position:namespace that was in practice barely used.

open politics

Experience of several projects at different levels (notably the ImagineHalifax municipal platform) suggest that there were and are classifications of the policies, organizing protocols, persons involved, that transcended the particular wiki software or structure of political organization involved. These now guide the open politics foundation and Efficient Civics Guild and have helped to frame the open politics web and the theory of the open party and even "open politics as usual"

"people infrastructure"

The wiki meeting conventions were more heavily used, perhaps because they helped to build the "people infrastructure" or social capital of users. This is essential, as, according to Clay Shirky and other social software experts, this is exactly where most classification systems tend to fail:

"DSM-IV, the 4th version of the psychiatrists Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, is a classic example of an classification scheme that works because of these characteristics of the user base. DSM-IV allows psychiatrists all over the US,in theory, to make the same judgment about a mental illness, when presented with the same list of symptoms. There is an authoritative source for DSM-IV, the American Psychiatric Association. The APA gets to say what symptoms add up to psychosis. They have both expert cataloguers and expert users. The amount of "people infrastructure" that's hidden in a working system like DSM-IV is a big part of what makes this sort of categorization work.

This "people infrastructure" is very expensive, though. One of the problem users have with categories is that when we do head-to-head tests "we describe something and then we ask users to guess how we described it " there's a very poor match. Users have a terrifically hard time guessing how something they want will have been categorized in advance, unless they have been educated about those categories in advance as well, and the bigger the user base, the more work that user education is. - as excerpted from corante.com commentary

CALS and DSM-IV seem like good examples of high investment in categories in high risk applications. But this author wrote in response that "while military and legal applications have the high consequences, they don't have the flexibility. So politics and psychiatry may be the muddled middle ground where you can actually change the definitions, but where the stakes are very high (people's personal freedom, social well-being and thriving of their surrounding ecosystems at stake)." also at corante, then continued:

"You can't learn much about this by talking about it, only by doing it in practical applications that involve very high consequences for errors of classification, but also have the flexibility to change representations that just aren't working to the satisfaction of the users."

"people users"

In the Green Party of Canada Living Platform, the "users" least satisified seemed to be the "people users" who resented the imposition of lateral methods that competed to set the priorities of "their" organization.

The list of pages removed by these people after the departure of the instigators indicates a very strong bias against any decentralized powers at all.

After opponents of the centralized retrenchment departed, there was also a renewed emphasis on imposed categories at the Green Party of Canada itself, e.g. GPC-LP pages to be deleted. But this was also in context of a general attack on the principles of a self-organized means of writing the platform - a power backlash - so if anything it is evidence that the links and tags do threaten, in time, the categories and ontologies that exist in the minds of the power figures. This author suggests that "they just do not notice, until you have stolen nearly all their dinosaur eggs." That is, convinced the core talent of the organization to back the distributed approach:

inherently decentralized

Once the power to classify is in everybody's hands, it is quite difficult to convince anyone to give it up to some central power that will ab/use it for their own agenda(s).

Accordingly, a party will need to decide in advance if the means to decentralize and self-organize are in fact part of their mandate. If not, don't do a living platform!

green politics in the Troll Age

While the above party model and caveats re: categories and centralizing are applicable to any political party, there were factors specific to green politics and to the Internet as mass media, i.e. Troll Age, including:

missed opportunities

From the perspective of this author (only), there were a number of very significant missed opportunities that could have easily resulted in many weaknesses and worst cases not being realized, and many strengths being built on strongly to improve the electoral and lobbying success of the party:

  • errors by GPC Head of Platform and Research
    • extremely poor adherence to naming conventions, or even explicit precedents, or even English language spelling
    • ill-advised, over-elaborate Platform 2005 process that could have been much simpler and faster and still worked, e.g. Imagine Halifax which combined 50 people's work in three months, with no fulltime staff or even any compensation
    • over-reliance on yahoogroups that slowed teaching of how to wiki well, since it was never a requirement to get one's policy views heard, and which complicated the entire technology picture
    • poor integration with, and poor visibility from, the GreenParty.CA web
    • failure to take a strong stand regarding sharing of answers to questionnaires during the election itself

still one step ahead

Due perhaps to the immature state of the over-priveleged Canadian democracy, other Canadian parties have similar problems, perhaps much worse ones. A country which came within 0.1% of breaking up in the Quebec sovereignty referendum, 1995 seems to have had its head in the sand since then. This extends to all levels of its politics:

As Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe put it:

"When Quebec is gone, English Canada will have its own quiet revolution."

It certainly seems to need one. As one BC NDP member put it on the eve of the BC general election, 2005:

  • "I blame our impending loss on the Prov Scrtry Gerry Scott, who firmly believes in doing a 1970s campaign with glossy brochures being printed at high cost that voters don't read, instead of doing low-cost advertising in local "shopper" type papers, and ignoring media and polls, and not having anything that could be called a war room, and trying to run for cover and refusing to fight back everytime something bad happens ( — thankfully he is not managing Jinny Sims who is not going underground and is now fighting back --), and generally doing a completely stupid effort in which he is still trying to do retail voter contact and phoning. It's so incredibly stupid, that if we end up with anything over 25 seats it will be a bloody miracle, but it will also be a bloody failure." from rabble

The standard of performance in Canadian politics is still quite low. Canadian politics as usual is behind even American politics as usual in particular in entering the Troll Age and dealing with the true range of positions on debates. While there were several thousand edits to the articles on Bush and Kerry in Wikipedia, nowhere near that level of trolling was observed in any Canadian election, nor is likely to be for a while. Cults of personality and political opportunism dominate politics in North America. It seems it has become inward-looking.

It will be up to another generation to put Living Platform in Practice using the lessons outlined above. By the seventh generation, they may get it right!