Platform 2005 about the living platform

This page not yet translated to French

To our knowledge, the Green Party of Canada, in its 2004 platform, was the first national political party in the world to officially adopt a "living platform" which enables open, direct and deliberative democracy via the web. This pages offers some historic and theoretical background on the use of the web to enable grassroots democracy.

Communication and grassroots democracy.

Ever since nation states came into being, there has been a desire to have a truly democratic government, one in which each citizen had a voice and a role in decision making. Historically, it has been very difficult to achieve this ideal except in very small and localized organizations. In large organizations like nation states, it has been normal to find the exact opposite of true democracy - the despotic rule of single individuals. In most large organizations, using a true grassroots democratic process is usually rejected out of hand as "unworkable" without even having to explain considering why it is unworkable.

The most difficult problem to solve (the one that people didn’t even bother to explain) was that up to now, communication has been expensive.

Before the invention of the printing press it was insanely expensive.
After the invention of the telegraph it was only prohibitively expensive.
After the invention of the radio it was tremendously expensive.
After the invention of the telephone it was still far too expensive.
After the invention of the internet, suddenly it costs nothing all . . .

At least, now that it costs nothing to transport the information, we are left with just the residual cost of the time we spend meeting for talking to or emailing each other(this is still very expensive.) Understanding each other takes even more time than that.

Overall we are looking at a historical development: as information, education, communication and transportation became less expensive, democracy became less expensive and people naturally thought to have more of it.

Imagine we are in 1867, and examine what logistics are required to get the people in St. John, New Brunswick directly involved in the development of the Articles of Confederation. One would have hand deliver a draft from Montreal to St. John, call a meeting, wait at least a month for people around the colony to hear about the meeting, read the draft and make arrangements to be there. Then after the meeting, it would be necessary to send a delegate on horseback from St. John to Montreal in order to deliver opinions that, by the time they arrived, would be several weeks out of date, because other people nearby had already convinced the founders to rewrite numerous proposals. Multiply all this by several rounds of consultations, and years have gone by, circumstances and the participants have changed, probably so much that you had to start from scratch again. In otherwords a grassroots process was out of the question. Thus we received a system of "democratic" government where we elect an individual to parliament, put them on a horse, and hope they won’t decide anything in Ottawa we will live to regret.

The implications of the internet.

The invention of the internet, for the first time in history makes instantaneous communication and two way discussion possible and affordable from any location on the planet. The remaining problem for grassroots democracy is to find a process to collect opinions and build consensus in a way that doesn’t take forever. Building consensus doesn’t necessarily mean consulting everyone about everything: that would still require a ridiculously long been extremely expensive process. What we can do however is create an open and transparent process where people who do have things to say can quickly get involved and have their point of view shared with others. Thus we have grassroots democracy on the opt-in principle.

Finally, the living platform.

The living platform is really just a web site which will form the hub of activities around platform 2005, but it is also just a website that may yet revolutionize the way politics is done. The living platform makes it possible for thousands of people collaboratively write a policy document in a relatively short span of time – essentially it does everything a parliament can do but faster and better.

Obviously, using the web is not the only way we want people to communicate in this process. Telephones and face-to-face meetings provide a warmth and quality of communication that cannot be replaced, not to mention that they can be used by a large number of people to whom a mouse is still something that makes you go “eeek”. Ideally we want to have groups of people in every province get together in person to discuss the proposed planks of the platform. What the web will make possible is for these groups to share their views amongst each other. Not everyone has to use the Living Platform, but one person from every group should be able to connect and "share back" posting the views of their group with people in other regions.

The Living platform is a wiki.

The heart of the living platform is a tool called a wiki. Wiki is a relatively simple piece of software that effectively creates a blackboard in cyberspace where everyone who views the page has chalk and an eraser. In a wiki, everyone is a writer and everyone is an editor, and that is what is so fundamentally democratic about it. In order to write a document together as a group someone first posts a draft and then - turn by turn amongst many people – it is written and rewritten - until the group settles down to a consensus position that most can agree on. For our purposes, policy team members will be able to cut and paste work they have prepared into the wiki, which will be immediately available for others to edit, comment on, revise and add to. Any member of the party will, at the click of a mouse, be able to see where the platform is at and give feedback, or even join the process.

The living platform will never be perfected.

The living platform is an ongoing experiment. As far as software goes, what we are using is the result of an ongoing open source project - features are being added (and bugs discovered) all the time. The human side of the process is similarly always being revised. In the name of democracy, we must always be trying to lower the cost of participation (the cost of our patience) and any feedback you have in that respect is always welcome.

The living platform is evil and stupid!?!

One of the initial objections people have to the use of wiki technology is that strange things can be inserted in pages by trolls and other dissidents and insurgents. Provided people don't take themselves too seriously, this is rarely a problem since informal social networks quickly (or eventually) detect and revert such changes. This paragraph was not originally written by Michael Pilling, but a week later he noticed it and then turned on the page watch feature so he would get notifications of all new changes to this page. One aspect specific to the tikiwiki version of wiki software is that it does not support internal (or external) links in the comments area -which forces people to edit the page itself if they want to add links.

Thank you for being here.

Michael Pilling
Head of Platform and Research.

See also: grassroots democracy in the green party