Global system for national citizens to write to their elected representatives

FROM: Duane Raymond

What NEED does this meet?
Those of us in the US, UK or Canada may not realise it - but in countries around the world there is a scarcity of systems which enable people to email/fax their elected representatives (i.e. Member of Parliament, congress person, senator, MEP). Enabling people to raise global issues locally would help a wide range of concerns influence national and local politicians. For global issues like climate change and unfair trade, this local influence globally is critical.

This meets the needs of people around the world to have the same online access to their elected representatives as we have in the US, UK or Canada.

What is the APPROACH?
In each country, these systems are currently developed nationally - meaning there is no one place to which anyone can turn to engage their elected representatives. This makes coordinating a global campaign more difficult.

This proposal is for a global web site / system where local campaigners anywhere can look up their elected representatives and fax/email them. It could be used by individual citizens, small dispersed groups or medium/large campaigning groups coordinating a global campaign.

For example an individual in Malaysia could look up their MP, a small campaigning group with contacts in Argentina, Mexico and Ghana could point their supporters to the site to email their MPs or a large NGO with supporters in 100 countries could direct their supporters to the same site so all have the ability to write to their representative locally.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
People anywhere in the world would have equal access to their elected representatives. This would deepen their engagement with democracy and make their representatives more accountable. It would make people's lives easier because they wouldn't have to hunt down and assemble the information for communicating with their elected representatives themselves - they would just be able to get on with communicating with them.

What is the COMPETITION?
Most parliaments around the world have a web site with representative names & contact details. However these are not always easy to find except by experienced web surfers/activists. In the few most developed countries, third party services exist - but these too are not always easy to find.

Having a global service means activists can tell each other where to act regardless of what country they are each in.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
A basic service could probably be established for £50,000. How much extra it takes depends on the chosen solution. If the system needs to get the data from authorities around the world - this will likely cost more. If the system extracts the information from parliamentary web sites - it will cost less but need updating whenever these parliamentary changes are made. Maintaining fax gateways around the world may also incur some ongoing costs.

As the eActivism manager for a large UK NGO I may be able to get some money allocated as it would help them as well.

November 9, 2003 in Connecting People, International, NGO Tools, Political | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Manifesto comparisons

FROM: Matthew Flint

What NEED does this meet?
A website that gives straightforward comparisons of political parties' manifestos and beliefs.

Many people aren't getting the government they want because they don't really understand political parties' policies or beliefs. Several reasons for this:
1. they are influenced by the views of friends / relatives
2. they might read newspapers that are politically biassed
3. they're influenced more by the "don't vote for the opposition because..." rhetoric rather than the much quieter "vote for us because..." messages from polititians.

What is the APPROACH?
A website to compare the policies / manifestos of the major political parties, with a strict "no bull" rule.

The site will be divided into sections such as Health, Europe, Economy, Crime, Tax, etc, and each major party with have a maximum number of words to describe their policy - the more concise the better.

1. No bull
2. No attacking other parties

An extension might be an online questionairre on Health, Europe, etc. Users should be able to answer a few dozen multiple-choice questions, then the results will tell them how compatible their views are with the major political parties.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
1. Enables users to easily compare political policies / manifestos
2. Helps users decide who to vote for without reading all the manifestos.

What is the COMPETITION?
None that I know if...

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
Technically, it's not difficult at all. The hard part would be getting the content and keeping it up to date.

If I were doing it, I'd approach each major party and ask them to nominate someone to keep their policies up to date. This could be an MP, an employee of the party or a volunteer from the party's supporters.

The site would also need someone to moderate all the content.

I've been considering doing this for some time; I'm a programmer, and would be willing to do it myself if it's not a winner...

November 3, 2003 in Political, Static Information Site | Permalink | Comments (8)

Local Budget Transparency

FROM: Leigh Hall

What NEED does this meet?
No one likes tax, but if people could see clearly how their tax money was being spent then they could at least accept it. I am not talking "In: £xxx, Out: £xxx, jobs a good 'un", I'm talking a comprehensive, detailed and transparent breakdown of ALL local income and outgoings. A breakdown of central funding received, a breakdown of council tax income, by area and by band and a detailed list of where it is being spent. At each level the cost should be justified, and this could even provide opportunity to make local project documentation available, and possibly (long shot) could open up public projects to having contracts tendered to lowest bidders.

What is the APPROACH?
This information must be available already, so it would be a case of seeking approval for publication, and then the transferral of the ledgers into a database. Then a user friendly interface could be constructed, the results can be added to a website.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
As I said before, no one likes tax, but if they could see how their money was being spent, and could see that it was being spent wisely, they would be able to live with it.

Additionally, providing an electronic framework for this data might eliminate the need for the existing paperwork that is undoubtedly undertaken.

What is the COMPETITION?
I am sure that at some level there will be a vested interest in preventing this from happening, but unless a valid argument can be presented, I do not see why this could not happen.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
The ledgers must already exist, so there would be no extra resource needed to get this information. For the duration of the project, a skilled database programmer would need to work with the ledgers to transfer them into an electronic format. From here, the data could be made directly available. Once the project is live, it would need to be updated throughout the year, but this cost could be saved from possibly moving the ledger into an electronic format, and removing the manual work.

November 3, 2003 in Money, Perhaps Government Remit?, Political | Permalink | Comments (4)

FROM: George Eldon What NEED

FROM: George Eldon

What NEED does this meet?
Bringing a measure of political empowerement to the man on the Clapham omnibus...

The idea germinated when I considered that many people don't bother to vote, never mind take an interest in politics generally and on the other hand many web sites allow you to compare gas, electricity suppliers and save ten bob a year by switching. Others allow you to compare current accounts, ISA's and other financial products etc which is good news as far as I'm concerned.

However we have close to no say in how the other 30-40% of our income - aka tax - is spent (or raised for that matter).

What is the APPROACH?
Every year the Government of the day produces a budget. Various web sites (BBC et al) produce a 'Be your own Chancellor' "game" that allows you to alter around twenty or so tax / spend variables. The web site then calculates the income / tax impact on various groups (e.g. two working parents with two children, single parent).

My approach is to development this idea further by...

1) Providing the game all year round. 2) Allowing people to save their 'games' 3) Allowing people to drill down to the 'nth' level of detail if they want to (i.e. the number and levels of variables should reflect the real world or at least the variables that economic institutions and the Government actually use in their models). 4) Importing actual economic data and calculating how the results of your game are affected.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
If sufficient interest develops then it could conceivably have a snowball effect and become - to coin a phrase - 'the ultimate poll' that political parties start to consider.

What is the COMPETITION?
This isn't something that I suggest take on by themselves. There are sufficient academic / economic institutes out there that could provide understanding of economic modelling and resources. No doubt some of these institutes already have similar projects on the go, but I don't think anything big is on the web - if you know otherwise, pease let me know.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
The budget would be quite hefty I'm afraid, both in the development and operational phases. Also sufficient funds to pay subscriptions for the actual economic data.

The logistics would require a hefty development team and an even heftier economic modelling team from economic / academic institutes.

November 2, 2003 in Money, Political | Permalink | Comments (1)

Misunderstanding Elimination Plan

FROM: Omar Farooq Omar

What NEED does this meet?
To eliminate various misunderstandings and stereotype that exist in today's different societies. Growing anti-semitism and Islamophobia based on false notions and misrepresentations are a few examples. Could help us all understand each other much better.

What is the APPROACH?
It will not be to defend certain religions, cultures or societies on their behalf, nor to debate who's better than who. But just to discredit certain rumors or misunderstanding that contradict obvious documented facts regarding all sorts of societies, cultures, organizations, etc etc.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
Will clear stereotype, hatred and misunderstandings that are rampant amonst all of our societies and bring people together.

What is the COMPETITION?
Not that I know of.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
Requires just a website building software and volunteers to research and some web space.

November 2, 2003 in Helping Your Community, Political, Static Information Site | Permalink | Comments (3)

Cross Referenced Hansard-HM Parliament Video Database

FROM: Tim Carpenter

What NEED does this meet?
Desire for people to quickly and simply see what has been said and discussed in Parliament without the pre-filtering of news organisations.

What is the APPROACH?
Hansard produces accurate records of every sitting in parliament and both houses and committees are captured on video. This video can be digitally archived. Hansard to be indexed and stored in a searchable form online for all to read.

Hansard shall add timestamps to their text. Thus, when a search pulls up a match in Hansard (e.g. all references to Crossrail or Haig), the time and date can be used to locate the video file and play the appropriate section.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
it will allow people to see debates, speeches and votes on demand and in a form they wish. The current mechanism of pre-digested video-bites on news programmes is open to abuse and often does not convey the full picture. People may want to observe the behaviour of an MP and see all their appearances and voting in the house when deciding how they wish to vote.

Such a mechanism could be extended to local authorities to bring transparency to all levels.

What is the COMPETITION?
HM Parliament and Hansard are dominant and no competition exists.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
Storage of the information will be important. Hard drives are getting to £1 per GB, and a GB providing around 3 hours of 320x200 video means 3GB per house/committee per day.

200 days per year, Commons, Lords and two committee rooms means 2,400GB or under 2.5 terabytes per year. A RAID unit storing this costs £9000. Depending on usage the number of copies and front-end servers will increase.

The cost to Hansard should be incremental.

A video retrieval mechanism can be fairly simple as it only need seach for house, time and date as defined by the search results or by free entry.

November 1, 2003 in Perhaps Government Remit?, Political | Permalink | Comments (2)

Judgment Machine

FROM: James Nickson

What NEED does this meet?
In many situations the people leading, managers, politicians, candidates, exhibit appalling judgment.

From our field, when Steve Balmer of Microsoft called open source a "cancer" it served no one's interests, least of all Microsoft's, this is appalling judgment in action. Tony Blair has had some examples but very few compared to the Georges Bush and Bill Clinton's use of the historical Oval Office for bio-entertainment.

In the computer field I watched my own career take a downturn and also sixty thousand other people's at DEC when in 1978 Ken Olsen decided not to ship a desktop prepared for manufacturing and to delay desktops until 1985 to do them on VAX/VMS. This decision took the company shipping more computers than anyone else and rendered them a non-player, wasting many people's plans, careers, retirement funds and expectations. At the time, many people at DEC were advising to immediately ship desktops, the thinking based upon profits, market stance, historical DEC imperatives, strategic positioning and survival.

Ken Olsen killed Dekstop RSTS and when the IBM PC shipped in 1981 DEC no longer had a future. Appalling judgment.

The components needed to build a system that could rank people according to judgment on issues are available and inexpensive. Having such a system would serve to heighten the quality of governance and management.

What is the APPROACH?
The plan is to make internet questionaires and database of questions that regarding testable future events with a clear termination and answer. Then ask people to state in their judgment what is the answer. Then use the answers to rank people on 'judgment'.

A question might be "Will Tony Blair be P.M. on Jan 1, 2005?" and accept answers up until Jan 1, 2004. People would answer based upon their predilictions, intelligence, flight/flee balances, and information, which en masse may be 'judgment', ignoring for the moment less founded concepts such as group minds, thought fields & cetera.

"Will the US still have troops in Iraq on Jan 1, 2005?"

"Will the UK have troops in Iraq and Iran on Jan 1, 2005?"

Of course it does not have to be politics:

"Will the SCO suit against IBM be dropped by January 1, 2004?"

"Will the cost per kilowatt/hour from solar panels drop to below $.02 (1990) by July 1, 2004?"

"Will England win the World cup in ???"

"Will Michael Schumacher get another F-1 title in 2004?"

The questions do not have to be long term, e.g.

"Will the Dow Jones be over 10,000 on December 1, 2003?"

"Will there be a major worm affecting more computers larger than SoBig before December 1, 2003?"

Once a person has answered about thirty of such questions and the results have been tallied one can establish a ranking (perhaps a Kendall ranking, I am stat-rusty).

Rankings could be general and/or in fields of specialisation.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
The present case is that the world has leaders based upon the criteria charisma, wealth and connections, and often knowledge and intellignece are tertiary requirements. In some areas control of munitions is the only criterion.

Analysing and making public judgment rankings would help to get those with appallingly bad judgment out of senior roles.

About results: It is not difficult with statistics to describe the likely error envelope for a measure.

Suppose Ken Olsen had been ranked with only a few questions, the ranking might look like [22 - 82] indicating a wider variance (few answers). Whereas if Linus Torvalds had answered many questions the ranking might look like [96 - 98] indicating enough meausures to reliable estimate.

Error envelope rankings prevent all sorts of startup problems and complaint problems.

What is the COMPETITION?
No competition.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
Phase 1: Prototype and Initial Testing $45K/annum

In the short term requirements are a living wage, acess to an internet server with PHP and MySQL at least, Perl and secure connections would be better. None of these are costly.

Phase I objectives would be prototyping the MySQL databases, attaching them to a web application to allow

  • login and browsing of the current questions and
  • selecting one to answer,
  • recording any answers given by a user,
  • Screens to display result rankings with various searches.

For startup the questions should be about things determinable in a short time so that people see results. Perhaps sports or politics. Perhaps based upon technical matters and count on word of mouth among we dweebs and nerds to get started.

P1 Organization chart: Me. A volunteer statistician, I have two in mind.

Phase 2: Testing specializations and specialized rankings $45K /annum other funding from other sources.

Organize two volunteer teams to evaluate questions to be added by area of speciality.

I believe there could be some very interesting things done with cluster analysis applied to result information so one could say, e.g., show me the top ten in chemistry and African Politics. Phase two is time to get a statistician proposing not too controversial models for queries and analyses.

Start duplication with built in error incursion checking. Multiple servers each of which can record answers and then communicate every 'evening' to check that previous answers have not been altered and that the new aswers are correctly uploaded to each other.

Organizational: With a demonstrable prototype and results from Phase 1 and some initial results two efforts should be initiated: fund raising and establishing speciality boards for approving questions. Organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trust ought to be interested in further seed funds. Phase 2 should sets up as an NGO, non profit organization and starts to consider staffing. If funding and staff are arranged, Phase 2 moves to Phase 3.

Phase 3: NGO staffs for separate functions: Funding from MySociety $0

  • Staff to coordinating boards for specialities - invitations, rules, squabble resolution, . . .
  • Fund raising and education: presentations on use to other organizations
  • Server Development - heightened commuications, results vaults, and security
  • Interlingua - Translations
  • Shadow Board - Well recognized people whose job is explicitly to propose alternatives to and to critique the board's decisions and directions. Two year appointments.

    We should be so lucky as to get to Phase 3 on this plan.

    The idea is entirely mine, James B. Nickson, from Summer, 1973, and is a twist on the universal poll that was written about in John Brunner's works, I think it may have been "Shockwave Rider".

    The twist is of course, instead of just a poll, record and analyse personal results which combined Brunner's description with reading I was doing at the time on statistics, cognition, and mind.

    Those concepts combined with dissatisfaction of the judgment or almost total lack thereof used by Kissinger, Johnson, MacNamara, Westmoreland, and Nixon in perpetrating a lot of disinformation (lies) to continue a crappy war in Vietnam.

    The era gave many examples of appalling judgment in leadership. Any two grandmothers chosen at random could have done better than the presidents we had at the time.

    With current internet facilities the judgment machine is inexpensive to instantiate.

    November 1, 2003 in Political, Reputation Systems | Permalink | Comments (3)

    F-Y-MP Plus

    FROM: Louise Ferguson

    What NEED does this meet?
    People who need to fax/mail not just MPs, but MEPs, regional assembly representatives in various parts of the UK and perchance local councillors too.

    What is the APPROACH?
    The basic model is there already, with FaxYourMP. Extending this to other elected representatives will provide plenty of added value.

    What are the BENEFITS to people?
    People sit there chugging out individual emails to all these people. Some MEPs have their ISP set to not receive email (pretty pointless and causes lots of aggro for those wanting to get in touch with them). Let's put them all onto the same footing, open up the channels of communication, and produce stats to boot.

    What is the COMPETITION?
    FaxYourMP has, I hear, had the councillor part in the pipeline for some time, but it always goes onto the back burner. MySociety could make it happen.

    What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
    MEPs and regional assemblies would be straightforward. Councillors would be a little more problematic/time consuming, owing to keeping the data up to date. One step at a time.

    October 31, 2003 in Connecting People, Perhaps Government Remit?, Political | Permalink | Comments (77)

    MP Blog aggregator

    FROM: mark simpkins

    What NEED does this meet?
    It is starting, we almost have 5 MP's blogging. Soon more?

    Part of our view of the elected representatives should be a central point to access their blogs and comments.

    What is the APPROACH?
    Lots of aggregators already exist, should be pretty simple to set up.

    What are the BENEFITS to people?
    If it is exciting that they are starting to use these tools, lets also use the other tools around them. Visit a company and you will find lots of employee blogs and also a blog aggregator.

    What is the COMPETITION?
    Yes and no, yes aggregators, no to MP blogs aggregated. Still we are at early days for the number of MP's blogging.

    What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
    Should be really cheap, a small bit of web / cgi space?

    October 31, 2003 in Political | Permalink | Comments (413)

    Politicians interests and associations database

    FROM: David

    What NEED does this meet?
    Provide background on persons, companies, quangos and other entities for anyone interedted in determining the influences and motivations of these entities

    What is the APPROACH?
    Web accessible database of individuals and organisations, updated online by any contirbutor, possibly seeded with e.g. MPs register of interests, directorships and shareholdings obtained from company registrations. Anyone who learns that councillor X does occasional "consultancy" for company Y could log the fact, and it would be linked to both X and Y's entries. Even as informal as head of quango A regulalry plays golf with politician B, etc, etc.

    What are the BENEFITS to people?
    When lobbying anyone from MPs to local councillors it would be useful to have an understanding of the interests of all the paries involved in an issue.

    What is the COMPETITION?
    Bits and pieces, MPs register of interests, various sites that allow searches of company registration information (some of it free, thers paid for).

    What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
    Technically, pretty straightforward, and fairly easy to scale. Usefulness depends entirely on obtaining a critical mass of contributions and contributors.

    October 31, 2003 in Political, User Created Content | Permalink | Comments (1)