Budget Game GP 2011

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Article to be published on OminVoimin Co-creation site - Version 2

Santa's little helpers

Wikidemocracy was recently deemed dead on arrival in a column published by one of the leading newspapers in Finland. Contrary to the political pundit's point of view, following the developments at the grass roots level reveals a buzzing landscape of activity in and outside of the internet: New forms of societal participation are constantly popping up, some gaining popularity, some fading away, some morphing into new ones. Indeed, rumors of the rigor mortis of wikidemocracy are as premature as is telling the kids in the middle of the summer that the all-seeing eye of Santa Claus can separate the good from the bad come Christmas Eve.

A few months ago we started an experiment in democracy development to see if a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs could help the political establishment in developing a vision for the future direction of the country. We set out to build a shadow Government Programme in Wikipedia style. Now that the official Government Programme of Finland has finally been put together, and the new government has been formed, the time has come to see what the amateurs have achieved and how the Wiki Government -project will continue in the near future. After all, one of the goals of our experiment is to change the style of decision-making in such a way that people are not only invited to vote once in every four years but can interact with the elected representatives and civil servants in a continuous fashion.

The Wiki Government Programme, which can be found at http://fi.opasnet.org/fi/Suomen_hallitusohjelma_2011 (in Finnish), contains the wishes and goals of both individuals and over 40 organizations ranging from large trade unions and academic think tanks to environmental special interest groups and Fortune 500 companies. The material was mainly gathered from the web sites of the organizations where they had published their wish lists for the official negotiators putting together the Government Programme. Registered users were also able to directly record their goals in the wiki. Voluntary moderators then organized the material by diving the wish lists from the various sources into suitable categories and aggregating similar wishes when possible.

In addition to being open to everybody (yes, politicians, too) and constantly modifiable, a further difference between the Wiki Government Programme and the official one is that the former comprises not only the justifications for the items of the wish list, but also the history of arguments on how a consensus has been reached. Moreover, the Wiki Government Programme also contains controversial and mutually competing policy goals. This is because in some cases it could have been difficult to try to reconcile worldviews representing the opposite ends of the spectrum. In these instances some type of resolution mechanism is needed to ensure that a decision can be made on the policy choice.

So far, two types of conflict resolution mechanisms have been envisioned, and the readers are challenged to come up with new ones! The first mechanism is based on the opinions of the parliamentary candidates collected prior to the elections and aggregated in special web applications called 'vaalikone' in Finnish. With the help of the vaalikone-service the voters can rank the candidates based on how closely the opinions of the candidates match the voter's own worldviews on a range of policy issues.

Several media corporations have recently enabled the distribution of all the answers of the parliamentary candidates aggregated in the vaalikone-service as open data for anyone to perform analysis on. So, it is easy find out, for some conflicting policy goals recorded in the Wiki Government Programme (or in the official Government Programme, for that matter), what the majority of the elected parliamentary representatives would have wanted to do about the controversial issues prior to the elections. Hence, adopting the majority opinion of the elected representatives from the vaalikone data is one way of resolving disputes.

A second way of resolving conflicts in the collective goal setting of the Wiki Government Programme is based on people's values as regards the funding decisions. A collective budgeting tool called the Budget Game will help in setting up the budget and demonstrating which policy goals are affordable subject to fiscal and personal value based constraints. In its simplest implementation, currently under construction, the players (= anybody interested in budgeting) are asked to fill out two separate value ranking lists. Basically, the players have to tell which policy areas they would fund and in which order, if there was money available. The players also have a possibility of telling, which policy areas' funding they would diminish and in which order if funding needed to be cut. No math or finance skills are needed for participation. It suffices for a player to know his or her own priorities: “If there is money available, elderly care should be funded before the military programs”, for example.

Analogously, the value ranking can also be performed by doling to each player the same amount of toy money, which depends on the number of players and on the magnitude of the budget. After all players have distributed their toy money among the policy areas they are interested, the budget has been constructed. Of course, several constraints should be factored in to make the budget realistic. For example, the players can only affect the non-fixed cost structure of the budget. After all, most costs, such as the pensions stay nearly fixed or change in a predetermined manner from year to year.

What about the role of the politicians then? In real life the politicians have a 100% weight as compared to the 0% of the people as for how to perform the resource allocation for the non-fixed costs of the budget. Why not change this ratio so that the weight factor of the politicians in the resource allocation would be, say, 90% and that of the people would be 10%? Allowing people to have their say on the resource allocation should make politics more interesting to everybody without causing havoc, because the elected representatives would still be responsible for the major decisions. In the Budget Game this leverage could be realized by choosing a random set of 200 'politicians' that would be given 90% of the toy money to play with. What would be the implications for the politics if it turned out that changing the 200 'politicians' in the game for another randomly chosen group would only result in minor modifications of the overall budget? How would the budget change if people were allowed or not allowed to communicate with each other before making their funding decisions? Various other delicious experiments could be tried, and perhaps the most feasible ones could be implemented in real life.

In the final act of the Budget Game the players get to step into the boots of Santa Claus. Having produced a proposition on how the money should be divided between the different policy areas, the players choose from the wish list (= the Wiki Government Programme) the combinations of the affordable goals they want to go for. This stage requires further deliberation among the players. Majority votes could be utilized in eliminating conflicting wishes if they had not been filtered out already at the stage of value polling or affordability evaluation.

The real life implementation of co-creation of the national (or municipal) budget could involve the same government officials who participate in the real budget making. Their contribution would be most helpful in evaluating the costs of the Wiki Government Programme wish lists, a job that was now performed by the amateurs. All the information and the tools needed are already available, and what is needed is just a change of the mindset.

In addition to price tagging all the policy goals in the Wiki Government Programme, we could also use other measures than monetary value. Why not calculate the CO2-footprint of each policy suggestion? How about associating also the Gini-index, or a 'Happiness factor' with the suggestions? In addition to money, the CO2-budget, for example, could be utilized as a constraint that could direct the individual choices of people and politicians when choosing between different options. In many instances, evaluating these alternative budgets could be relatively easily achieved with little help from the research community.

Both the Wiki Government Program and the collaborative Budget making exercises could be improved in many ways. Do you have an idea that you would like to see implemented? Ultimately, the goal is not to create just another game but hopefully something that will evolve into a serious tool utilized by the government officials, politicians and ordinary people. We challenge all the readers to give us feedback on how to take things to the next level and how to involve even more people in collaborative decision making and planning. To contact us you can approach the administrators of this blog site or you can go to the web address http://fi.opasnet.org/fi/Suomen_hallitusohjelma_2011 and use the email link at the bottom of the page.

# : The text shows good progress. --Jouni 16:35, 4 July 2011 (EEST)

# : However, as an article the text goes into too much detail about the rules of the game. There should be more about the practicalities and implications. The rules and the game should be found from links, which means that the game itself should be more ready and implemented when this text is published. --Jouni 16:35, 4 July 2011 (EEST)

--# : Published version 10.7.2011 --Smxb 16:39, 11 July 2011 (EEST)

See also