Read

Search form

Introducing Loomio: Occupy-Inspired App For Consensus Decision Making

Introducing Loomio: Occupy-Inspired App For Consensus Decision Making
Thu, 3/27/2014 - by Douglas Rushkoff
This article originally appeared on Shareable

The best thing about Occupy Wall Street wasn't what it argued politically or accomplished legislatively, but what it modeled for us: a new way of engaging with issues, resolving conflict, and reaching consensus. It was a style of engagement that seemed like it could only happen in person, between young people willing to sit in a cold park all night until they could come to an agreement over an issue.

But now, a small collective in New Zealand has developed a digital platform through which any group — large or small, local or global — can take a page from the Occupier’s handbook. It’s called Loomio, and it’s already being used by civic activists in Ukraine, thousands of direct democracy advocates in Greece, municipalities in England, foundations, and credit unions.

It’s all based on what the Occupy movement called the General Assembly, an alternative to parliamentary procedure, borrowed from the Ancient Greek senate. It’s a deceptively simple (and easily satirized) process where the crowd waves their hands to indicate their approval or level of objection to a proposal. It may look a little silly, but it proved a valid or even superior method for forging consensus than traditional debate, where one side wins and the other, well, loses.

The problem with the General Assembly, like representative democracy, is that it’s quite limited in scale. You can only have so many people engaging with one another, blocking motions, and making arguments. Plus, it just has to happen in person.

Well, now there’s an app for that. The first time I saw it in beta, I asked if I could be an advisor to the collective working on it. (They agreed.) And this week, they’re finally releasing the application and doing a crowdfunding campaign to develop it further.

Amazingly, there exists no great tool online for groups to make decisions. There are plenty of platforms on which to collaborate or work together. But the most complicated decisions most of us have made online deal with the time or location of a meeting.

The Loomio application lets members of a group offer proposals, discuss their merits, make changes, and register their feelings all along the way. By entering into this process in good faith, even large groups can steer towards outcomes that may not be perfect for everyone, but make the fewest people unhappy — and nobody too very upset.

It’s not much more than a pie graph with four buttons, but its simplicity (and privacy) is getting it positive attention from a broad cross section of people across the globe—from remote villages in India, community hospitals in Vietnam, to government departments and early childhood education centers. Even the Wellington City Council that 12 months previously had been trying to evict Loomio’s developers from the public square, is now using Loomio to collaborate with citizens in developing policy.

I can only wonder what would have happened if the recent controversy over installing a synthetic football field at the high school in my community had been conducted on platform like Loomio instead of at contentious town hall debates. I know people who still aren’t on speaking terms as a result of our all-or-nothing, winner-takes-all, scorched earth battle.

Likewise, the possibilities raised by Loomio force me to question our nation’s reliance on a two-party political system hatched back in the 1700s, especially as the spin cycle of 21st Century media and markets only intensifies its polarities. What was supposed to be a way of generating multifaceted solutions has devolved into intransigence and extremism. And paralysis.

Debate itself is a form of combat, not an approach to reaching an agreement. It’s geared toward creating no greater number of winners than losers. That’s not what democracy was supposed to be about. As one of Loomio’s founders, Ben Knight explains, “Democracy is about collaboration — people coming together and making decisions. Democracy is not a scarce resource; it doesn’t need to be this abstract thing that we only get access to once every four years, managed by a professional class far away. With the right tools, it can be a skill that we practice together every day, in our schools, our workplaces and our communities.”

While Loomio might not replace representative democracy — nor should we necessarily want it to — it may take some of the pressure off our democratic institutions by giving people the ability to make a whole lot of decisions for themselves, and with one another.

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

gun violence, gun lobby, mass killings, National Rifle Association

Powerful almost by default, and handled with a clear mission at hand and an eye for empathy, "91%" is a call to activist arms.

Oaxaca teacher strikes, Educational Reform, National Coordinator of Education Workers, National Union of Education Workers, Enrique Peña Nieto, student deaths, student disappearances, Nochixtlán blockade, Nochixtlán violence, Popular Assembly of the Peopl

Teachers in southern Mexico are back on the barricades, and once again the state has responded with brute force.

tax avoidance, corporate tax evasion, corporate taxes, job creation

While candidates bicker and Congress stagnates and the rest of us dwell on the latest shooting tragedy, the super-rich enjoy the absence of attention paid to one of our nation’s most destructive issues: tax avoidance.

Abby Martin, Monsanto, World Health Organization, carcinogens

Few corporations in the world are as loathed – and as sinister – as Monsanto, but the threat posed to people and planet could be reaching new heights.

Brexit, Jo Cox, E.U. referendum, Britain Stronger in Europe, Electoral Reform Society, Left Leave, rightwing movements, U.K. xenophobia

Many are calling the U.K.’s European Union referendum vote on Thursday, the most important vote in every British person’s lifetime.

Abby Martin, Monsanto, World Health Organization, carcinogens

Few corporations in the world are as loathed – and as sinister – as Monsanto, but the threat posed to people and planet could be reaching new heights.

Posted 2 days 17 hours ago
Jo Cox, white supremacy, racism, anti-immigrant, Brexit, Tommy Mair, political killings, E.U. referendum

The murder of Jo Cox has shocked British society, sparking renewed discussions about how to deal with racism, hatred, xenophobia and white supremacy just days before the Brexit vote.

Posted 4 days 17 hours ago
Brexit, Jo Cox, E.U. referendum, Britain Stronger in Europe, Electoral Reform Society, Left Leave, rightwing movements, U.K. xenophobia

Many are calling the U.K.’s European Union referendum vote on Thursday, the most important vote in every British person’s lifetime.

Posted 3 days 16 hours ago
Bernie Sanders, political revolution, National Nurses Union, racial inequality, economic inequality, Hillary Clinton, Democratic Party, Democratic Socialists of America, Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative, People and Planet First Budget

Last weekend's People's Summit concentrated on domestic policy and economic inequality, featuring spirited debates, discussions and workshops that tried to chart the path ahead for America's new left.

Posted 4 days 17 hours ago
Hawaii GMOs, anti-GMO movement, genetically engineered crops, Syngenta, Monsanto, Earthjustice

Most people know Hawaii for its beautiful beaches, world-class surfing and delicious Kona coffee, but the islands are also ground zero for GE crops – and last week various counties were in court to defend themselves against them.

Posted 4 days 17 hours ago
gun violence, gun lobby, mass killings, National Rifle Association

Powerful almost by default, and handled with a clear mission at hand and an eye for empathy, "91%" is a call to activist arms.

tax avoidance, corporate tax evasion, corporate taxes, job creation

While candidates bicker and Congress stagnates and the rest of us dwell on the latest shooting tragedy, the super-rich enjoy the absence of attention paid to one of our nation’s most destructive issues: tax avoidance.

Brexit, Jo Cox, E.U. referendum, Britain Stronger in Europe, Electoral Reform Society, Left Leave, rightwing movements, U.K. xenophobia

Many are calling the U.K.’s European Union referendum vote on Thursday, the most important vote in every British person’s lifetime.

crude by rail, Citizens Acting for Rail Safety, crude rail explosions, BNSF, rain transit, rail revolution

We used to own our farms. We used to ride the rails. We used to have localized economies.

prison-industrial complex, jail leasing, high incarceration rates, Prison Policy Initiative, prison privatization, criminal justice reform

A recent report on “jail leasing” exposes the extent of a practice that harms prisoners and raises ethical questions about public institutions profiting off incarceration.