The de Borda Experiment - About

30 January 2008

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The experiment:

Phase 1: "Ideas" forum (closed) ¦ Phase 2: "Debate" forum (closed) ¦ Phase 3: "Ballot" forum (closed) ¦ Vote (closed) ¦ The results

An experiment in consensus voting and e-democracy

The de Borda Institute, the New Economics Foundation (nef) and OurKingdom (openDemocracy's UK politics section) are collaborating in an innovative experiment in online consensus decision making. This page describes the project in more detail.

In Britain and throughout the modern world, there is an obsession with majority voting. Yet the majority vote is the most primitive and inaccurate measure of collective opinion ever invented! Furthermore, it allows those who set the question to dictate the agenda, which is why majority voting has been used by such notables as Napoleon, Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler, amongst many others.

This simple, winner-takes-all majoritarian format produces clear decisions, they say. Which is sometimes true. But there are some problems it cannot solve, problems where cohesion rather than division is needed; where compromise, not confrontation, is more appropriate. This is where the Modified Borda Count (mbc) comes in. The majority vote should never be used in conflict resolution work; the professional mediator, however, can use the mbc.

The mbc is a system of democratic voting designed to facilitate the identification of a consensus, if and when one exists. By posing problems as open rather than closed questions, it allows all participants to bring their preferred solutions to the table; next, after an open multi-optional debate, it asks everyone to cast their preferences on (one, some or hopefully) all the options listed; and then it identifies that option which gains the highest average preference.

The mbc is not new, for the basic idea was first suggested in the year 1435: it is a multi-option preference ballot; preferences mean points; and the option with the most points is the winner. To win, therefore, an option needs many high preferences and few low preferences; in other words, success depends upon the views of everybody, not just on those of a majority. Hence the word ‘consensus'.

The de Borda Institute and nef hope to run five pilots of this consensus voting, and the first one is being opened up to internet participation - which is where you come in. We are going to use an mbc to try and solve one of the most contentious problems in British politics today: the issue of political party funding.

With every new cash-for-peerages allegation or dodgy donation probe, public trust in British politics erodes further. Where once political parties in the uk were paid for by membership receipts, they now rely overwhelmingly on large donations from rich individuals. What's worse, every party in the country agrees that the system needs fixing - but none of them can agree on how to fix it.

We want to see if we can succeed where they have failed - to see if we can identify a democratic consensus on political finance reform. But we need your help to do it.


There are two constituencies: one open to all UK students of political science, social choice and/or related topics in UK universities, and one open to the general public. Please use the links above to sign up.

The purpose is to see if there is a consensus opinion amongst that group of people and, if so, to identify that consensus opinion.

The pilot begins on the 18th of February.

  • As participants, you will be asked to give your name, your university, your particular discipline, your e-mail address, and the postcode of your uk home address.
  • The process has four timed stages:
    • A call-up phase, when you will be asked to sign-up on-line.
    • In the next week-long stage, we will issue an open call for solutions to the problem, not only from those of you who have signed up for the pilot, but also from regular readers of our websites. All solutions are welcome. A team of consensors will then collate these options into one comprehensible list.
    • In the third stage, a week-long debate will take place on all the listed options, where you can defend any suggestions you have submitted, and discuss the merits / demerits of others.
    • In the final stage, there is a vote using the mbc voting system.
  • You can take as much time as you want to participate, but in general you will need to commit only 30 minutes to an hour of your time, over the whole three-week period.
  • You can participate any time, online, when it is convenient for you.

Benefits: By participating in this experiment, you will be able to:

  • learn more about different democratic methods of decision-making and voting,
  • watch a genuinely alternative democracy in action,
  • add a useful addition to a cv or covering letter, and
  • help us learn how the system could work - and maybe help us change the world!


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