Consensual Debating

Imagine that you have signed an on-line parliamentary petition. When you sign such a petition it is understood you fully agree with it. Since you cannot modify the petition’s wording in any way, the only other option then is to disagree or to abstain. Secondly, the polls usually use the ‘Agree – Disagree’ survey types, like about Brexit. One unintended consequence of that is that more and more often the polls are wrong, like in the USA elections in 2016 and in Brexit referendum in Britain also in 2016. It happens because the polls indirectly, by formulating bias questions, prime the voters for who or for what to vote. That stops some voters from voting because they think the result of the coming election is already clear, so why bother to vote. That was exactly the case with Brexit. Most people thought ‘well, I won’t be going to vote to remain in the EU because the polls have already predicted the win for the remain side’. So, they didn’t go voting and that’s why Brexit happened. This is a good example of how the polls themselves impact the result. If we had an electoral system, which stimulates compromise and consensus, among others through the way how the political debates are carried out, this would not have happened.

But even more important is the need to reduce or eliminate altogether adversarial politics and replace it with consensual relations among politicians. One of the consequences of prolonged, adversarial debates is that we have ineffective and expensive way of governing a country by introducing a new legislation after sometimes years of debating. Even with the best of intentions, debates at the committee stage where discussions can be less heated and factual, may take many months or even years before a draft legislation is put to a debate and voted by the whole parliament.

At a national level, polarization of societies so evident today is the consequence of adversarial relations, underpinned by the system of voting and the conduct of debates on the radio, TV, and the parliament. That fossilizes the division between the winners and the losers because there’s no room for a compromise. We are only asked a question “Are you ‘for’ or ‘against’”, with no room for a compromise, mainly because there are no easy means to facilitate the selection of the third option.

Therefore, we need to embrace new technological solutions, such as ‘a digital democracy’ if they enable more consensual politics. But how can we improve that? The answer is – by incorporating Consensual Debating in such debates, which can deliver immediate benefits in every democracy. It is in this area where we have been working for several years, creating Consensual Debating. It takes the advantage of these new capabilities, which together with other innovations, such as Citizens’ Assemblies, may contribute to long overdue deep reform of democracy.

Consensual Debating can be used for debating complex political, social, scientific or economic problems on digital platforms such as websites or Facebook. It allows even tens of thousands of participants to debate thousands of topics simultaneously and come to an agreement in a consensual way many times faster (in a few days rather than in months). Such a consensus cannot be reached in a matter of minutes. However, very few politicians, even if they wanted, could afford to spend weeks talking to their opposition partners to come to a compromised solution in a consensual way. The only way to square that circle is to have an approach, which will allow participants to understand the arguments gradually but also enabling them to make a decision much faster. That can be done by splitting the main motion or decision to be made into one line statements and then voting several times over the alternatives, until a 60% majority is reached. Why 60%? Because we want in such a consensual process the views of the minority to be heard (that’s an additional 10%).