Taiwan's legal crowdsourcing tool is working surprisingly well to resolve thorny legislative problems

Vtaiwan is a crowdsourcing tool for drafting legislation that kicked off in 2016; it allows citizens from different sides of thorny legislative proposals to gather and debate them in a structured forum with the goal of finding compromises that all sides can live with.

Vtaiwan has been surprisingly effective (at least, according to Pol.is, the company that provided the platform), though in a limited set of trials ("a couple of dozen bills"). The recommendations the citizen panels arrive at are nonbinding (pending legislation could make Vtaiwan compromises binding upon the legislature). The limited success has prompted Taiwan to expand the program with a new, larger-scale platform called "Join" (Join is also more favored by the new government, which has been somewhat hostile to Vtaiwan).

The platform has converged on a set of deliberative techniques, embodied in software, that have proven effective at bridging disagreements, like not allowing replies, and producing maps that show similar upvoting and downvoting patterns in the participants.

A measure of the platform's success is its recommendations for regulating Uber in Taiwan, which has become something of a notoriously difficult demonstration event for local governments around the world. Vtaiwan users arrived at a set of seven rules for Uber that later became the state's regulatory regime.

While only 200,000 people have so far taken part in a vTaiwan discussion, nearly five million of the country’s 23 million inhabitants are already on Join. More than 10,000 voted on a recent proposal that advocated caning as a punishment for drunk driving, sexual assault, and child abuse.

Here too, the consensus-building tendencies of Pol.is can lead the discussion in unexpected directions. Initially, opinion on the caning issue was divided into three camps: besides the people who were for and against caning, a third group argued that it was too light a punishment for such offenses.

Eventually, however, the consensus opinions that emerged had nothing to do with caning at all, but were more focused on methods of preventing those crimes. At the time of this writing, proposals being considered for legislation included alcohol locks and confiscating drunk drivers’ cars.

This suggests people had concluded that, in fact, “To cane or not to cane?” was the wrong question to ask. That kind of realization, and solution, wouldn’t have emerged from a traditional online petition that only gives people the option of voting yes or no.

The simple but ingenious system Taiwan uses to crowdsource its laws [Chris Horton/Technology Review]

(via Four Short Links)