What is Crowd Wise?
Crowd Wise is an approach to consensus decision-making that combines voting with discussion. Many people think that voting is anathema to consensus decision-making. But what they have in mind is majority, first past the post, voting. Crowd Wise uses consensus or preference voting. In this form of voting, there are a series of options for tackling an issue, and people put all the options in order. Their preferences are then turned into points. If there are five options, and I put option D first, then option D gets 5 points. If I put option B second, it gets 4 points, and so on.
This particular form of voting encourages people who disagree to talk to each other, in the hope of persuading the other person to rank their option, say, 4th instead of 6th. Paradoxically, it is people's competitive desire to win the consensus vote that encourages them to seek consensus. They do this by adapting their preferred option to make it more appealing to the other participants who form the electorate. They may also merge their proposals with those of others, again to create an option likely to be more appealing to voters.
How does Crowd Wise compare with formal consensus decision-making?
You can read elsewhere on this site about formal Consensus decision making.
There are four main differences between Crowd Wise and formal consensus decision-making:
1. The article on consensus decision making says that "it requires requires a high level of trust, understanding, and skills among participants in order to work well". Crowd Wise does not have these requirements. This is partly because the voting provides a clear structure that substitutes for some of those skills. It is also because of the way, described above, in which people's competitive desire to win a consensus vote is harnessed to encourage them to seek consensus
2. Consensus decision-making works with a single proposal, adapting it to meet the needs and wishes of participants. Crowd Wise works with a series of options, and seeks to identify consensus within and between them.
3. In practice, consensus decision-making is time intensive. Crowd Wise can be done in events of 2.5 hours (2 at a push): the voting shortens proceedings.
4. Consensus decision-making is most often done in small groups, although 300-500 is not uncommon in social movement organising meetings, for example Climate Camp. It is easy to involve large numbers with Crowd Wise, because of the voting. When AFC Wimbledon used Crowd Wise, a small group of fans developed the options - but over 700 people voted on them.
What sort of organisation is Crowd Wise suitable for?
Crowd Wise is for organisations that want to engage their stakeholders actively in deciding their strategy and policies. ‘Actively’ means going beyond focus groups and surveys. The two most substantial uses of Crowd Wise so far have been with AFC Wimbledon, whose fans own the club, with many of them helping out on matchdays, and with the Fair Trade Foundation, whose campaigners have been central to the development of fair trade as a movement.
Where can I find out more?
See the Crowd Wise website for more information, including a series of case studies.
Crowd Wise was developed by Perry Walker, who is a member of a coop called Rhizome and a fellow of nef (the new economics foundation). You can contact him at Perry@rhizome.coop or firstname.lastname@example.org