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Week Three in the Big Somerset House

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It’s week three in the Big Somerset House. And the housemates are determined to write a blogpost that doesn’t smash through the 600-words-that-people-might-actually-read-limit.

Progress

Show the thing, Sym!

Which Ward Finder

This, friends, is a screenshot of a prototype to solve a new problem. We know the councils that are having local elections in some wards, but we don’t know which wards. In order to deliver a working postcode-to-election lookup, we need to know which wards have elections. Some councils publish this online, but not all.

So, crowd, we’re going to need your help to find out. Soonish, we’ll ask you to call councils to ask which wards have elections. We’ll make it a quick easy task to help our microvolunteers make democracy better. It’s not working yet - but soon, my pretties. Soon.

More progress: the good people at Caerdydd / Cardiff council have got us the shapefiles for polling stations. Thank you, good burghers of Cardiff. The target of full polling station coverage in Wales edges ever closer…

Business ideas

After a good consensus-working session last week, we’ve now somewhat undemocratically taken a decision in order to move things forward. We’re pursuing two lines of enquiry.

The first, we’re loosely calling “elections in a box”, “elections as a service” or “election everything”. It’s the idea that not only the state or local government runs elections. There are plenty of community groups, cooperatives and corporations that do too. Any membership organisation runs elections. Can we provide services for these folks that are better and easier for voters than anything they currently use? And can we build a sustainable business from that, which in turn helps us learn stuff that we can then apply to make state elections better?

The second concerns candidates - perhaps ‘one-click candidacy’. Is there a demand for a tool that makes the process of standing as a candidate much, much easier? That does the legwork for candidates on regulatory deadlines and paperwork, on financial reporting, and removes a bunch of hurdles to someone actually standing? And makes it easier to manage the demands on a candidate’s time - dealing with mass emails, press relations, events - allowing the candidate to spend as much of their time as possible out on the doorstep or station platform or wherever. This model could include drafting a candidate (i.e. a platform for folks to nominate and financially support someone before they decide to stand - forming proof-of-support in advance of an election, thus reducing much of the risk of standing and losing money for a deposit, or looking foolish.)

Why these two? Well, they’re our current best guesses.

(At this point Sym taught Joe about local maxima. To clumsily paraphrase: we’re on a hill, and we can look around and see the immediate surrounding hills - one of which definitely looks bigger than the other - so we’re going to climb that hill. But upon doing so, we might realise that there’s another hill beyond that, that’s even bigger. So, hills. And, we can only know what we see in front of us right now, and we’re following what appears to be the best course. I was never good at calculus.)

We’ve already chatted to the always helpful James Smith who stood as a candidate in Horsham last May - we’ve got more research lined up for next week.

WikiDemocracy

To add to the mix of ‘how do we make this sustainable’, we met an analogy on Wednesday at Citizen Beta, the brilliant meetup group for people interested in empowering citizens. Or, rather, we met a team with an analogous problem: WikiHouse, who are merrily reinventing the way we build homes. Marvellously - and the clue’s in the name - they’re doing so in an open way, because that’s how to change the world.

They said they had investors banging at the door - but that it wasn’t right that this approach should be viewed as a commodity. It’s infrastructure. And infrastructure should be funded by everyone. So they’re attempting to build a consortium of funders, from government to charity to mega-developers and so on. When everybody benefits, everyone should chip in.

This appealed to the inner hippy in us - and reflects the infrastructural data work we do - so we’re going to do some thinking + doing that attempts to mirror this approach.

(More broadly, the WikiHouse project is wonderful: here’s a 13 min TED talk intro if you’ve not seen it. Finish this blog first, obviously.)

Housemates

People like taking photos of food. Some people also like tracking what they eat. Some people need to do this, in order to lose weight, monitor medical conditions etc. Bringing these worlds together are Guillermo and Roberto - a corner of Somerset House that will be forever Peru - with LogAMeal - a way to track your diet by taking photos of what you eat. Roberto is ex-IDEO, and so doing design right, they’ve already got a prototype in the App Store (no android version yet, sadly). Find them here.

Another housemate popped up this week. Outrageously confident. We had heard about them, and be warned not to leave food out. Mousify.com is launching this summer.

Dutch mouse-watch

Europe

You might have heard something about a referendum that’s coming soon, at some point, soonish, not before but maybe after or possibly around the date of the event that will be determined in the near future. All in good time.

What can we do as democracy enthusiasts to make the referendum the best it can be? Well, let’s start with a meeting on Monday 8 February to discuss it? If you can’t be there, please do email thoughts in ahead of time. And we’ll be tweeting with #EUref.

Next Week

We’ll continue to research the two business models. BGV (pron. like the French TGV, copyright Tim Green) has helped us line up meetings with people who actually know this world - at big chunky companies especially. We’re still hunting for folks running community organisations or co-ops - can you help?

On candidates-everything, we’re tapping ex-candidates who stood for 2015 and learning about their admin pain. We’ll also be revisiting the survey we did of candidates immediately after the election.

That’s it. Big Somerset House’s Little Somerset House is over on E4 now.

~~~

(Mice courtesy of Jacob de Gheyn (II) (circa 1565-1629), “Gheyn-muisje”)