Trust vs. Assurance

Toshio Yamagishi‘s book titled The Structure of Trust: An Evolutionary Game of Mind and Society is promising. The premise is simple (emphasis mine):

This book is written around the central message that collectivist society produces security but destroys trust.

We understand intuitively that in a collectivist society… people tend to feel secure with their own kind in the group, but not to trust unknown outsiders. That implies a difference between assurance of security among compatriots on the one hand, and trust in other people’s human nature in general, trust that goes beyond one’s own group, on the other.

That difference is the starting point of this book.

Will report back as we plow through this, but wanted to share it immediately since the first skim was promising.

Why do I blog this?

Echoing the thoughts of Richard Lewis in Finland: Lone Cultural Wolf, Finland is a country whose cultural traits are sometimes closer to east than west. My own experience in Finland has caused me to be interested in Yamagishi’s notion of a collectivist society, which feels stronger here than in, say, western Europe. Understanding what creates (and destroys) trust will be an important element when seeking ways to help communities make decisions together.

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Posted by
Bryan Boyer

Liquid Democracy

A quick dive into Liquid Democracy. Before we begin, I’d like to note that this is a term without a Wikipedia entry—a rare thing these days. However, you can read a basic overview on CommunityWiki and the Wikipedia page on Proxy Voting is also informative. It’s an idea of technologically-supported direct democracy that seems to have arisen within politically-interested web circles.

Two main factors define the system:

  1. A citizen may transfer their voting power to a proxy or proxies (and this delegation can be revoked at any time)
  2. Voting occurs on issues, not just candidates for representation

Strictly interpreted, Liquid Democracy is a proposal for using technology such as Liquid Feedback to enable direct democracy to be practiced in a population that would otherwise prove unwieldy due to its scale.

The German Pirate Party is putting this into practice currently. But because Germany does not have a direct democracy, they are using LiquidFeedback to collect feedback from party members in non-binding votes. In practice, according to an article in Der Spiegel, the system articulates the desires of the crowd well enough that its hard for representatives to do anything other than accept the votes.

Delegation is sophisticated and happens at three levels, allowing citizens/users to moderate their personal representation in a sophisticated way:

  1. Global delegation: proxy makes all decisions
  2. Subject area delegation: proxy make all decisions within a defined area  such as education or industrial issues
  3. Issue delegation: proxy makes decision only on a specific issue e.g. proposition n

Additional links:


(Humbling to see that Joi was writing about this in 2003)

(Written in an Wiki style, so the formatting can be distracting, but slices through a number of useful topics )

(Joi and others link to this page which is very haxor, but now it’s only available via Wayback)

Why do I blog this?

As an alternative voting model that has been applied in at least two limited applications (Germany and Sweden), Liquid Democracy is an instructive example for looking at the mechanics of such a system, as well as the psychosocial factors such as the disappointment mentioned at the end of the Der Spiegel article.

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Posted by
Bryan Boyer

Background thinking

Welcome to Brickstarter! Here’s our evolving one-page overview of the project, but there our many precursors to this project that it builds upon. We’re talking hundreds of analogous case studies and projects, dozens of web services and apps, several books, many academic research papers, and a hearty stew of ongoing conversations. We’ll be discussing the most relevant of these here, but it might also be worth noting how the Brickstarter project builds on some long-standing interest from our project team members, as well as Sitra’s ongoing interests in how to enable better decision-making about sustainable development.

Drawing from the outbreak of constructive civic engagement that is Renew Newcastle, I summarised a basic idea for an ‘emergent urbanism’ a couple of years ago, at one point suggesting a platform accentuating positive contributions to urban development, rather than just complaints. This is pinned on the observation that cities and other settlements are wasteful in their use of space, leaving pockets of opportunity everywhere, yet these are too small to be picked up on the radar of planning departments. I mentioned Kickstarter was worth watching, in terms of platforms oriented towards contributions, but also that we need the guiding hand of professionals and institutions, getting away from the oppositional language of “top-down” and “bottom-up”. It was nice to re-read this quote from urbanist and architect Michael Sorkin:

“In a ABC Radio National interview, Michael Sorkin followed a question about Jacobs by describing this “oppositional culture [in which] one of the only ways that citizens can engage planning and other public processes is by their power to say no.” Sorkin continued, “There must be ways to activate a more positive relationship to planning the environment – rather than simply awaiting decisions by private owners or developers and simply responding to them with our powers to block projects, how much more beautiful it would be if the city were to more rigourously plan its own destiny?”

Bryan was working on similar themes, also building on the promise of Kickstarter, which was by then beginning to be realised big-time. Bryan asked:

“What would happen if you took the Kickstarter strategy and applied it to the city. How could we de-risk new shops, restaurants, cafes, services, institutions, and even government outposts by aggregating commitment in advance of capital investment? What would the Kickstarter of real estate look like and how might a similar demand-aggregator offer a productive counterpart to the dreaded “not in my back yard” syndrome? Is there a “please in my backyard” platform that could act as a spatial happiness engine, better empowering individuals to inflect their own corner of the city to meet their personal desires? Could a platform such as this translate land use and zoning decisions into terms that are more personable, assessable, and ultimately arguable? Would that make the city more or less democratic?

Here we see PIMBY emerging as well as YIMBY. We should also recognise WIMBY (Welcome in my Backyard), a pioneering Dutch project in Hooglivet, led by Crimson Architectural Historians and Felix Rottenberg. There are numerous variants on xIMBY kicking around. Get in touch if you know more!

Later still, I would then build on this idea of ‘a Kickstarter for development of shared spaces and resources’, dubbing it Brickstarter, which has become our working title

“A richer form of governance could be part-enabled by a collaborative, networked platform, but something attuned to shared physical space and shared responsibility—more Brickstarter than Kickstarter—but there’s more to it than software.”

That last line also suggests where Karoliina (hereafter known as Kali!) had been going, with our colleagues on Sitra’s Maamerkit (‘Landmarks’) programme. They were also getting interested in terms of how to turn NIMBY into YIMBY, particularly as regards bio-economy development. This would include looking at what we call the ‘dark matter’ of legislation, governance, permitting procedures, procurement, and so on. Maamerkit’s focus is Sitra’s – sustainable well-being – and draws the ideas behind Brickstarter into particularly fertile, productive territory, as sustainability requires the kind of complex, long-term, common pool, consensus building that is particularly challenging. It’s one thing for Kickstarter to generate a few thousand dollars for a short movie; it’s another to take the same principles and expect to generate a wind farm. Maamerkit’s (and Kali’s) expertise in this space will be particularly useful. It also bring a focus on rural environments which nicely balances the urban focus above. We aim to work in both, and so sketch out a system that has broader potential as a result.

All these threads have now converged in this project:

  • community decision-making;
  • new engagement tools;
  • long-term investment in sustainable infrastructure;
  • participation and representation;
  • prototyping as research, iteration as planning;
  • user-centred redesign of governance and legislation;
  • different relationships between citizens, businesses and governance;
  • potentially even prototypes of political systems.

We’ll be unpacking the project here, step-by-step, as we go. Please get in touch if you want to know more or discuss any aspect of the project with us.


Dan Hill

Posted by
Dan Hill

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