How to Protect The Interest of Minorities?

I met a couple of Government 2.0 enthusiasts at Singapore’s startup kingdom recently, who just like me went gaga on the topic of the next level in Corporate & National Governance. During the party, when everyone was high, rose a heated discussion about how crowd-sourced policy making, decision making and ideation can change the world in favor of those who are in majority. And yes, the question was genuine.

Assuming Government 2.0 is a lot about crowd-sourcing, how does the technology or infrastructure ensure that the feeble minority voices do not get buried under the noisy storm of communities with very large number of people. Thus bringing in a bias in favor of social or religious majority who might just make their favorite idea as the top-most voted one! The discussion ensued around the Dell Ideastorm model, MyStarbucksIdea model and many more simpler tools available out there which perhaps do not suit the requirements of Government 2.0 scale simply for this reason. The tools perhaps fail to check a ‘social hijack’ by the majority.

For example if Dell was the Government, and I wanted American policies to turn favorable towards my community and I had the numbers on my side I could simply push ideas from other community down and promote my own ideas up. I would bury every other voice from smaller communities and eventually push a long term strategy in the system which do I need to explain is a bad thing? 🙂 For Dell, the issues are about laptops but for Government it is about people and therefore, situation is much different.

Now since I was the co-founder of a crowd-sourcing tool – – in the party, people turned to me to see how I defended the use-case of internet based crowd-sourcing for Government 2.0. I was kind of unprepared for such an intense debate (that even the most expensive spirits stopped working on my blood then) but then hey: it was a genuine question and someone has to have an answer for it!

Luckily, about 06 months back when we were designing our application we had given a thought to this. We did our application ground up to tackle large scale biasing that might just happen in Government 2.0. For example if @cheeky_geeky i.e Dr. Mark Drapeau gives a good idea but he belongs to a minority group that shares the same opinion will the remaining community be able to suppress his idea by giving negative votes on it? On BubbleIdeas, the answer is ‘no’. Our application calculates rank of ideas based on social popularity and if a lot people give Dr. Mark’s idea a negative vote it might still bubble up to the top ranks simply because a lot of people engaged with his idea to give the negative vote. Therefore, it IS a burning issue which requires balancing act from the Government.

Ofcourse technology around Government 2.0 at this stage is nascent but does any one have more answers to the question: how to protect the interest of minorities? I have a few thoughts on my mind:

1. Using genuine social identity of citizens. (Something like verified account service of Twitter)
2. Using Public & Private Key Infrastructures
3. A better integrated Reputation Management System etc.

What do you guys think?

Written by Arvind, CEO & Co-Founder

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Sterling Whitehead

This debate goes back to the Founders’ idea that the majority gets its way so gov can operate without suppressing a minority. It’s very tricky; it’s also cool to see it applied to a Gov 2.0 vision.

Arvind Nigam

Yeah Sterling, it is pretty tricky: A society works differently, coz the gov may not be able to uphold a decision in favor of a minority if there is no data to show that they are not getting suppressed. Technology can bring relevant data-sets so that a balanced approach can be adopted.

On BubbleIdeas, we have attempted to bring out that concept and built it ground up for Government 2.0 type of scenarios only. Like I broke down social popularity w.r.t bad name = good name (something like there is a saying any publicity is good publicity) and brought any idea that engages people whether its negative or positive to the top.

That’s just one method, there are a couple more and it would be prudent to apply those to Gov 2.0 vision before screwing up big time 🙂 IMHO the technology has to grow out of consumer f/b syndrome per se, and address these critical issues.

– Arvind

Arvind Nigam

Here are some …

1. Public Key Infrastructures, where digital signatures ensure valid & unique identity of citizen users. This is an expensive approach though.

2. Semantic analysis of text and counter-texts to give proper vetting (majority & minority opinions) of ideas. Again semantic web is challenging, but we have progressed to a certain extent here

3. Having sub-community popularity sorting and not over all system based sorting. We have this already.

4. Integrate the process with social security number or another unique identity over-layed on SSN. This can ensure genuineness of data over the Government infrastructure with maximum impact. But an expensive process, for sure.


Joe Sanchez

Gov 2.0 is not all about crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is one type of Gov 2.0 collaboration. For a more detailed discussion on the types of collaboration, see

Due to challenges associated with crowdsourcing as presented in the previously referenced HBS white paper and also discussed @ and, there is beginning to be a shift towards communitysourcing.

Regardless of the type of x-sourcing contemplated, digital literacy and all of its various forms such as data literacy, information literacy, health literacy, financial literacy, etc. is needed if Gov 2.0 initiatives are going to effectively involve collaboration with citizens, including minority segments. This challenge was articulated very well by Danah Boyd in her recent May 2010 Gov 2.0 Expo presentation @

Digital literacy is essentially the critical success factor for Gov 2.0 to be effective. Putting technology associated with crowdsourcing or any other Gov 2.0 technology before digital literacy is analogous to putting the cart before the horse. If we really want to prevent a “social hijack” by the majority, let’s address digital literacy upfront.

Lastly, why are minority voices necessarily “feeble?” Alot of minority segments pride themselves on their ability to represent their interests to their government representatives. They don’t rely on crowdsourcing to do this.

Arvind Nigam

@Sanchez you are absolutely right when you say digital literacy is important to enable Gov 20. In fact Alan Silberberg wrote an excellent piece on huffpost last week on Digital Divide 2.0 which seems far more severe than it was the last time.

Let me put the Gov20 situation in another way. Gov 2.0 is about participatory Governance and not necessarily about crowd/community sourcing. This has been argued nicely even in the Harvard article, but believe me, the thought in those articles is (i.e premise of such an article) one that stems from ‘experienced understanding’ of how things are working in social media space.

I have this gut feeling that Gov 2.0 is not going to shape up exactly like social media space. That is to say an extrapolated reference of current shape of internet by Harvards & IBMs and biggies that is based on usual track of ‘experience’ is seemingly not correct. Internet is way too disruptive, for that.

I may be wrong.