I went to a Lean Coffee event last night. I really enjoyed it.
But naturally I’m constitutionally incapable of participating in a democratic process without thinking about whether it could be improved by randomization, and I think this one can.
Lean Coffee as we practised it had slightly more structure than described in the link:
- First we voted as described (though actually we had three dot votes for some reason), and then we went discussed the topics in order of decreasing vote.
- A discussion lasted 8 minutes. A vote was then conducted as to whether people wanted to continue – everyone could vote yes/no/maybe, and you continued for another 4 minutes if there were more yes votes than no votes (maybes are ignored). In theory at the end of that 4 we would vote again, but we actually never voted to continue.
There are two voting mechanisms here, and one is much better than the other: The continuation vote is a good system because you’ve got a simple yes/no question and thus majority rule is a straightforward choice (arguably you can improve it with randomization, but it’s a hard sell).
The voting on topics thing on the other hand didn’t work very well for me. There was a lot of obvious tactical voting caused by both the system and the public nature of the voting. e.g. people were very reluctant to cast their last vote for something that didn’t already have votes.
So I’d like to propose the following alteration to the system:
- People write cards and just put them into a central pile. Once everyone has finished, the pile is shuffled.
- You now go through the pile in the shuffled order. You draw a card, the person who wrote it has a short opportunity to explain what it means (normally this happens before the voting phase), and then everyone votes using the majority rule of yes/no/maybe whether they would like to discuss it. Break ties by treating them as no votes.
- If the conclusion is yes, you discuss it as above. If it’s no, you move on to the next card.
I think this has a number of advantages over the existing system:
- It removes the element of tactical voting (for the most part. You get an element of time tactical voting where you vote something down because there’s something later you want to discuss more, but that seems quite reasonable to me)
- What you end up discussing has a much stronger mandate because you’ve had an actual vote on the specific question of whether you want to discuss it.
- We got a lot of ties which had to be broken arbitrarily in the normal voting for what to talk about process. This intrinsically doesn’t have that problem.
- It has the usual debiasing advantages of randomization which help offset the tyranny of the majority.
- It’s actually a more streamlined process – you go straight from writing to discussion with no intervening steps.