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The Largest Loomio Project Yet

BY Rebecca Chao | Thursday, March 13 2014

Loomio goes to Greece (credit: screenshot of www.eda.org)

In many ways, open source is like a sperm bank: you never know what your offspring will look like or where they will end up unless they take the initiative to reach out. Benjamin Knight, a founder of the open source group decision-making platform known as Loomio, had his own Vince Vaughn "Delivery Man" moment when he got a call from Giorgio Mariotti from the unofficial Pirate Party of Hellas (though 'Hellas' means 'Greece' it is not to be confused with the official Pirate Party of Greece, which Mariotti founded but has since left to start a new party focused on direct democracy). Mariotti says he had used Loomio's open source to create 461 Loomio groups for each of the municipal to national levels of government in his country. Mariotti wanted to kickstart a process of direct democracy and needed to know: could Loomio's servers handle this many groups? Knight reassured Mariotti it could but that it was certainly the largest Loomio project to date.

As our own Micah Sifry wrote last year in a detailed article on the genesis of the platform, Loomio emerged out of the New Zealand Occupy movement and shares many conceptual similarities: how to include the 99 percent in decision-making? Part of the problem is that a physical space can hold only so many people, not withstanding social, geographical and time differences. As Knight told Sifry, "The way to get them to participate is to break down the practical barriers of time and geography. Needing everyone to be in the same place at the same time limits the accessibility of the process."

Loomio works by allowing anyone to kickstart a discussion and offer a proposal that would contain a clear plan of action. After a vote -- yes, abstain, suggest alternative, or block -- the votes are visualized via a pie chart to give users a larger picture of the group's collective thought. "The key," Knight tells Sifry, "is building shared understanding before a decision is reached by the group." He adds, "That means that when you get to the outcome, it's not that everyone has to agree to the outcome, they just have to agree that its the best outcome the group can reach at that time."

The Greek adaptation of Loomio is known as E.D.A. ("Ενημέρωση Διαβούλευση Απόφαση" or "Information, Consultation, Decision") and retains Loomio's basic features but embellishes upon them with apps like voice communication software Mumble, collaborative text editor Etherpad, IRC Chat and Doodle. The aim of this site is to create a culture of direct democracy and to reclaim Greece's birthright as the cradle of democracy, Mariotti tells techPresident. The 461 Loomio groups cover 18 federal departments, 13 regions of Greece, 23 prefectures, and then hundreds of counties and municipalities. Mariotti and his team have also created a Loomio site for all of the direct democracy groups in greece called The Alliance for Direct Democracy. Mariotti says both sites will launch strategically two to three few weeks before the European Union's parliamentary elections in May.

Mariotti originally set out to use the Pirate Party's Liquid Feedback platform but eventually felt it was too difficult for users and it did not gain much traction. Another issue was that liquid feedback allowed the delegation of votes, which Mariotti finds inherently undemocratic. "This is like the system that we live now with representatives," says Mariotti. "It is a pseudo-democracy." Mariotti gives an example of why representative democracy fails to actually represent its people: with only 300 or so representatives across the country, he says, it is easy for powerful lobbies to buy alliances. But with a direct democracy, with an entire country participating, a population of 11.28 million, it is not so easy. He explains that this is why he turned to Loomio. "The first step [towards direct democracy] is for people to know and accept that he has the right to vote and must learn to not give the vote and the work to other people. He must learn to inform himself and to make himself political. He must not give the work to a politician. This is loomio: you can go inside and write your idea about one issue," says Mariotti.

The website is currently finished and Mariotti and his team are now waiting for the right timing to launch it. They will spread the word mainly online, through a network that they have cultivated over the years in the blogosphere.

However, one glaring weak spot with Loomio, and its aim to be all-inclusive, is that it is an Internet-only platform. "Not many people have Internet" in Greece, says Mariotti. Second, even when there is connectivity, not everyone can afford it. He says, with much skepticism, that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has promised to install free wifi across the entire country, which if true would definitely be a boon for their Loomio project.

Thankfully, Mariotti may not have to wait for the fulfillment of a lofty and, most likely, empty promise. Knight tells techPresident that Loomio is currently working on creating mobile-based platforms for both smart and dumb phones.

For the last 18 months, says Knight, the Loomio team has been building a prototype and the next step is "taking it fully mobile, recognizing how many people who use it through mobile devices." In that way, "people can use it anywhere in the field." They launched their crowdfunding campaign on Monday and aim to raise US$100k to fund 6 months of full-time development of their mobile platform.

As Loomio dips its toe further into the realm of politics and governance, the next place where we very well may see Loomio working is in Ukraine where the platform is currently being translated and set up.

Editor's Note (April 4, 2014): The article has been amended to state that Giorgio Mariotti currently represents the Pirate Party of Hellas not the Pirate Party of Greece.

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