How to Arrive at Group Consensus in Five Minutes or Less

Last Friday, Personal Democracy Forum attendees answered the question, “What is the key to a successful modern democracy?” in only two minutes.

(The key, in case you were wondering, is “education and participation.”)

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The answer was handed down by a new platform called Remesh, after parsing and distilling 130 individual responses from a group of early-morning audience members at the conference Friday.

The final answer is supposed to be the best representation of those 130 responses—the most popular and the most agreed upon—and is arrived at after showing participants their peers’ responses side by side and asking which is better. More than 1,400 votes were placed.

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Remesh is already being used by companies for market research and corporate communication. It enables conversation between an individual (like a product lead) and a group (of users, for example) by helping the group narrow down a plurality of ideas to one, as in the example above.

Andrew Konya, the founder and CEO of Remesh, who led the demonstration Friday morning, told Civicist that one can do much more with the platform than market research. Konya said possible use cases could include a senator using the platform to better understand the voting populace (or, even better, the general population); a movement organization like Black Lives Matter using it to understand who it is that supports them and why exactly; and political candidates using it in to better understand what the people want and campaign on that, rather than marketing a particular idea to voters.

If those scenarios sound crazy and out there, it’s because the origins of Remesh are crazy and out there. Konya told Civicist he initially envisioned the platform as part of the solution to conflict moderation and peace-building—to ending or preventing wars, essentially. The way Remesh is currently set up, it enables individual to group conversation—but it could also be set up to enable group to group conversation—government to government; country to country.

Konya has tested the platform with a group as large as 2,000, and has already run a real conversation with more than 1,000 participants. He says they will soon run one with 50,000 participants.

Unlike other deliberative platforms, Remesh is always run in real-time. Konya says two minutes is the sweet spot for answering a question—long enough to give people time to respond and to vote around 10 times—although for more involved questions that time can be extended to five minutes or longer.

Responses on Remesh can be filtered by demographics and other identifiers as well, to see whether those factors are the source of difference and division. At the conference Friday, participants were asked to self-identify their age range and political affiliation—Democrat, Republican, or Independent—and their answers can be sorted according.

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Perhaps because this is Personal Democracy Forum and attendees of this conference share many of the same ideals, regardless of political identity, but the top answer given by the (103) Democrats in the audience — “Informed populations, transparent policy, accountable governance” — was not all that different from the top two answers by the (six) Republicans — “Engaged citizens” and “Participation and accountability” — especially if you smushed those together. On stage, Konya said he found it heartening that there was more consensus than division in the responses.

I asked Konya what might be lost by using a system like this—the opportunity for argument, debate, conversation, persuasion—and if it is meant to supplement existing decision-making processes or to replace them.

“Both,” he replied. “Don’t trust technology to make a giant decision—still leave a human in it.”

“But in time, tech can probably get better than humans,” he said. Not at generating an answer, but at arriving at consensus. “It’s not that we’ve built an AI that’s more intelligent; it’s the wisdom of the crowd that’s intelligent.” Remesh just helps bring that out.

I asked Konya what makes Remesh civic—or “for the public good”—and he replied that “it is in the public good for the public to be accurately understood, and I just think they’re not right now.”

“Tech doesn’t solve anything, it’s the people using it who do. So the key is getting it into the hands of people who can leverage it for civic good.”