Friday, December 12, 2008

Social Politician Ranking (SPR)

Disclaimer: This is my first post as a blogger, and since my first language is Spanish, it is very likely that the English will need some corrections, so please feel free to point these corrections.

It would be nice to have a free social service, completely government/mass-media independent, which can give us the ranking of the people that take the big decisions for us (mainly politicians).

Now the question is: How do we rank them?

Well, an initial idea could be to base the rank on their results, this is, completely ignoring who they are, so, non-biased, but basing their rank on the results of the votes they have made on the decisions that affect us (laws that they approve, or not).

This could be done asking people if they agree that a certain law (decision) is for the good or bad of the community (affects the person positively or negatively). Then, considering which politician voted yes or no to the particular law, we would increase or decrease the general rank of the politician according to the people’s opinion.

This would give us a measure of the politician, but indirectly, according to the results of the laws they approve, and the effect these laws have over the population. So, it would not be a system that ranks a politician asking questions like, “do you like him or not”? which would be completely biased. It would be as unbiased as possible, ranking politicians according to the results or effect of the laws they approve (or not).

Of course this mechanism would have to aggregate opinions on laws from different areas such as, education, finance, health, an more. So it would be wise to group the laws according to the specific areas, and then compute the politician's rank according to them. The rationale behind this, is to try to mimic the fact that every person (politician), have a more in-depth knowledge about a certain area than another, therefore voting more wisely in this particular area than the other (of course they have their advisors that should inform them). Finally a mechanism to aggregate all the areas would be useful to generate a overall score for the politician.

If this little opinion system (SPR) could be included in many social network tools, for example Facebook, Orkut, mySpace, then the system could start tracing who gave an opinion in a particular area, helping the system to know who to ask opinion for particular areas (not every person have the full deep understanding on all the areas), when new laws are passed. This does not mean that we prevent people from giving their opinions in every area they want to get involved in, but just asking opinions proactively in the areas they feel more comfortable with. In this regard, it will be necessary an assessment whether people would like to be traced back or not, and whether this trace back information can be made public. My guess is that each person can choose to be traced back, if a person does not want to be traced back, the system can just ask which areas the person is interested in.

One assumption made here, is that the system knows which politician voted in favor or not for each particular law. This information is public in many countries, but in places that is not, the system could just try to put the positive or negative influence in the whole group, or use another mechanism of distributing the rank.

Another assumption made, is that a politician voted well informed, and consciously, which to be honest, doesn’t always happen. But this little system could also try to understand this kind of behavior. For example, how can it be that politician X, having a PhD in economics, have a rank so low in the same field? But to be honest again, many politicians in many countries don’t even have an university degree, but it would be interesting to study the behavior.

Of course, in doing such a system, the authors will face an enormous pressure to shut the system down, but it would be interesting to see which artifact they will come up to do such thing.

One of the most interesting applications of this system would be to see what kind of politicians, therefore country and future, we will be choosing during the next elections. Another direct application will be the list of popular vs. unpopular laws.

In many countries election lists are closed, this means that the actual person who gets in depends on the political party. Citizens have no control whatsoever in who becomes the next congressman. Since the list is closed, people are driven by political believes to vote, not on the actual person that will have to fulfill the role. According to an arbitrary order set by the political party, politicians get in or are left out (from becoming congressman), depending on how many votes the political party list gets. This results in the fact that political parties put their most “beloved” (biggest contributors) on the top of the list, and they then put the actual good people at the end of the list, but of course, they market this good people saying “vote for Y to become a congressman” (being Y a well beloved person in the society). They don't say "vote for X" (which they know people hate) and is one that is on the top of the list, therefore is most likely to get in. This whole assumption may not hold for all the countries, but in countries that it does, the system can have a high potential good use in saying, "well, if you vote for this particular party/list, the changes that you get screwed in a particular area, are quite high, just because they have been doing it for a long time already, please be aware".

Yet another nice characteristic of the system is that it can be used to make people aware of the laws governing them. For example, take a person which has a student profile in one of the many social networks, how many students are there that are completely unaware of new laws that directly affect their student life? same for doctors, contractors,... The system can be used as a tool to increase awareness about effects of laws over our lives. In high school, there are subjects that have as goal teaching about the constitution or laws in general; teachers could use this tools to try to make students think about the consequences that particular laws (or political decisions) will have over their life.

This could set up a new type on information that people can use to based their votes on, not relying only in the mass media selling us (manipulated) images (just because the actual politicians own the media, or their friends do). How many times have we voted completely ignoring who gets in, and what will happen with the country if a certain politician gets in? But assuming that the media is completely unbiased, then this system makes no harm at all, and it could even be a source of information for them.

Two of the mayor problems of the system are to maintain a list of the laws (or any other type of political decision that affects the country) up to date, and the list of politicians that voted in favor or not for the particular law. This could be done crawling the list of laws that have been passed, which in many countries is publicly available at some website, and relying for example on journalists (or some other source of information, preferable one that can be extracted automatically) to maintain the list of who voted for what. But this will vary from country to country.

Another issue to consider, is how to get people involved, making them actually contribute in the system by giving their opinions about the laws. What is more, what will happen if people change their mind about the goodness of a particular law? should we allow them to change their opinions? In this case, we need to trace the opinion back in order to be able to change it, but if this is not possible, then issuing a new opinion will just balance the rank, not actually change it. Another important point to consider is how to avoid some interested parties to affect the ranks in the system, for example, I'm politician X and I want a good rank, so I may somehow issue many good opinions on a particular law, that I know I voted in favor, therefore increasing my rank.

How hard can this all be?, well, I listen to comments.