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Sunday, 12 June 2011

21. Collective Pledging

I was reading this piece today in the Guardian.  It's about a website called Groupon which offers discounts to subscribers on a wide range of products.  The Guardian piece summarises the way it works like this:

each morning, you open your email to discover one or two offers of steep discounts on restaurant food, or beauty treatments, or adventurous experiences: recent London deals, for example, included 54% off a kite-surfing course, tapas for two at £19 instead of £48, and six sessions of laser hair removal at a quarter of the regular price. Nominally, there's a catch – you get the deal only if it "tips", meaning that a sufficient number of people sign up – but today that almost always happens.

In other words discount deals are proposed by retailers but are only triggered if a specified number of consumers sign up for them - thereby, in theory, reducing the risk for the retailers and allowing them to manage their promotions more effectively.  The added value of the website is the extra reach that it gives to companies.  There is also an added social effect whereby people who have signed up for a deal may seek to encourage others they know to sign up so that it will 'tip'.  It's not all straightforward of course, read the article if you want to learn more about the downsides.

The interesting question for me is whether this kind of collective pledging could be applied to local politics with the local council acting as a kind of democratic groupon.  It might work like this:

  • The Council would maintain an email list of interested citizens - all would be eligible but some may choose to opt out
  • Proposals would be formulated by councillors as potential solutions to current policy problems
  • Proposals would be sent to citizens as offers - these might be targeted to specific groups such as council tenants, businesses or people living in a particular community
  • If the support of enough citizens was received the proposal would be enacted - citizens pledging to participate directly would enter into some kind of formal contract to help ensure continued involvement

Different types of proposal might include:

  • Decisions that need a certain number to sign up to be validated
  • New models of service delivery, such as community trusts, that require citizens to be formal stakeholders
  • Voluntary community initiatives such as litter picks, walking school buses or elderly care schemes
  • New services that require high levels of community support or that the council does not have the resources to enforce such as perhaps new parking or recycling schemes

Of course this could all happen without the technology but it is social media that makes this easy to organise and fun to use.  It also creates a social environment for collective pledging to take place.

So , there it is, all it needs now is a catchy brand name.  Anyone?  

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