What Good Is My Vote?

i-voted-sticker

Santa Cruz, California is, in many ways, an ideal laboratory in which to test and refine and evolve the Civinomics online platform and newsletter. Residents here are familiar with the often times polarized local political environment, especially around issues of public safety, water, homelessness, growth, transportation and a myriad of other topics.

As in many communities, some issues are dominated by vocal minority factions, to the extent that less vocal citizens feel drowned out of the conversation, unheard.

In this polarized, often aggressive, sometimes frustrating environment,  the local electorate is left asking a very basic question: what good is my vote? Writ large across the state and the nation, with the addition of limitless PAC funding for issues and candidates, this feeling of civic futility has led to historic low voter turnouts.

Civinomics is very pleased to be rolling out new features to the online platform and newsletters over the coming weeks to help connect Civinomics members to the “listeners”, the elected officials, agency heads and media, in your area:

Leaderboards, Statistics and Graphs, oh my!

In discussions with listeners over the years, one thing which emphasized repeatedly was that it be as easy as possible to go to a single place for feedback, get a broad view, and to have the ability to drill down for details as desired.

Among the updates coming soon to the leaderboard:

  • Listing of ranked items by jurisdiction
  • Graphs of distribution of votes by yes or no
  • Graphs of distribution of votes by zip code
  • Graphs of distribution of votes by inside of jurisdiction vs. outside of jurisdiction
  • Sharing buttons to make it easier to get your friends to vote on important stuff
  • Easy ability to go through pro and con comments on items

The intent is to make it easy for listeners to not only know how their constituents feel about an issue, but why they feel that way.

Better informed listeners better represent their communities.

Listener Newsletters, Feedback and Invitations

We’re not waiting for listeners to come to Civinomics, we’re taking Civinomics to them. We’ve started testing weekly listener newsletters, email digests sent to listeners, which summarize the previous week of online civic activity in their jurisdiction.

We’re also going to make it easier for Civinomics members to send feedback to listeners about items hosted on the Civinomics site, and to invite listeners to become Civinomics members to be able to interact more directly online with their fellow members and constituents.

So What Good Is My Vote?

It’s no good if you don’t vote at all. If you do vote, or have an idea or an initiative or a comment,  working together as a community, we’ll make sure the local listeners hear it.

And as our community grows, working together, we’ll make sure the listeners can’t ignore it.

9 Comments

  1. Jean Brocklebank says:

    I am very troubled by the notion of Civinomics insinuating its limited and unscientific polls (this is not “voting”) into County government, by suggesting that its polling is what “listeners” should consider to be the voice of the “listeners” constituency.

    • cneklason says:

      I am sorry to hear you are troubled, Jean.

      We are not ‘suggesting that its polling is what “listeners” should consider to be the voice of the “listeners” constituency.

      We are facilitating the communication of the input of our members to listeners. Since it is the actual member input, you would be correct in suggesting that listeners should consider it input from Civinomics members in the listener jurisdiction.

      Nor are we hoping to be or claiming to be “the” channel of input for listeners. Listeners take input from a variety of streams, we hope that by organizing our member input and unscientific polls for listeners that the listeners find it an easy to use and useful additional stream.

      I hope this clears up any confusion about our strategy or intentions my blog post might have aroused.

      • Jean Brocklebank says:

        Hi Chris ~ When I first started looking at the Civinomics web site, and had to login to do so, I saw nothing that stated that I was now a “member” of Civinomics. I never assumed that I was a member of an organization that would be speaking on my behalf.

        Additionally, as you can discern, most people who “vote” do not contribute comments, thoughts, ideas, concerns. They just go and “vote” their YES or NO. I have heard people remark that the “vote” on an issue was 75% YES and 25% NO, as though these percentages can/should be extrapolated to represent Santa Cruz residents in general. This is the danger in these kind of unscientific polls.

        A quick glance at a number and there you have the standard misuse of such numbers. Myths will fly. Trust me on this. It is the substantive comments from those who post, as you have already noted, that is far more revealing than the yes or no votes.

        Civinomics might consider dropping, altogether, the “voting” as expedient but useless. I am tempted to suggest that you send only the comments to the “listeners” (let’s call them our elected representatives, shall we?!). The problem with sending the comments is that, once again, Civinomics has become the “listener,” an intermediary between residents and their elected officials. For what purpose? People have the ability right now to email their thoughts on any issue to their elected officials. Why not let them do so?

  2. Unfortunately, Civinomics results are presented in the form “75% of respondents voted yes,” as if that means something broader than “75% of Civinomics members voted yes.” The poll is presented as if it has broader application than the Civinomics membership.

    Civinomics polls present no demographic information about respondents, so there is no way for “listeners” to interpret the results in any way meaningfully relevant to their constituency. Participants could be from Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Washington DC or East Rubberball Africa!

    Voting in such a poll may be satisfying for some participants, but it does no service to the alleged “listeners,” and gives a mistaken impression of validity to the general public.

    • cneklason says:

      To address the heart of your critique, it sounds like additional clarity that the results of the unscientific polls be clearly identified as unscientific and to be merely the input from Civinomics members. I will work with the UI team to look for opportunities to make this clearer in the online platform. I assure you that this is made abundantly clear to the meanest intelligence in the listener newsletters but will double check that as well.

      Personally, I agree that on their face polls are shallow, which is why I am more personally excited about getting member comments in front of listeners. I’ve found member comments to be incredibly educational, the recent water workshop and the off-leash pilot initiative especially.

      With regard to:
      Civinomics polls present no demographic information about respondents, so there is no way for “listeners” to interpret the results in any way meaningfully relevant to their constituency. Participants could be from Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Washington DC or East Rubberball Africa!
      you did not catch the part of the blog post which talks about the upcoming feature:
      Graphs of distribution of votes by inside of jurisdiction vs. outside of jurisdiction

      Where you say ‘Voting in such a poll may be satisfying for some participants, but it does no service to the alleged “listeners,” and gives a mistaken impression of validity to the general public.‘ I can only reply that we continue to work directly with both our members and with listeners to understand how Civinomics can be more useful to them in meeting their definition of valid and useful and that the upcoming new features are the direct result of those ongoing conversations.

      • Thanks for this response. I look forward to the newly crafted web site that makes this all clear.

      • cneklason says:

        And thanks for your patience. The web site which makes this all clear will organically evolve and unfold over time.

        Now that it is understood that our intention here is to collect member input and get it in front of listeners, much as do other membership organizations like chambers of commerce or unions, etc, Civinomics looks forward to specific input as to how to make that intention clearer and the tools more useful to seeing that intention realized.

        And like other member organizations, Civinomics continues to encourage our members to continue to make their voices heard by voting in elections, attending public meetings and directly connecting with listeners and other folks in their community.

  3. Jean Brocklebank says:

    Whoa! Wait a minute here. Civinomics is not like other membership organizations. Organizations are composed of like-minded people (as you noted – chambers of commerce, labor unions – and to those I’ll add others like the Sierra Club or Leash Law Advocates of SC County or Ducks Unlimited or PETA or even the NRA). I don’t have the same goals as other Civinomics “members” who “vote” and comment. In fact, I am rarely in agreement with most of the people who “vote” and comment. The same can be said by other Civinomic “members.” I doubt that they would want to be associated with me in any way, but you are now telling us that we are members of the same organization. Oops.

    • cneklason says:

      Hello, again I am trapped in a fog of my own clumsy wording! Apologies for the confusion!

      First, “member” is typical use for users of online fora.

      Second, I am sorry to use the word “organization”, a better word is “community” in the sense of “people who inhabit or frequent a space” in this case an online space. Poorly chosen analogies really mess up discussion, I am sorry for my poor choice there.

      Third, to address your exception to use of “listener” as opposed to “elected official”, a listener in the Civinomics sense is an elected official, an unelected or appointed agency head, or a member of the press. I hope this clarifies that.

      Fourth, to address your thoughts on dropping of polling in favor of just getting the comments out there, listeners are well aware of the shallow nature of polls and the dangers of voting based on a pie chart. We want to give them additional tools to drill down for a deeper look at “the numbers”, but again, I agree with you about the comments. That for me, personally, is the most educational, and we want to make sure the numbers are supplemented with the thoughts behind them. We’ve been discussing ways to get members to add comments with their votes, any ideas on the topic are most welcome.

      I guess I am seeing 3 main thrusts to the thread so far in response to my blog post: our intention, our presumption, the threat we pose to clarity. I have written here already quite a bit about our intention, which is to get member (of our online forums!) input to listeners. To speak to presumption, we do not presume to insinuate ourselves in a process by representing member input or injecting our input. We are working to get unrepresented, direct member input in front of listeners in a way which makes it easy to sort through. As they do with all of their other input streams, listeners will continue to hold their own council as to the value and utility of those streams. To speak to the danger of our approach implicit in the repeated emphasis on unscientific polls and the characterization that we are somehow preventing or discouraging or otherwise impeding people from emailing their reps directly (“Why not let them do so?“) or that we are (purposefully or unpurposefully) misrepresenting the value or basis of member input, I am at a loss for words that Civinomics is seen as posing such a threat to civic participation that through our well intentioned and respectful efforts we make things worse.

      I was sort of hoping we could make things better. With the continued input of our members we will continue to try and we will continue to encourage the public and our members to participate in the civic process in every venue available to them.

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