Did you understand?

Posted by Romain on

I have asked this question repeatedly over the month of my journey in politics. I am distinguishing two kinds of misunderstanding. One is easy to address and the second much harder.

There is the classic misunderstanding. When things you say are just plain unclear. Either you use an unusual term or you develop an idea that requires further explanation. I dealing with these misunderstandings quite easily. It suffices to take a little time and to use plain English.

I have more difficulty to solve the second type of misunderstanding. I call it the « why? » type. Many people fail to understand why we should designate a moderator using sortition. Originally, I was asking to the coin thrower to give a number of thumbs up and a minimal time before a coin can be flip again. People were saying: « I don’t understand, what should I do? ». But even when I was saying that they simply need to give a time and a number, they could not do it. This was not a problem of classic comprehension because my 8 years old nephew could perfectly understand (I am proud of him but he is a casual 8 years old child). The misunderstanding was much deeper. The purpose of the rule was obscure to convince people I had to explain the rational behind these rules. Sometimes it was even worse, people were not asking any questions… I don’t know yet how to deal with such misunderstandings apart from letting people experience the sortition of a moderator. But I can start to explain why the time and why the thumbs up.

The number of thumbs up question was to test and find the optimal number of thumbs and to have a scalable number (depending on the group size). The minimal time was there to guarantee that the moderator had time to do their job. But it is better to not ask anything and to let people discover the ideas behind these rules by practicing. For that you need to ask nothing to the thrower (or to nobody). The number of thumbs up now scale with the group size -one third of people need to thumbs up. There are many practical reasons behind this rule (why 1/3 and not 2/3? why a fraction?), my favorite one is that it doesn’t raise question. I also discovered that there is no need for a minimal time: people generally behave themselves and let the moderator do their job for a minimal time before overthrowing them.

Thank you for reading! If you have a suggestion on how to solve the misunderstanding problem of it you had similar experiences share them in the comment section below.



Posted by Romain on

Many people are guilty of indifference on a daily basis. They, you and I are used to looking the other way. Big cities are especially efficient at fostering indifference: every day I see at least one beggar on the street or in the subway of Paris. Indifference offers protection against unpleasant situations that are difficult to change. Being attentive to every single detail costs a lot of energy: a person who pays attention to everything will be exhausted at the end of a day around the city. What can we do if there is no alternative to indifference? It is a rational protection in a complex, rich and aggressive reality. Let’s look at why indifference can be terribly frustrating from two points of view.

Indifference can exasperate a speaker. Sometimes it feels like shouting into the void: no matter how loud you are, nothing will change and nobody will react. This type of indifference exhausts the speaker’s energy. We can ask someone to pay attention, but the best solution I found to this problem is to ask questions. Asking questions to your listeners forces them to actually think about the problem. People (myself included) are inherently lazy and naturally try not to think about things, especially if these are new or unpleasant. This aspect of indifference can be nerve racking.

But indifference can also exasperate a listener, for instance when the speaker presents something totally extraneous to the listener’s everyday life. The media telling people what should be considered important is a good example of this. It is annoying to be told the agenda. In this case as well, indifference causes a deep frustration.


Homemade illustration (supposed to be a man shrugging his shoulders (supposed))

Let’s talk now about how sortition and moderation can help there. Moderation empowers the speaker. I noticed that people really listen when the moderation safeguard is present. The moderator takes the responsibility to decide when to stop or to encourage a person to speak. This frees the listener from this task, allowing them to focus solely on the listening part. It makes people listen more carefully to others. Rotation of the moderator’s role in sortition force people to pay attention, like a gentle tap on the shoulder. Rotation of the moderator has also another virtue: people can set and reset the agenda of a discussion.

Thank you for reading! Curious to know your opinion on the vast subject of indifference. What was your worst experience? What are your solutions?

P.S: Thank you Marie for the re-reading, not one of my best but for sure better after your input.



Posted by Romain on

You may wonder: « What does it have to do with sortition? ». Sortition was an intellectually pleasant idea for me when I discovered it. It is becoming a necessity. I have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago, it has already stolen my right leg flexibility and it is slowly taking my ability to speak and write. Last year, I discovered that I wanted to get involved in politics but starting a political career in these conditions could be a daunting perspective.

Google defines a handicap as « A circumstance that makes progress or success difficult. » When it comes to politics, handicap is not the exception it’s the rule. All those unable to speak loudly, distinctly, with a meaningful speech and an ability to control a mob is handicapped in politics. Last time I spoke in front of a large audience my heart was pounding, my words were clumsy. And I am a white young male, kind of used to people listening to me. Things would have been completely different if I was a black female. Politic proves difficult even outside of these extreme cases. Equality in politics is a mere dream. So what can we do? What can I do?

Image from https://icons8.com/

A possibility is to give a podium and a microphone to everyone who wants them and to set a time limit beforehand for every speaker. This seems like a reasonable way to distribute speech, but it also carries negative consequences. It gives an even bigger advantage to people who are best able to convince others with a short and condensed speech. In the end, it sadly favours people with empty and consensual ideas. A moderator could be a game changer here. A human moderator will much better deal with time, even if the problem of willingness still remains.

A good moderator lets everybody speak. A good moderator takes into account the ability of the person, they give them time if the person is developing a complex idea, yet they can interrupt a person if they speak too much or too often. A good moderator both makes speech fluid and helps to underline points people want to raise. Paradoxically, the moderator speaks a lot during a meeting. Being a good moderator for a long time is a challenging task. But everybody can be a moderator for a short time. Fluidity naturally occurs when the moderator role rotates often. Furthermore, with a rotating moderator, everybody is going to speak leaving no point un-raised. This is why sorting a moderator from a list of NONvolunteers and rotating moderators easily within a single reunion is so important.

Thank you for reading. And as usual, interested to know your thoughts on the subject!

P.S: Thank you Ambre for the rereading.



Contest Vs Exam

Posted by Romain on

I talked about education this weekend with my friends. Two of them studied at Telecom Paris, where there were 8% of women in their year (and it was a « good one »). This is at least surprising, at worse problematic. A Brazilian friend also told us that the discrepancy between public and private education was even more alarming in her country. We next discussed possible solutions. One possibility consists in imposing quota. To set by law that the gender ratio should be 50-50 as is the case for some administrations in France. Another solution we discussed was the use of positive discrimination like it is the done in the UK.

These solutions all have their problems. One of my friend said that these solutions are discriminatory measures generating perverse effects. It sometimes may suggest that women are there not because of their skills but because they are women. While it is not THE best solution, it’s at least A pragmatic solution. The discussion then moved to the difference between exams and contests.

Credit: CC-BY http://clipart-library.com/competition-cliparts.html

We all agreed that a contest ranks people, which is by essence discriminatory. I proposed that a way to get rid of discrimination in the education system was to turn contests into exams. Contests work by classifying people, your grade or your ability to pass it does not matter. It is your ranking that matters, your performance compared to the others. I find this system deeply unfair for multiple reasons even if it is a way to select when you have a limited number of seats. But we could make the selection system fairer than it is today by replacing contests with exam.

Your grad or your skill is the only thing that matters in an exam. You do or do not pass an exam given a fix set of criteria. The ranking does not matter in an exam. But then how do you select? You may have already guessed my favourite pick: we could use sortition to randomly pick a finite number of people. I agree that it won’t immediately change the situation and solve the problem. But neither do quotas. And in this case there will be no doubt and no ranking. The selected people « deserved » their seats as they passed an exam, at the same time randomness will smooth the discrimination that was peaking in an engineer school like Telecom Paris.

What do you think about this solution? Put your comments below and thank you for reading!

P.S: Thank you Ali for correcting my far from perfect English!


Robustness for legitimacy

Posted by Romain on

Sortition needs to be robust against attacks for it to be legitimate. I discussed in my last post about two examples employing sortition. There is an obvious way to corrupt the draw in both case, it suffices to draw multiple times until you obtain the desired result. How can we prevent that? You can ask to have trusted witnesses, but this needs money and time. #MAVOIX used this methods to select its candidates. Another way is possible.

There is way to make everybody the witness of the drawing. For this to happen you need to know one thing first. Today’s computers generate random numbers in a pseudo-random fashion. They use complicated sequences from which it is hard to predict the n+1th number from the nth. In other words, once you have the seed (the nth number) the result of the draw becomes fully deterministic. It is thus feasible to say for instance that the draw will take place at noon one given day.

We can for instance, mix the ten last arrival time of the people to the draw to generate a seed. Then everybody has the same seed and can reproduce the entire draw. You could imagine ten people sequencing their arrival to produce a given seed. But in this scenario a single person naive would suffice to make the whole plan fail. This is a way to make the draw more robust, there an infinity of others, but it is important to think about one.

They are many other possible points of failure. Could you think of others? This is one of the reason why we should think about a system going from simple to more important decisions. The other types of problem will be the subject of my following posts!


In theory and in practice

Posted by Romain on

Sortition needs to be carefully controlled in practise. The strength and legitimacy of this procedure depends on how it is done. One could think that it is possible to simply generate a bunch of random numbers using a standard function on a computer. Things are more difficult than that. The people have the possibility to redo the draw until they have the result they want.


Logo from the ISN Neuroscience 2017 in Manchester

Many existing implementations of sortition rely on the trust put within the person who sort. For instance in a recent neuroscience conference sponsored abstracts were selected using sortition. The organizers used an excel spreadsheet to pick the selected abstract. Nobody complained, the conference was small and everybody trusted the organizers.

Another example is the convention of France Insoumise were they randomly pick 1000 participants for their convention. Already, this is a larger scale than the conference. The code was open-source and available on github. But here again nothing blocks the organizers to remove people they don’t want. Plus there was no advertisement, a way to be sure to have ONLY party-friendly people in the selected lot.

What are the options to guarantee the fairness and impartiality of sortition? I will provide some answers in my next post.


Fairness compared to queues and elections.

Posted by Romain on

The fairness feature attracted me first to sortition. Queues and votes may seem fair tools but they are not. Many things influence the result of a vote that are conscious or unconscious biases. Politics know for instance that the look a candidate can influence the outcome of an election. These biases are all but fair and in the worse case they have nothing to do with the qualification of a candidate.

Queues may seem fairer than votes. But there also many parameters influence the generation of a queue. The order of arrival depends on how early people were aware of this queue. The first to know are often to arrive. Plus both system could be compromised in many ways. A person can easily jump at the front of a queue, and it is costly to guarantee the lawfulness of an election. I will argue in a coming post that sortition can robustly and cheaply implements a selection system.



Stochocratie or Sortition?

Posted by Romain on

Stochocratie or stochocracy in English refers to a political sytem using randomness at its core. Stochos comes from the greek word meaning randomness. This word signifies a larger idea than sortition and point to a goal rather than a mean. This term describes a more radical position, an ideology. Stochocracy can look like it contradicts the word Democracy. As oppose to sortition that goes well with Democracy. And our democratic regimes might seems dysfunctional to many, yet they stand as the least dysfunctional system on earth.

It would be a foolish and headstrong idea to go against democracy that has a very positive connotation. This explains why I prefer the word sortition rather than stochocracy. Sortiton points toward a tool, as I said yesterday, but stochocracy points toward a goal. This focus on a tool provides a much more laid back approach to the problem. This calmer approach helps not only for my well being but also works in the interest of sortition. People adopt a tool far more easily than an ideology and it is far less risky to promote a tool rather than an ideology.

Sortition could be used both in French and in English. This has also its importance. I stumbled upon the blog of the kleroterians (see picture above) and I found many people motivated by the sortition idea. Yoram Gat started this blog with others motivated individuals in 2012. This beg for humility, it has worked on it for six years now, an considerable quantity of work went into it. And for me things just began less than two years ago! With this blog, I found people motivated by sortition and many come from the anglo-saxon world. It exemplifies another thing I like about  sortition: finding a common middle ground enjoyable for everybody.


Blogging and Discord resolutions

Posted by Romain on

I decided to write a post on sortition every day this coming year. The task seems daunting but they are few ways I could make it easier than it seems. The post will be written in English. Even if it is not my native language, I write more easily in English and I hope to make less mistakes in it (believe it or not). The reason might be that I wrote an entire PhD Thesis in English and I have used English for the last 8 years almost everyday. I am going to try to not put my political opinion (easier said than done), this would be harmful for me but also I think for my writing.

I will focus on the mean rather than the goal in my blog posts. This blog presents a tool and the different way of using it. We could draw a parallel with the hammer: how could we use a hammer? And I think it is partly the true power of sortition. I do not want people to have the same opinion as me. I want all opinions to be discussed equally and I do not believe it is the case today. While their could be opinions regarding the goal of something, there is not opinion when discussing about tools. Sure you can use a screwdriver with nails, but a hammer is better than the screwdriver for that.

I truly believe that sortition, as a way to do things, brings many interestings features that are absent from election. I am going to present and discuss (with you, future readers) what are the advantages and disavantages of using sortition for different kinds of event. The news will inspire the post and I am going to make this blog as lively as possible. Speaking of life,  apart from this blog I want to add one new member to the sortition discord everyday. The aim there will be to have live discussion around the topic of sortition.

What do you think? Any piece of advice for this project? Any encouragements (every day life could be a discouragement, not a real need for that :).


First come, first served?

Posted by Romain on

Image used to illustrate the sortition process at the convention France Insoumise

This English saying states that people who arrive first will have a priority access to a good or a service. This seems like the fairest way to distribute. But people who know first, for instance who have the easiest or fastest access to internet, have an edge. And this is by definition aristocratic and not democratic. The « Aristo », the first to know, have an advantage over the « Demos », the average person. It splitss people in two categories: the ones that know and the ones that don’t.

Could sortition offer an alternative? Using this method, attendants would be selected randomly among a list of candidates. This method could be applied in distinct situations. Three situations can be taken as examples: music festivals, scientific conferences or political meetings. In all cases, these events tend to re-occur years after years and have a limited number of seats available. Furthermore, the introduction of new people has a crucial importance, mostly in conferences and meetings. But if these events are a success, people attending the previous year will be the first to subscribe for the coming year. While it has a positive effect at the beginning giving momentum to the event. This would, after a while, notably diminishes the introduction of new people every year.

Sorting the attendance to a meeting needs to be carefully planned abd organized. Multiple points need to be taken into account: (1) attribute a unique identifier to each candidate (2) use a reproducible allotment. The second point guarantees the legitimity of the allotment. If it can be reproduce, for instance by using the same random seed, it has much more credibility. The first point guarantees that everyone has a chance. These are only two points that would deserve careful examination but they are surely more. What do you think?