Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to many of the questions people ask about Dotmocracy. If you have a question that you can't find an answer for here, please send it to us using the contact form.

So far the closest things to Dotmocracy online are

Loomio.org - Loomio is a super simple hosted service with comment forums where you users can post proposals and vote: Agree, Abstain, Disagree or Block, along with a brief explanation of why.  Users can change their position any time.  Price starts at free!

MixedInk.com - MixedInk allows users to post ideas and rate them on 5 point scale of agreement.  You can also post comments, and copy, combine and redraft ideas. It is a free tool and I recommend trying it out.

Vetter.com - seems like a simple 5-star idea rating tool, with commenting. Starts at $35 a month

LiveSift.com - meant for in-meeting participant interaction through net connected smart phones / tablets and main projected screen. $25 a month and up.

 

 

Alternatively there are many other online tools that allow users to post ideas and to rate them.  Below are a few of the better options. 

  • IdeaScale
    Post, reply and vote (up / down) on ideas, although not their comments. $15 - $99 a month. Unlimited users and content.
  • Soap Box
    Proven system with good social media integration, but not cheap. No pricing listed.
  • MindMixer.com
    Sophisticated tool set including idea rating, surveys and more. Too bad it just reports cumulative stars, not average rating. Focused on public engagement. No pricing posted.
  • Your Priorities
    A free open source application used to great success in Iceland for edmocracy. Simple up/down voting.  
  • cbased
    " a toolkit for participative decision-making processes"  no screen shots or pricing, but impresive list of clients
  • Get Satisfaction
    Starting at $425/mo
  • UserVoice
    A sophisticated forum tool where users can post ideas and vote on them with a limited number of votes, similar to traditional dot-voting. Price starts at free.
  • KindlingApp
    Submit ideas, vote (+ / -) limited number of votes. Post & reply to comments.  Watch, edit, view changes, approve and volunteer for ideas. Grouped by "rooms".  $49 month for 40 user.  $99 month 100 users $416 month ($500 year) for 100 users Enterprise version. Designed for organizations. 
  • IdeaVibes 
    Part of a consulting model.No pricing listed.
  • Organized Feedback
    Seems quite sophisticated. No pricing listed
  • CivicEvolution.org
    This site recreates the sticky notes brainstorm, theme, summarize and rating of offline facilitation.  Seems like a decent system, but they are not a simple hosted service. Seems like you need to have more of defined big project and pay for their consulting fees.  No pricing posted.
  • Dialogue App - Yet another great online tool from the good people at Delib (UK). Similar to MixeInk, but maybe a bit simpler and more traditional blog/forum type interface, users post ideas rate on 5 star scale and post comments.  Price is about $6400 per year, with unlimited participation but max 8 topics. Delib is focused on "digital democracy" tools for government, whom would find this price quite reasonable..
  • Bright Idea
    Suite of tools. No price and not much for screen shots of demo.
  • Chaordix
    Full service consultating, along with their platform. No pricing.
  • NoscoApp
    New idea rating service.  Seems very intuitive and easy to use.  Free trial, but no prices listed.
  • Google Moderator
  • Free to use and simple to set-up this new Google application has a lot of potential. Unfortunately you need to have a Google Account to participate and voting is only limited to "yes" "no" "skip" or "flag as inapproriate". 
  • FacilitatePro
    An excellent collection of tools for brainstorming, categorizing, priortization / voting, action planning, surveying and documenting. Unfortunately you are looking at around $19,240 USD for license fees and training.
  • CoVision's WebCouncil
    This is a key application used by AmericaSpeaks for their 21st Century Town Hall Meetings. They don't tell you much about the software on their public site but I can tell you it cost over $10,000 USD for set-up, training and license. You can peak at a demo at www.webcouncil.com/wcapps
  • GroupSystems.com
    Software and services for live large group decision-making. Their main application called ThinkTank looks quite ideal, except for the price, which was around US $35 seat/day, $105 seat/week, or $200 seat/month (a seat is required for every logged in user).
  • Delphi Decision Aid
    This is a free-ware application for hosting a basic Delphi method which has similar characteristic to Dotmocracy. Unfortunatly the usability is lacking in the software interface.
  • Discussion Forums (phpBB, Yahoo Groups, Google Groups)
    The free bulletin board software phpBB includes an optional module for rating postings. Both free Yahoo groups and Google groups allows users to post topics, comment and to rate each comment.
  • Ning.com
    Ning is a free social network tool  that includes options for user five-star rating of content.
  • Drupal CMS with VoteAPI module
    Drupal is a free content management system that is very flexible.  Drupal savvy web developers can implement a website that includes rating of posted content using the VoteAPI and relate modules.

Also see http://www.ideamanagementsystems.com/2010/10/44-idea-management-software-solutions.html

Example Dotmocracy sheet with 23 dots (& signatures) showing agreement.Example Dotmocracy sheet with 23 dots (& signatures) showing agreement.

Dotmocracy is an established facilitation method for collecting and recognizing levels of agreement on written statements among a large number of people. Participants write down ideas on paper forms called Dotmocracy sheets and fill-in one dot per a sheet to record their opinion of each idea on a scale of “strong agreement”, “agreement”, “neutral”, “disagreement”, “strong disagreement” or “confusion”. Participants sign each sheet they dot and may add brief comments. The result is a graph-like visual representation of the group's collective opinion on each posted statement.

For further explanation see the What is Dotmocracy? page from the handbook and the Step-by-Step Process page.

 

 

Traditional dot votingTraditional dot votingThe Dotmocracy method presented on this website is an upgrade on the traditional technique of multi-voting with dot stickers. Other names for similar facilitation techniques for collaborative prioritization of options using dot stickers includes:

  • multi-voting
  • sticker voting
  • sticky-dot voting
  • sticking dots
  • dot-voting
  • dot democracy
  • dot-mocracy (with a dash)

In multi-voting participants vote on their favorite options using a limited number of stickers or marks with pens - dot stickers being the most common. The sticker voting approach is more accurately described as cumulative voting (see Wikipedia article), while the Dotmocracy sheets are a form of range voting (see Wikipedia article).

This website focuses exclusively on the Dotmocracy model that uses Dotmocracy sheets and follows strict rules and requirements.

View the comparison table: Dotmocracy vs. multi-voting with stickers

Traditional dot-voting (aka multi-voting or sticker voting) is essentially asking participants to place stickers or written marks next to ideas one likes, usually written on easel paper by a facilitator.

See an article that fully explains the traditional dot-voting process.

The Dotmocracy process, with its specially designed Dotmocracy Sheets, rules and instructions, improves on the traditional multi-voting with stickers approach in several key ways. 

Here is a comparison chart:

 
Dotmocracy
 
Multi-voting with Stickers

Participants can read and dot as many or as few ideas as they please. There is no practical limit to the number of ideas posted.

Participants need to review all the ideas before dotting their favorites. The more ideas, the more impractical it is for any person to sensibly read and compare them all.

The agreement scale makes clear the levels of agreement, disagreement and confusion for each idea relative or independent of any other.

Dots only give results relative to other ideas.

Does not recognize levels of disagreement and confusion.

Add new ideas at any time.

All ideas have to be presented at the same time.

Recognize priority between similar, related or hybrid ideas, i.e. allows for the importance of subtle differences to be discovered.

Similar ideas can cause vote-splitting, so facilitators are forced to amalgamate variations of an idea, i.e. ideas are generalized and differences are lost.

Signatures validate that the number of dots is one per a person. Using pens dots can not be altered.

It is impossible to recognize fraudulent dotting, e.g. adding extra stickers or moving stickers.

One dot per person on each sheet means you can always recognize how many people have expressed agreement.

Allowing multiple dots per a person makes it impossible to tell the difference, for example, between five dots from one person, or five people with one dot each.

Documented rules and requirements promote consistency and reliability of results.Each facilitator tends to apply their own set of rules, depending on the situation.
Any participant can present a detailed idea in their own words without the bottleneck and filter of a facilitator. In effect, many more ideas can be posted in a much shorter period of time.Although some facilitators will  invite participants to write ideas themselves on separate sheets, most facilitators tend to do the writing themselves on easel paper.

The letter-size Dotmocracy sheets can be easily scanned, photocopied, and archived in a binder or folder.

Although letter-size sheets can be used, large easel paper is typically used, which is awkward to store and review.

Each sheet includes space for recording comments.

Typically comments are not recorded on each idea.

Materials required: Dotmocracy sheets, pens and a writing surface (tables or wall with tape and/or clipboards).Materials required: Markers, (Easel) paper, stickers, tape.

In short, Dotmocracy is one of the few, if only, known group processes that can reliably lead to the most consensual decisions possible among an infinitely large diverse number of people without the use of computers or trained facilitators. The proven design of the Dotmocracy sheets coupled with the process rules & requirements overcome limitations in traditional consensus facitilation and voting methods.

Read more Features of the Dotmocracy Process

A common method for large group decision-making facilitation is to collect ideas via a large group discussion and/or brainstorm, consolidate similar ideas and then either vote (usually by raised hands) to see which idea is  most popular, or through open discussion suggest proposals and address concerns until a consensus is reached on a preferred idea. Although brainstorming plus voting and consensus process are different in their technique and approach, both traditional models are similar in their advantages and disadvantages when compared to Dotmocracy.

Advantages of Brainstorm Plus Voting or Consensus Over Dotmocracy

  • Many people are used to traditional models and thus they may have more perceived legitimacy and may be easier to facilitate.
  • All the communication is verbal and face-to-face, which helps build trust and community.
  • There are more opportunities to smile, laugh and cheer as a whole group.
  • People can feel heard by the group.
  • The final decision is a single choice that may appear to be more decisive.
  • A good facilitator may draw out people and ideas that might have not been written on a Dotmocracy sheet.

Disadvantages of Brainstorm-Voting or Consensus Compared to Dotmocracy

  • The number and detail of ideas is limited to the facilitators' ability to record them. The facilitator is a 'bottleneck' that does not allow the process to scale-up to large (e.g. greater than 30) numbers of participants and ideas.
  • A facilitator may not correctly interpret what a participant is trying to say and thus record the wrong idea.
  • The facilitator may have a bias that affects how the ideas are discussed and recorded. For example a facilitator may subtly ignore or downplay ideas they do not like, or give extra time and attention to ideas they prefer.
  • There is limited opportunity for commenting and reflection on ideas. Any time spent listening to comments reduces time for new ideas.
  • Discussion may be swayed by confident public speakers, not necessarily with the best idea.
  • The final vote is public (i.e. not anonymous) and may be easily skewed by strong personalities, people with authority or status, power relationships, cliquing and cultural influences.
  • The process requires participants to do public speaking in order to contribute, which many people with good ideas may be to shy to do.
  • Discussions about the process can often take time away from the content of the decision-making.

Dotmocracy is based on a simple assumption:

If you ask many people to discuss and brainstorm the same questions, at least one of them will eventually give an answer that the rest will agree with or can at least accept.

The Dotmocracy process allows a group to easily find those answers that everyone likes the most, and avoid the usual tendency of arguments that focus on points of disagreement. Additionally the use of separate sheets for each idea means that there is no limit on the number of ideas or participants.

In reality, there is no fair process that can guarantee 100% agreement on any complex question among a diverse grouop of people, but Dotmocracy can provide the greatest opportunity for recognizing an answer that has the highest possible level of agreement and minimal disagreement.

It is true that Dotmocracy will recognize mundane answers that have high degrees of acceptance, but because the process does not limit the creation of ideas, if people have radical or unique suggestions, there is no reason for them not to be posted.

 

In fact, because ideas can be presented in written form and anonymously, shy and timid people are more likely to share their unique ideas. Once innovative ideas are posted, if they are good ideas, they should receive a decent level of approval from the participants who recognize them as such. Results will depend on the culture of the group and how open-minded they are to new ideas.

In the end, it's up to the decision-makers whether to safely go with what ideas have the most acceptance (i.e. minimum disagreement), however conservative they might be, or whether to champion more innovative proposals that might have some disagreement but they believe will work the best.

At the end of a Dotmocracy process it is up to the trusted decision-makers to review the results and produce a decision that will work for the organization. When there is no single obvious preferred answer (which is most often the case) the decision-makers will need to select or piece together popular ideas into a practical solution.

In many cases they may need to leave out some popular ideas that just don't fit. In such case they should explain why they could not use the popular ideas within their final decision statement, and potentially suggest where they might be applied in the future. When there is debate on competing solutions among the trusted decision-makers, they may need to conduct another Dotmocracy process to clarify the highest priorities.

As long as the complete Dotmocracy results are easily available to be reviewed by the public (i.e. published), the transparency of the process makes it obvious when a leader is following the preferences of the people and when they are not. In effect there is a high degree of pressure on the leaders to follow the expressed will of the people.

Unfortunately the most preferred ideas may not always be practical (e.g. technical and budget constraints) and thus it is still dependent on the trusted decision-makers to make a realistic plan and to explain why it includes some agreed upon ideas and not others.

Debate is the form of discussion where a group divides into two or more sides that argue trying to win their perspective. Debate focuses on points of difference and is thus destructive to group cohesion and often ignores potential solutions that would work for everyone. Dotmocracy does not include debate.

Dialogue is discussion where the goal is to understand issues and each others' perspectives, not to convince others of your view or to find a solution. Dialogue is a helpful process to use to increase trust and understanding before engaging in Dotmocracy.

Deliberation is discussion where the participants give critical analysis and propose ideas seeking a common popular solution. While there are some instances when a group may use Dotmocracy outside of a meeting to record ideas and opinions on relatively simple questions, for any complex questions facing a group, Dotmocracy should be conducted within meetings that include extensive deliberation. Dotmocracy invites people to form small deliberative groups and to generate many written proposals from each group, but also allowing individuals to post ideas without requiring group consent. As well, during the dotting process participants can continue to exchange thoughts via the written comments or continue talking in between writing on sheets.  

Visit  the Canadian Community for Dialogue and Deliberation and the U.S. National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation to learn more.

Then you should find some! Within every group of people there are always those few who have greater insight, wisdom, experience and good intentions that could serve as trusted decision-makers to produce useful plans from Dotmocracy results. The challenge is recognizing who these people are.

Traditional elections could work, but are more likely to reward those whom are charismatic rather than those whom are wise, and may lead to cliques and destructive conflict within the group.

Another method might be to recognize which few people have authored the most more popular ideas and get them to form a committee.

Or use a lottery to select a handful of random members to serve as an appointment panel that will interview applicants and select an executive committee to serve as the trusted decision-makers.

Or your could use some form of recommendation system to recognize whom among the group is most trusted to make decisions.  This is more complex then simple voting or rating of candidates.  See Meritocracy in Wikipedia.

Alternatively, you could force your group to continue the Dotmocracy process until a single complete and popular proposal becomes evident and most folks are not interested in generating or reviewing any further ideas, but this is likely to lead to exhaustion, frustration, and potentially superficial and unsophisticated decisions.

As in any group process there are always many ways for causing the process to fail. Most are quite obvious and easy to avoid:

  • The participants are too tired, intoxicated or distracted.
  • The process is not properly explained to the participants.
  • The group does not trust the facilitator or host.
  • There is not enough time provided to address a complex question.
  • The Dotmocracy wall is not easy to find.
  • There are no working pens, blank sheets or other key materials to use.
  • The posted question and preamble is not perceived to be important to the participants.
  • The participants do not have enough correct information going into the process to produce insightful and useful results.
  • The leaders do not support the process and do not commit to really using the results.
  • The copies of results are hidden from public review and thus leaders can claim to be following group preferences, while actually following their own agenda.
  • Facilitators do not follow the process instructions, rules and requirements.

If you can think of other potential points of failure, please let us know. You can also see more factors that can improve the process and facilitation tips in the Dotmocracy handbook.

Yes but not easily. The tradition and legal requirements of debating and voting on motions is over a century old in western governance systems. From student councils to town halls to organizational annual general meetings to national government assemblies, almost all follow a variation of Robert's Rules of Order. Trying to convince any organization that the standard way of doing democracy should be replaced requires a desire for change, organization wide education, and experience in successful application.

Specifically, the tradition of voting 'yay' or 'nay' on motions provides a simple and clear result of whether a proposal is approved by a majority or not. Rather than debating and the usual politicking in public assemblies and government process, Dotmocracy could be used as part of a more deliberative consensus process to generate a highly popular motion that is than formally approved by a vote.

Such a hybrid method could more likely fit within the legal requirements of many democratic organizations, although it would not satisfy those characters who desire competative debate (i.e. who would not be satisided with constructive deliberation) or those who are only interested in satisfying their 'clients' i.e. the power brokers that helped them get elected.