Specification for the Internet Rights Workshop

This is a specification for the Collaborative Democracy Workshop, an exercise in collaborative democracy originally developed by May First/People Link.


These specifications make use of short-hand terms that can be ambiguous. This is an attempt to settle on fixed meanings for the purposes of discussion.

a concrete instance of running this exercise, happening at a specific time, in a specific set of Rooms, with a specified set of human languages. The number of specific languages in any particular workshop is called L. L = 1 for every workshop we've ever run. We're pushing to make this work for at least L = 2.
An environment in which a number of Groups are physically present. Each room should have a projector showing the current state of the workshop (the "board"), a link to the central workshop server, and a (wireless?) network to connect the scribes. When there is only one room for the workshop, it makes sense for the server to be physically located in that room.
a small breakout cluster of people, identifiable during the workshop. There is exactly one Scribe per Group. Groups have been identified by color names in the past, but should probably be identified by number, icon, or the colors themselves in a multi-lingual environment. Since there aren't that many distinguishable colors (and projectors have a notoriously unreliable colorspace), icons or numbers should be used to allow for a larger set of participating groups)
A person with a laptop or other terminal connected to the network, with the technical ability to add, edit, and endorse Rights.
a Right is one of the items under discussion/debate in the workshop. There is a maximum of R possible Rights in the workshop (R == 10, currently). Each Right is versioned; when an edit is made, a new version of the Right is created. A particular version of a Right is endorsable by any Group. Editing a Right clears all existing endorsements, and adds an endorsement by the editing Group to the new version. A right is identified in shorthand by
A Right exists as an idea, but the idea must be expressed in human language. An expression of a right in language X is a "Translation" of that right. Each Right should have exactly one Translation per language supported by the workshop.
A specific version of a Right can be Endorsed by any Group. The endorsement means that the group believes that Right is worth promoting. The projector in each Room displays the current list of Rights, ordered by the number of endorsing Groups.


Below is a proposed workflow that has never been executed quite this way at an actual Workshop (as of 2008-09, anyway).

  • There is a presenter in each Room capable of speaking the languages of the participants in that Room.
  • The presenters in a room get a rough count the number of participants in that room, let's call it N. The exercise seems to work well when groups are composed of roughly 5 people. This means that there should be ~N/5 Groups in the Room.
  • The presenters give a basic outline of the exercise to the participants, and solicit N/5 Scribes. Scribes should be comfortable working with a simple web application interface.
  • All scribes are set up with terminals (laptops?), connected to the network, and ensure that they can see the central server. They are asked to distribute themselves evenly around the physical space in the room, and given signs to display associated with their group's identity (number? color? icon?).
  • Non-scribes count off, and physically re-locate to form small clusters around each scribe.
  • The presenter manually injects an initial Right, and points out how it shows up on the board, asking if there are any questions. It's probably a good idea to make this "starter Right" absurd, so that it doesn't shape what people think they "should" be including. For instance, "Only peopl who eat cheese should be allowed on the Internet."
  • Usually, someone in the audience will complain about the mistake (the missing "e" in peopl), or about the absurdity of the proposition. (if this doesn't happen, it should be easy to solicit such a remark from the audience by asking if anyone sees a misspelling). The presenter asks the complainer what it should say instead (pointing out that they can change not just spelling, but content), and asks them to ask their group to ask their scribe to make the change.
  • Once the whole room sees the resulting revision (and the new endorsement), the game is on!
  • The presenters in each room should make it clear how much time is left with verbal announcements. Announcing 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute, and 30 seconds seems to work OK. (perhaps the board should display this as well?)
  • During the time that the Rights are under development, the rooms can get pretty hectic. Presenters should stay alert, and occasionally do a circuit of the room, listening to the discussions, and observing if any Scribe is having technical difficulty. Presenters should help troubleshoot if problems do come up.
  • When the time is up, the presenter should read out the resulting Rights, along with the number of endorsers.
  • There should be a significant amount of time remaining in the Workshop after the clock has run out to have discussion among the participants.

Discussion Questions

Presenters in each room should encourage discussion afterwards, first by simply asking:

  • Does anyone have any comments about what just happened?

If people are shy, some leading questions can be useful:

  • Were there any Rights you were surprised to see come up? Which ones? Why were they surprising?
  • Did you change your mind about anything during the workshop? What about?
  • How did your group make decisions about what to do? Did the scribe do what you expected?
  • What frustrated you about the experience? Why?
  • Did you wish the process worked differently? How would you prefer it to work? Why?
  • What is the relationship between the process you just participated in and the Internet as a whole? What about larger society, beyond the Internet?
  • We decided the rules for this exercise when we planned the workshop. Who decides the rules in the larger Internet? Why?


As of September 2008, we have only done this exercise such that:

  • R = 10 (10 rights allowed total)
  • L = 1 (all workshops have been in english)
  • The number of participants in each Group has ranged in size from 3(?) to 8(?)
  • The total number of participants in each Workshop has ranged from ?? to ??
  • The total number of Rooms in the workshop has always been 1
Last modified 13 years ago Last modified on Jan 2, 2009, 11:46:53 AM