Give me liberty or give me… $20

There was a minor moment on the twitters on Monday that caught my eye. Simon Breheny of the IPA said: “…if we want Australia to be the most democratic country that it can possibly be then we want for Australia to implement voluntary voting”. This led me to reflect on my own experience of the democratic process and the arguments for and against compulsory voting.

Firstly some background for non-Australians. Australia has Federal, State and Local levels of government and holds elections for each. The actual voting system used in Australia is a complex preferential voting system – especially for federal and state upper house seats. Here is a picture of the NSW upper house ballot paper held by Anthony “Mr Election” Green – he could have chosen to wear it and not put his modesty at risk.

Voting is compulsory. If you do not show up to vote then you are fined $20. While in theory you must cast a valid vote, as we shall see, a significant number of people do not do so and face no sanction as a consequence.

I spent my formative years in the UK where voting is voluntary so I was initially bemused by the Australian practice. I had a few conversations with Australians about this and I have formed my own opinions on the matter – which I will explore by examining some data and some questionable claims.

First the data. While voting is compulsory in Australia, it is not the case that 100% of Australian citizens contribute to the electoral outcome (as in many nations, most non-citizens cannot vote). Those that don’t fall into 3 categories:

So the actual “contribution” figure is around 80% – which is less than many of the figures that are bandied about. However voting is in Australia is more of a “thing” than in many other developed countries. And it really is a “thing”. Moving more into the realm of personal anecdote, voting in Australia is a norm. The penalty is relatively small – yes, for some people $20 is a big deal but not for most. And yet large numbers of Australians will go to their local polling booth, run the flyer gauntlet, do the voting thing and then exit via the sausage sizzle. It doesn’t hurt that election day is always a Saturday. But the $20 is about more than $20. This is something that is signaled as a responsibility that you as a citizen undertake as well as a right that you enjoy. And on some level, most people acknowledge that.

And now on to the questionable claims. Following on from Simon Breheny’s word-blast, I visited the IPA’s website to see what this was all about. The IPA* have published a number of articles on the topic of voluntary voting but this one written by James Paterson (now a senator) seems to the most involved. It’s an odd piece of writing. Lets break it down.

  • It begins with a poll that is admirably honest – most Australians do not have a strong desire to change the status quo.
  • It then mentions “democratic coercion”. For libertarians, compulsory voting is an example of unnecessary state power and therefore illegitimate. As a philosophical position, it straight-forward and consistent. However, agreeing to it is dependent on sharing that position. Given that the aforementioned poll indicates that most people do not share this position, then more arguments are required.
  • The first such argument is one that I partially agree with. I have seen no compelling evidence that compulsory voting encourages civic engagement. However, neither have I seen compelling evidence that voluntary voting encourages civic engagement. Civic engagement is a red herring for both sides.
  • Next it is claimed that a switch to voluntary voting would not impact voter turnout. This is were the article starts to go off the rails – but we have to wait a paragraph or two for that to fully play out. For now, let me say that I agree that our turnout is already below 90% (see above) but the evidence is that voter turnout would drop. My unscientific view is that we’d probably lose an additional 10% (down to about 70%) to end up somewhere between New Zealand and the UK. We might end up at that level with compulsory voting still in place.
  • It is now that things get truly odd. Having argued that voluntary voting will not significantly decrease turnout, the next few arguments are dependent on… voluntary voting significantly decreasing turnout (or at least threatening to). The basic argument as I understand it is that the current system leads to a focus on marginal seats at the expense of safe seats and pork-barrelling around those seats. There is a wealth of evidence that this goes on. However I have not seen compelling evidence that switching to voluntary voting solves this problem. Pateron admits that we “see pork barrelling in countries with voluntary voting” but claims that it is less. What is frustrating about this claim is the lack of evidence to support it. As far as I can see, the phenomenon of safe and marginal seats is a function of which groups are within a specific electoral boundaries. If you want to break up these patterns then voluntary voting seems an ineffective way of doing it. Likewise the notion that voluntary voting would solve pork-barrelling seems to be hopelessly optimistic. If you want to solve that problem then the Grattan Institute’s suggestions are probably a good start. Again safe/marginal seats and pork-barrelling are red herrings (and yes, metaphors are getting mixed but I can totally imagine a pork / herring barrel being a thing in Sweden).
  • Underpinning all this seems to be a belief that having fewer people involved in the democratic process is better. If only we could get rid of those pesky light-weight, middle-ground, floating voters. Then parties could focus on their bases – i.e. politics nerds. It would be politics for politicians. How awesome would that be.

Our democracy does have problems. However I don’t see voluntary voting solving those problems nor do I want to pretend that it will to undergird otherwise unconvincing arguments.

*Note – the IPA has nothing to do with IPA. These are Melbourne gents in nice suits, not tattooed hipsters knee deep in hops and malt.

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Disrupt Sydney 2016

Disrupt Sydney 2016 was another fascinating event. This time I was purely a tourist – not responsible for anything except taking it all in.

  • Dr Karl opened with his schtick – which is superior edutainment. Lots of science stuff. Lots of pictures of his trip to the Antarctic. Robots. Pillars of salt that will save us from climate change. OK. Good morning.
  • Juliet Bourke talking about the importance of diversity in collaboration. Nice frameworks. Some good research. AICD book worth a look.
  • Jennifer Wilson talking about MyQuitBuddy – with comments on gamification and reinforcement.
  • Arthur Shelley talking about the Organizational Zoo.
  • Claire Marshall on the sharing economy.
  • Kai Riemer getting all Thomas Kuhn on Clay Christensen.
  • A design thinking session run by Cap Gemini.
  • A final session on Blockchain, Bitcoin, Privacy, Trust, YaddaYaddaYadda – which actually tackled key issues around this much-hyped technology.

I enjoy the eccentric and exploratory vibe (yes, “vibe” is the right word here) of this event. This is the 4th one and I do hope that the DDRG will continue to make stimulating things happen.

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IKO 2016: Competencies & Taskonomies

Innovations in Knowledge Organisation 2016 was very enjoyable. I had a hectic Friday afternoon – delivering a case study pitch, variations on the case study 3 times, a keynote, and co-facilitating the activity afterwards. However I cannot complain because the event is always a wonderful mix of the welcoming, the practical, and the intellectually stimulating. Many thanks to Patrick, Maish, David and the whole team in making it happen and Panviva for enabling me to be there.

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The Silicon Valley Consensus and what it means for information professionals

This is the 24th article that one or both of us has written for Online Currents over the course of six years. The first topic was “Enterprise collaborative bookmarking” – which was a hot topic with a number of start-ups in 2009. As of 2016, it is dead in the water and some of the technology companies mentioned in that article are no longer going concerns. Since then we have discussed big data, mobile, enterprise social networks, search, email, cyber-security and SharePoint. Researching these topics and trying to formulate 3,500 words on them has been a valuable learning experience.

However this article is a little different. We will be taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. The example of enterprise collaborative bookmarking indicates that not all hyped ideas will be successful and the mixed fortunes of the other topics demonstrates that there are complex forces at play in the world of technology. This article wants to explore the gaps between the hype and the reality and mark out a possible path for information professionals.

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Reporting on the Knowledge Organisation Competencies Project

More info here.

Matt Moore and Patrick Lambe developed a draft competency framework for knowledge organization professionals in support of the inaugural “Innovations in Knowledge Organization” conference held in Singapore in June 2015. With the support of ISKO we then tested this framework within the larger professional community through a global survey attracting almost 150 responses from knowledge organisation professionals and researchers around the world. In this session we discuss the findings of the survey, and the key development areas, gaps and development opportunities we identified. The findings will help those working on knowledge organisation roles identify gaps and self development opportunities, and it will help those working in KO teaching and research roles to identify useful areas of focus. We will also report on the planned next steps in this research project. We will then break out into workshop discussion to identify the implications for professionals working in knowledge organization.

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Building Competence for Knowledge Organisation

Download Building Competence for Knowledge Organisation

As software eats the world and the internet transforms vast swathes of human activity, the field of knowledge organisation has not been immune. Traditional tools such as thesauri and controlled vocabularies are being augmented and disrupted by ontologies, auto-classification, graph databases, data storage, analytics, and visualisation. These changes present information professionals with a challenge – what skills do we need to survive in this brave new world and how do we acquire them?

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Kai Riemer writers here about Microsoft’s axing of the Yammer Customer Success team. There’s two points worth discussing here.

The Death of the Utopian Vision of Enterprise Social

Kai writes about Yammer as less a software project than a mission to revolutionise corporate organisational hierarchies. In some respects, this flashes back to the debate between Tom Davenport and Andrew McAfee in 2007. For those of you that don’t remember, there was a lot of discussion about the impact of collaborative technologies on organisational structures. One wing said that these technologies would radically reconfigure workplace environments into flatter, less hierarchical structures. The counter-revolutionary response said they, well, wouldn’t. I’ve been a fan of social software since the late 90s but I found myself caught in the middle. I love this stuff (and still do) but I see it driving change at the margins. I read some drafts of manifestos by Adam Pisoni and my response was: “Yes, this is all lovely. I agree with much of it. And it will only have a slight impact on the business world”. Power structures are as much a function of human psychology as they are of technology capabilities. Or as Jeffrey Pfeffer writes: You’re Still The Same.

And the world has changed. The utopian vision of business in 2007 was all of us on social software talking like equals and forging a new egalitarian world together. The current vision of business in 2016 is somewhat different. Lets go back to Tom Davenport and Andrew McAfee. Both are now writing about automation (and also analytics for Davenport). The business vision of the organisation is one where we’ve removed everyone. We don’t need to give employees enterprise social platforms because there will be no one to talk to on them. Whether this is a utopian or dystopian future depends on whether you own the machines or are replaced by them.

Of course, we haven’t fired everyone just yet. The hot new kids of the block of enterprise collaboration are Slack and HipChat (I’m keeping a watching eye on Facebook @ Work). Neither of these are pitched in terms of organisational revolution. Slack is very much focused on team communication. Which actually takes us back to the CSCW work of the 80s. Their tagline is “be less busy”. Improvement at the margins.

The Rising Importance of Customer Success Programs for Enterprise SAAS

Customer success management (CSM) as “a thing” was apparently invented by Salesforce – combining account management, technical support and organisational change consulting around software implementation. It’s particularly critical for:

  • Software that’s sold on a monthly licensing basis that is typical of SAAS rather than in one big hit with a little dash maintenance & support to keep things going, as was typical of on-premise software. The software vendor cannot just take the money and run.
  • Software whose value requires significant investment to realise over time. This is typical of content and collaboration systems as until conversations start or the content is loaded up, all you have is a pretty interface and some workflows.
  • Software with a large potential user base (often with pricing focused on per seat). Keeping one or two people satisfied (e.g. a data mart used by one or two analysts) is very different to ensuring the success of thousands of users that you might see in end-user enterprise applications.

CSM now has its own supporting ecosystem of consultants and software firms (with Totango and Gainsight being two of the most prominent). It remains to be seen how this will play out over the longer term (I’m still getting my head around it at the moment).

The axing of Yammer CSM staff by Microsoft pretty much says that Yammer does not have a future as a standalone product. It doesn’t seem like the beginning of wider CSM backlash tho.

And Finally

The 60s vibe of social software in now well and truly gone. This track lurched out of my id this evening…

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