Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My role in the UBC VFM contest

[Originally posted January 19 in votermedia Google group.]

It may be helpful if I clarify the role that the UBC AMS (Alma Mater [student] Society) and I agreed that I would play in this month's voter-funded media contest. The AMS and I signed an agreement in November 2006, when I gave them a cheque for $8000. I have suggested that we publish the text of the agreement, and am waiting for their OK to do so. But meanwhile here are its main points:

1. I have no decision-making authority in running the contest. It is being run by the AMS Elections Committee. [That committee has given the VFM Administrator (Tiffany Glover) primary responsibility.]

2. I help the Elections Committee with publicity, and give them advice as requested.

3. I am free to express my opinions on the process. [The subtext here is that no one has to listen to or agree with or obey my opinions, which is fine with me.]

4. If not all of the $8000 gets used in the VFM contest, the remainder will be refunded to me.

Here is what led to the agreement:

- January 2006 - I watched the AMS elections process and chatted with some participants.

- Jan to July 2006 - I discussed VFM informally with Ian Pattillo (who was elected as AMS VP External) and others.

- August 2, 2006 - I presented to AMS Council the idea of sponsoring VFM in the January 2007 election. They created the VFM Committee (originally called the Turbo Democracy Committee) to study the proposal in detail.

- Sept to Nov 2006 - The VFM Committee and I worked out the details of how it would be implemented at UBC. The Committee submitted a proposal to AMS Council, which debated and amended it, then approved it by vote.

The AMS Elections are a UBC student political process, so should be run by students. An outsider like me (although a UBC alumnus) who tries to influence this political process with money should be viewed with skepticism and criticism. I think the VFM Committee and AMS Council fulfilled their due diligence in looking out for student interests when debating, negotiating and amending this proposal.

I advised but was not a member of the VFM Committee. Likewise I advise but am not a member of the Elections Committee. My role is carefully defined and limited.

I am very pleased with how this whole process has been going. I have learned a lot and am continually revising my ideas about what designs for VFM would be most effective at UBC and elsewhere.

I'm available to anyone involved or interested in VFM, including media contestants - for interviews, discussion, advice etc. Email me - mark[at] I'm planning to attend the candidate forums January 22, 24, 26 and 29 - see you there!

I want to participate in the debate about VFM - what works, what doesn't, how it could be improved etc. That's why I asked for point #3 (above) in my agreement with the AMS. I've thought about this for years, and have some ideas to contribute, so I would like to help participants move up the learning curve. This can accelerate the iterative interactive learning process among voters, media contestants and electoral candidates: how can we use the VFM system most effectively? I plan to post some ideas later in this Google group/blog.

But political systems are complicated, so my ideas may be wrong. I invite debate, and look forward to learning from discussion and experiences of the first VFM implementation. The election and contest rules have been laid down, and participants (electoral candidates, media, Elections Committee, voters) will determine how it plays out.

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