Thursday, February 1, 2007

UBC AMS Elections & VFM Results

Congratulations to everyone involved in the 2007 UBC AMS Elections – that was an exciting exercise in democracy! Best wishes to the elected officers for a successful year representing students. I thank all those who participated in the pioneering test of voter-funded media, and hope it made a positive contribution to the elections.

I congratulate the VFM contest winners. Like many observers I found the results surprising, and look forward to learning from them so as to improve the VFM system design. First-place contestant The Underground published an entertaining and informative elections issue. But correlating the overall voting results with various contestants’ election coverage, it seems that voters were rewarding other contributions besides that coverage. For example, name recognition established in prior years (especially of print publications) seemed to earn a good proportion of votes.

We recognized the possibility of such outcomes when designing the contest:
Judging Criteria: The contest is intended to encourage election coverage helpful to voters, including analysis of AMS issues, interviews and assessments of electoral candidates, and reviews of the other media contestants. However, students are free to vote by any criteria they choose.

The power of VFM should come from a feedback loop from media to voters to media to voters – the turbo in turbo democracy, if you will. We got part of the feedback loop working: VFM successfully encouraged some highly creative and insightful election coverage. But not enough voters have yet realized what these new media are offering them. It takes time to build reputation. As emphasized in The Ubyssey, we had only a limited amount of lead time to get the word out about this VFM system that no one had ever seen before.

Impressive as some of the VFM coverage was, in the future even higher quality is clearly possible – more on that in future posts. Starting the contest in September, for example, would encourage coverage of ongoing AMS administration issues, while gradually building voter awareness of VFM. But until voters catch on to the new media, we may need to design a more carefully targeted reward feedback system.

Media to Students: So tell us what’s the problem – is it ignorance, or is it apathy?
Students to Media: We don’t know, and we don’t care!

Well, I don’t actually believe that. I think voters do care. Once they realize what VFM offers, they will use and reward it.

VFM results
Election results


Willem said...

Hi Mark,

I think the results show that how widely read a publications is is far more important than the quality of information it contains. Perhaps the VFM contestants should be giving class presentations and handing out their material in the streets.
If you had system such as substantial tax rebates for the first $100 donated to a media source, quality would definitely be much higher on the minds of those who chose to 'vote' by donating, however this system has problems that you have identified previously (i.e. tendency to extremes). However these two systems could be combined in various ways to get the best of both systems.
Alternatively you could have a citizens' assembly and the public evaluate the media, and have a double threshold of sorts for prizes - but this is getting away from a laisser faire approach.

I hope you find this helpful!

Mark Latham said...

Thanks Willem! We'll be gathering ideas for improving VFM, and appreciate your suggestions. Plenty more discussion in future posts...