Tuesday, May 8, 2007

It’s time to get VFM rolling for the coming year

Building on the success of VFM at UBC in January 2007, I’ve been meeting with student union members, representatives and employees at UBC, SFU, BCIT and Kwantlen, offering to sponsor VFM for them in the coming year. Their responses have been broadly positive, so I hope to see it happen in most or all of these democratic communities. (I’m contacting others too.)

Student unions need media coverage all year, not just at election time. So the sooner VFM is launched, the more benefit it will bring. Even just the anticipation of VFM can encourage new and existing media to cover student association issues. I don’t know if that’s a factor in UBC Insiders’ continued blogging, but I’d like to think so.

What’s the next step? I emailed this outline to the UBC AMS VP External last September, when we were planning the first VFM:

“Here are the main steps I think we need to follow:

1. Choose a name to replace “turbo democracy”.
2. Decide the rules for the media competition, including ballot format.
3. Get AMS Council approval to proceed with implementation.
4. Publicize the competition to potential media contestants.
5. Media sign up, start covering AMS issues and building their websites.
6. We publicize the new info system to voters, with media help.
7. Media gradually gain reputation in the eyes of voters and other media.
8. Potential candidates decide to run for AMS positions, partly because of this new info system that will help voters elect good candidates.
9. Election campaign period begins. Media cover debates, interview candidates, write evaluations and endorsements.
10. Media review and critique each other.
11. Voters read media websites, vote for election candidates, and vote funds to media contestants.
12. Candidates are elected; media awards are paid out.

All these stages take time. …

I think it’s important for voters, media and candidates to develop their understanding of how this new info system works, before the election campaign starts. That education process is in steps 5, 6 and 7 above, and can be expected to take several months.

Ideally, I would have liked to be at step 5 by now as the semester begins. How fast can we play catch-up and get the first four steps done? As each week goes by, the chance of success diminishes for a full implementation by January 2007.”

As I feared, it took months to work through steps 1 to 4, and we ended up launching the contest in early January, a mere 3 weeks before the election. UBC students would have benefited more from an earlier launch.

Our next implementations of VFM can build on what we already learned at UBC. Based on the above 12-step program, step 1 is done – we now call it "voter-funded media" instead of the too-retro "turbo democracy". But most of the remaining steps will need to be redone in whole or in part, which will take months. Although the rules used at UBC worked pretty well, there’s plenty of scope for trying to improve them. So if we want to launch VFM in September, we should start designing the rules ASAP.

Although many students are away in summer, and everyone has competing priorities, each student union could create a small committee to move this plan forward. I’m available to help!