Thursday, December 13, 2007

SFU VFM Contest: $300 awards, free entry

The voter-funded media contest at Simon Fraser University offers $300 in awards for January 2008, with entry fee waivable for the first 10 entrants, starting December 16.

Any individual, group or organization can enter, whether or not affiliated with SFU. Winners determined by continuous online voting by anyone with an SFU login. First prize is $100.

See info at

Thursday, November 22, 2007

VFM Status Updates

Voter-funded media implementations are moving ahead at several universities --

1. Simon Fraser University: Now launching year-round online VFM system – see Please spread the word to potential media entrants.

2. UBC: I don’t know what’s happening here. If anyone knows, please update me and I’ll post some info. There was supposed to be a contest launched before now, but I haven’t seen any sign of it.

3. Western Washington University: Elections Coordinator Ben Murphy will make a VFM proposal to WWU Associated Students Board of Directors on November 28 (I’ll attend).

4. U C Berkeley: I spent a week there in October. Met ASUC External Affairs VP Danny Montes. He likes the idea of year-round online VFM and will discuss with other executive officers. A professor sponsored me for a computer account, and I’ve built a prototype online voting system at (need login for access).

5. BCIT: Had several positive meetings with student reps. They like the VFM idea and are considering ways of implementing it.

6. Kwantlen University College: Had several meetings with student reps. Some like the VFM idea better than others. Still under discussion.

You can discuss VFM with students at various universities in the votermedia Google group.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

UBC Hiring VFM Administrator

UBC's student society (AMS) has just posted the job description for VFM Administrator. They plan to start the VFM contest "around the last week of October", so should be hiring soon. Check it out if you're interested!

The position pays $750. It doesn't actually say that candidates should be UBC students, but I guess that's what they have in mind.

More info on the contest at

Monday, October 1, 2007

VFM Time Frames; Monthly?

I've been thinking more about how to design VFM to encourage media coverage long before and after elections. These two ideas seem promising:

1. Offer more award funding for contests of longer duration.


2. Implement VFM monthly, where voters can log into a website and vote at any time, then change their vote at any time. Media winners are tallied once a month, and receive awards once a month.

I've started outlining reasons and details at

What do you think?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

UBC Approves VFM for 2007-2008

The University of British Columbia student (Alma Mater Society) council yesterday unanimously approved plans for their second annual voter-funded media contest. Students voting in the January 2008 council elections will allocate a $8000 award pool to competing media groups. Contest registration is expected to begin in October 2007, so media can cover AMS issues from October to January, then election issues and candidates in January. More info here.

They will soon hire a contest administrator – UBC students interested in applying for this paid ($800?) position should contact Matt Naylor.

Planning is underway for similar VFM contests at Simon Fraser University, BCIT, Kwantlen University College and Western Washington University – watch this blog for news.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

UBC VFM 2007-2008 Proposal

The UBC VFM Committee has submitted its 2007-2008 media contest proposal to AMS Council. Debate, possible amendments and final approval are expected in the September 26 Council meeting (6 pm, SUB 206, open to the public).

Details at these links:

Proposed rules

Implementation Steps

Interpolated Consensus voting structure explanation

Interpolated Consensus spreadsheet example

$150 Entry Fee Discussion: same info in blog as on web page

VFM Entry Fee Discussion

Main point: It’s better to charge an entry fee than to require media entrants to collect signatures, because an entry fee has far lower social cost. Entry fees generate funds for running the contest that would otherwise come from other student fees, whereas collecting signatures creates little social benefit and increases administrative costs.

UBC’s voter-funded media contest offers substantial attractions for entrants: the $8000 award pool, exposure to many students readers, and the chance to influence votes, AMS elections and policies. If we don’t impose a hurdle to entry, we can expect a large number of entrants, many of whom may be low quality, which would overly tax the limited time of voters and electoral candidates.

So for the first VFM implementation in January 2007, the AMS charged a $100 entry fee, resulting in 13 contestants – enough for competition and diversity of views, but not excessive. The idea is that only those with a serious chance of winning a prize would enter. The planning committee for the coming 2007-2008 contest is proposing a $150 entry fee, because VFM is now much better known and the entry period will be much longer.

One possible alternative to an entry fee would be to require media entrants to collect some number of student signatures. To be an equivalently effective hurdle, this should cost about $150 worth of effort. I don’t know what the right number is, but let’s suppose it’s around 150 signatures.

So the cost to entrants would be about the same with either hurdle, but the net social cost would be much higher for the signature hurdle. This is because the fee is a transfer, creating a benefit of revenue to the AMS, whereas the time spent collecting signatures is a social cost creating little or no social benefit. In fact it creates additional costs: pestering students to sign, and needing administrators to check whether signatures are valid.

As for whether the signers provide any intelligent screening out of low-quality media entrants, it is much harder for them than for voters deciding the awards at the end of the contest. By that time, voters will see the actual performance of all media, aided by media critiquing each other. The contest voters will be a far more representative cross-section of students than the friends called upon by an entrant for signatures. They will better judge which entrants deserve awards, thus more than refunding the entry fees of helpful media.

Like last year, the entry fees can be used for paying the VFM Administrator and much needed publicity for the contest. With a signature hurdle, those costs would come out of other AMS funds.

The principle here is the same as in the famous phrase “no free lunch”. Some people seem to think that benefits paid for by government are like manna from heaven – free. But we pay for them in our taxes or reduction of other benefits. Likewise but in the opposite direction, there is “no fee lost”: Fees paid to the government don’t vanish down a rat-hole. They reduce our taxes or pay for benefits.

One caveat to these principles is that they are less true the more corrupt a government is. With a very corrupt government, maybe fees do disappear down a rat-hole. Does the government belong to all the people, or to a small group of rats enriching themselves at public expense?

We can thus expect voter-funded media to influence public policy toward broader implementation of green taxes and other user fees for limited public resources, for two reasons: First, they will guide and educate voters to recognize the “no fee lost” principle. And second, as watchdogs they will reduce perceived and actual corruption in government. To achieve all this, media will have to build their reputations for loyalty to voter interests. Voter-funded payments will reward them for this long-term investment.

Vancouver recently saw a clear illustration of the need for building public trust and understanding of the benefits of user fee systems:

“It was unfortunate but not unexpected that motorists reacted with kneejerk anger to news that the Greater Vancouver Regional District will study options for road pricing. The concept – charging tolls to use the region’s existing bridges and perhaps its roads as a way to control congestion – isn’t popular. That’s no big surprise. Nobody wants to pay more for anything, least of all to drive cars in an era of already high fuel prices. When the phone calls and e-mail started pouring in, regional politicians ran for cover…” [Abbotsford News, 2007-03-06]

Returning to the VFM entry fee issue, see Mike Thicke’s posting below for a range of views from 2006 (his, Gina Eom’s, and mine). The link may not be working because of recent server problems at, so I’ve pasted in the full text also.
Posted by Mike Thicke, 2006-12-11:

The VFM Entry Fee

The Voter-Funded Media contest has a prize pool of $8000, but it costs each contestant $100 to enter. As Gina Eom recently pointed out, this represents an “access barrier to students entering the contest”. $100 is a large amount of money to the average student who is already feeling the pressure of unacceptably high levels of tuition.

The contest is already prejudiced towards students who are able to devote time to self-promotion and quality coverage of the elections. Many students have to juggle multiple part-time jobs with full course loads, and an extra $100 burden on top of that might push the contest over the edge into being blatantly discriminatory.

I was on the committee that adapted Mark Latham’s Voter-Media contest for use in the AMS executive elections. In our preliminary discussion of the contest, when the proposed entry was $200, I wrote:

Having the $200 entry with a high expectation of return and high variance will, I think, result in the field being mainly larger institutional media than single intrepid reporters. Larger institutions can stand the variance much more easily than an individual, because they have a larger pool of money to start with. The Ubyssey with its $350,000 (this surprised me, btw) annual budget wouldn’t mind another $5,000 but it won’t break the bank if they just lose $200.

My feeling is that to combat this both the variance and expected return need to be reduced. Good reporters with minority viewpoints should not be discouraged from participating because they don’t expect people to like what they have to say. Media providers should not have to labour under such uncertainty that they might be getting reimbursed for thousands of dollars, or nothing. Rather, I think it would make more sense to make the probability of winning some portion of the purse higher, and make the maximum prize available lower.

I would also like to reduce the entry fee required to be in the contest, perhaps replaced by some other hurdle, such as a full budget proposal and statement of intent - ie. discourage joke / selfish entrants by making it not worth their trouble. Then make the maximum award something more reasonable, like $500. There is still some incentive to do a good job, but covering the election won’t replace your day job. Thus you are more likely to get contributors who care primarily about the democratic process.

I probably didn’t push this issue as much as I should, and to be honest I thought $100 was a reasonable hurdle to clear. Of course I recognized that there was some prejudicing of candidates, but the primary goal of the contest was never to be perfectly fair to entrants. It was one of the goals, but it was a goal that could be compromised in order to further the primary goal of bringing better information to the voters.

The issue of entry fees was discussed by the committee, with suggestions ranging from $0 to $35 to $200 being considered. In the end we voted on a $100 entry fee, and I believe all of us were reasonably satisfied with that level. The contest passed through two discussions at council and one open meeting without the entry fee issue being raised as an issue of marginalization. It was only brought up in context of who controls that money and how it will be spent. This might be a telling reflection on the composition of the AMS council, or it might just be an oversight.

After the contest had been approved, Gina wrote to the committee expressing her concerns. Here is a summary of her position that she copied to Kevin Keystone (AMS President) and the AMS Archives:

Hi Everyone,
cc. AMS Archives, Kevin Keystone

I would like to document my sincere disappointment of this creation of an access barrier to students entering the contest. The sensitivity of socioeconomic barriers should be a priority on a student’s mind. Through its ignorance we are perpetuating the cycle of the financially strapped student having to work, and not have the luxury of being entertained with ideas entering the public sphere. Entrance of the contest does not equate a guarantee of profit. In fact, a loss of 100$ is a huge loss and not worth the gamble of a struggling student. This is a huge demotivating factor.

Yes Council approved it, and yes I sit on Council. I suppose this is why I asked that this trial year be renewed with the current council (NOT October), to iron out small (or in this case, huge, IMHO) practical flaws of the workings of this.

I propose there be a system in which students can apply for this fee to be 1) waived or 2) refunded. The implementation of this system should be retroactive, or pro-active, depending on how inclusive the VFM committee wants to be. As a side note, if inclusivity is not a guiding principle of this project, then what is?

Another side note - I’ve asked to see all the minutes of your committee, and I did not see a lengthy discussion on the 100$ fee.

Thank you for your time.

Gina Eom

This is one of my responses to her concerns:

Hey Gina,

Over the period that we were discussing VFM I brought up the entry fee thing several times, but I never really got much traction on it. I agree with you - this isn’t the best kind of barrier to be erecting in the name of filtering out “unserious” entrants. There was never a serious discussion of alternatives to a monetary entry fee. I suggested some sort of more involved application process, but nobody seemed to like that idea. Perhaps because my financial situation is different than most, I didn’t push on it as much as I could have.

The alternatives to a monetary entry fee seem to be some sort of labour-intensive process, or an active filtration where we rule on who is or isn’t a serious candidate. The second option goes totally against what we want to do, and the labour intensive process might be more inhibiting than a monetary one… it would also require much more of us / the elections committee. I think we could have found a better solution, but we didn’t.

Having no filtration at all would probably result in a mess, where it is difficult for the voter to get useful information. It could also lead to many entrants who were in the contest without any intention at all of covering the election. And of course it would lead to endless headaches for whomever was administering the contest. There would also be an issue of funding for promotion of the contest, which is currently being covered by the entry fees.

This contest is an economist’s experiment in democracy. It is rooted in capitalist ideology. It is not exactly the way I would design something like this, but I’m not the one putting up the prize money. As Steve says, the guiding principle behind this is serving the voter, not serving the media. Inclusivity is somewhat derivative from that - an inclusive process will help the voter more than an exclusive process. But in the end the needs of the voter supersede the needs of potential contestants, and there needs to be a balance between inclusivity and effectiveness.

That being said, I don’t think $100 is all that exclusive to students, especially considering the potential returns. It could also encourage students to team-up more, to share the cost among a greater number of people. Larger groups are more desirable from a quality of information perspective.

And this is what Mark Latham wrote:

Thanks Gina for asking (email below) for my views. Although the committee hasn’t asked, and I prefer to keep my nose out if not invited, I think I should speak up.

VFM is all about shifting power from small elites to all voters. I’m excited about the potential for this to spread throughout democracies and corporations, improving social welfare while lessening disparities of power and wealth. For VFM to spread, it’s very important for it to succeed in this first test implementation at UBC.

The primary goal of VFM is to better inform voters. To be seen as successful, VFM needs to deliver on that goal.

I agree with Gina’s concern about excluding neglected voices from the VFM process. The $100 entry fee is a compromise that the committee reached, trading off between opening access to all potential contestants and protecting voters from the information overload of having too many media contestants for voters to be willing to look through. To encourage high quality information, we would like all entrants to believe they have a serious chance of earning enough voter support to win a prize. The entry fee helps us achieve that.

While a $100 fee is clearly more of a hurdle for less wealthy students, likewise the cash awards are more of an attraction for those students. So the contest is not all stacked against them, and the cash award effect is probably stronger than the entry fee effect. As Mike pointed out: “I don’t think $100 is all that exclusive to students, especially considering the potential returns. It could also encourage students to team-up more, to share the cost among a greater number of people. Larger groups are more desirable from a quality of information perspective.”

The entry fee acts like an automatic governor on the number of media contestants. With an $8000 award pool, entrants probably wouldn’t want to pay more than a total of perhaps $2000 in entry fees, given that they also need to work to win an award. With a $100 fee, that means about 20 entrants. We are trying to help busy voters. Twenty contestants may already be too many. If we open the door to more potential entrants who need not pay a fee, the governor is removed and risk of overload increases.

As we discussed in committee, having an automatic governor keeps all discretionary control of media funding in the hands of voters rather than the government (or government appointees who control access to the contest).

So the entry fee is not just a way to pay the costs of running the contest. It is an essential part of the VFM system design.

Suppose the financial need criterion chosen for a fee waiver is one that 10% of students would qualify for. Out of 43,000 UBC students, that’s 4,300 people. Of course most would not enter, but we would be saying to those 4,300 that they can enter this cash-prize contest for free, whereas anyone else has to pay $100. That’s an attractive open door. If most of the 4,300 don’t even hear about it then it wouldn’t cause a flood of entrants, but we are publicizing the contest as much as we can, and to be fair we should publicize all the rules.

Those who are considering entering the contest and paying the fee have to think about how many other entrants there are likely to be. If we open the door to more entrants who don’t have to pay a fee, some of those who would have paid to enter may well decide not to enter at all.

Recovering $100 from awards won after a fee waiver doesn’t reduce the open-door problem much. Instead of free access to an $8000 contest, it becomes free access to a $7200 contest.

Besides the administrative burden of defining and applying the financial need screen, some problematic issues are likely to arise. We expect some people to enter as groups rather than as individuals. We would have to make rules about groups that contain some financially needy students and some not. A group’s membership may change over time, as some may join and some leave. It would be difficult to monitor whether those doing the writing and receiving possible award funds are the needy students or not; this applies to individual entrants too.

The contest is open to non-UBC entrants, who are now treated equally with UBC entrants (except that the judges/voters are all UBC students). I guess only UBC students would be eligible for the need-based fee waiver. This unequal treatment would make it even less likely for us to attract off-campus contestants.

We have already been publicizing the contest with the rules that we agreed on. The $100 fee is in the code changes and the press release (file attached), on our websites and in presentations given. People have already been making their decisions to enter based on those rules.

If the VFM system can prove its value in this first implementation, it will be used again and grow stronger. We will all learn more about how it works and how to improve it. New media will build their reputations, and voters will use them more. Then we can try various possible enhancements to the system.

But for now, please don’t make this change. It would endanger VFM on its fragile first step.

– Mark

The entry fee is a more complex issue than first appears, as it is trying to balance two concerns:

1. Be as inclusive as possible
2. Ensure that the quality of information is as high as possible

Probably a better way of achieving these goals would have been to require each participant to gather 50 signatures before being entered in the contest, just as AMS Executive candidates must do. This would cut down on the noise ratio quite a bit without further marginalizing students. However, I don’t think we can implement this system for this iteration of the contest, as:

1. There is not enough time.
2. The VFM contest needs to cost nothing to the AMS, and it needs this money to pay for a coordinator and promotions.

It is unfortunate that Gina or I, or anyone, did not propose something like this earlier, but at this point we have to live with what we’ve got, and attempt to evaluate the possible effects of the entry fee after the contest is completed.

I would very much like to hear from any students who would like to be in the contest but feel the $100 is prohibitive to them. There is a real danger that we will never be able to find such students, as their voices will be silenced (as often happens in such circumstances). The more students who voice concerns on this issue and provide alternatives to the current structure, the better able we will be to find a solution in the future.


Monday, August 6, 2007

UBC VFM Committee Minutes 20070802

Met in SUB 266J; started at 6:42 pm

Committee Members:
Chair – Matthew Naylor, UBC AMS VP External
absent: Stephanie Ryan, Arts Undergraduate Society President
6:47 - proxied by Alex Lougheed
Bruce Krayenhoff, AMS Council Grad Studies Rep
6:51 John Kneeshaw, UBC Engineering student, Member-At-Large

Mark Latham, VFM sponsor & advisor

[Question numbers are from previous meeting's outline - see previous posting in this blog.]

3. Who can enter? [Last year: anyone but electoral candidates, Elections Committee and Student Court.]

BK: fine as is
MN: fine as is; would allow electoral candidates but OK to disallow them
ML: OK; I’d allow electoral candidates too; how about if I enter? I doubt that I would because it looks odd. MN: fine if you enter

AL: Ban Chair of Council? Chair has confidential info.

Moved: Recommend that participation be limited to all people & organizations except elections committee, VFM Administrator, student court members & electoral candidates.
-- Passed unanimously.

2. Should there be separate prize pools for established media and for new media? [Last year there was just one pool.]

BK: in favour. What if big media conglomerate enters? To preserve more independent student media, have separate pools.

JK: not fair to pit student against full-time pros

AL: What distinguishes new from established?

MN: E.g. for Jan 2007 contestants --
Established: 432, Knoll, Underground, Thunderbird
New: the rest

AL: The distinction between 2 groups may blur; media contestants may disband then reconstitute themselves.

BK: Sources of financing would probably be a good criterion to use to determine who is eligible for which pool. At UBC or perhaps in a larger polity if this is implemented there, established media with other sources of funding (i.e. advertising) may end up monopolizing the competition. It would be a good idea to ensure that diversity is preserved by reserving some of the money for independent media.

ML: I recommend having just one pool. Problems if 2 pools:
- grey areas of interpretation & dispute as to which pool each should be in
- government power over media increased & voter power reduced re deciding who’s in which pool, how much $ in each pool etc
- less competition; better for voters to let new media compete with established media directly
- administrative hassle
- no harm in funding established media – they get student funding now – can adjust that if desired; voting gives better legitimation of funding – this applies to Duncan-Kearney-SUS too
- voters can handle it
- if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With only 3 weeks of contest last time, voters haven’t had enough chance to catch on to VFM; so it’s too early to say it’s broke.

AL: can address this by having many prizes; widen the pool

MN: Let’s defer our decision on this for now.

4. Entry fee: Have one or not? If so how much? If not, what other way to limit number of entries? [Last year: $100.]

MN: $150

AL: Need to know prize slices & vote counting method to answer this.

BK: Increase the fee through time, to encourage media to enter early. E.g. start with $100 in September/October, then $125 in November, then $150 after that.

ML: Another incentive to enter early: list the contestant names on website and ballot in the sequence they entered. (Except that you should randomize the order of all entries received in the opening entry period e.g. up to Sept 30.) May therefore not need the extra complication of a rising entry fee.

JK: There may be a benefit to being last rather than a few before the last.

Should media entrants be required to collect some number of student signatures, the way electoral candidates do?

MN: No – this goes against the principle of a free press – free to say things that may not be popular. It also biases against non-UBC media – harder for them to collect signatures. People sign stuff they don’t believe or understand anyway.

BK: Collecting signatures is good because it encourages political interaction, discussion.

JK: We’re likely to have more entrants this year, so should increase fee so as not to get too many – recommend $150.

AL: $100

ML: $200, and recycle $1000 of the entry fees back into the prize pool to make it $9000; beware success of VFM leading to many entrants; media overload on politicians & voters; advertising; self-indulgence by some non-serious media.

MN: Let’s make it a tentative median-consensus of $150 while we address #1. We’ll return to this fee question in a later meeting.

1. What should the voting structure should be? And linked to that, should the committee slice the prize pie (if so how) or let the voters slice it? [Last year the committee sliced the $8,000 pool into 8 prizes, allocated by approval voting.]

MN: I like median voting system

BK: prefer last year’s voting system

ML: Also likes last year’s system. Open to possibility of median designs – more power to voters, but more complex.

JK: Vote in number terms but not dollars. Scale each voter’s numbers to add to 100. Then take medians.

MN: Should we treat a non-vote the same as a $0 vote?

MN design:






Media 1


Media 2


Media 3


Media 4


Media 5


Then find median for each contestant; rescale to sum to $8000.

AL design:




Media 1


Media 2


Media 3


Media 4


Media 5


Add up score for each contestant. VFM Committee would have sliced up prizes like last year. Then top scorer gets first prize etc.

MN: Let’s do a test poll to try different voting designs; see if voters seem better able to use one than another.

Test Question: If AMS had $8000 to give to charities, which ones should they fund?

Multiple choices to offer:

BC Civil Liberties Association
Canada Out of Haiti
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Downtown Eastside Residents Assocation
Fraser Institute
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Pride Vancouver
Red Cross of Canada
Sea Shepherds
Sierra Club
Suzuki Foundation
United Way
Vancouver Women’s Shelter

MN will draw up ballots.

Adjourned at 8:20 pm

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

UBC VFM Progress

UBC’s student union is leading the way again this year on implementing voter-funded media. Their 2007-2008 VFM Committee met for the first time on July 26. Participants –

Committee Members:
Chair – Matthew Naylor, UBC AMS VP External
Stephanie Ryan, Arts Undergraduate Society President
Bruce Krayenhoff, AMS Council Grad Studies Rep
John Kneeshaw, UBC Engineering student, Member-At-Large

Mark Latham, VFM sponsor & advisor
Western Washington University Associated Students President Ramiro Espinoza and VP Activities Aaron Garcia (They’re interested in implementing VFM at WWU!)
Karen Liu, UBC Math student

Matt set a goal of September 12 for the committee to report back to AMS Council with a specific motion on VFM.

Key issues they will be working out soon:

1. What should the voting structure should be? And linked to that, should the committee slice the prize pie (if so how) or let the voters slice it? [Last year the committee sliced the $8,000 pool into 8 prizes, allocated by approval voting.]

2. Should there be separate prize pools for established media and for new media? [Last year there was just one pool.]

3. Who can enter? [Last year: anyone but electoral candidates, Elections Committee and Student Court.]

4. Entry fee: Have one or not? If so how much? If not, what other way to limit number of entries? [Last year: $100.]

5. VFM contest administration: by just one person, the VFM Administrator? Or aided by a committee? [Last year: One VFMA, reporting to Elections Committee.]

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Various updates

It’s happening! Student unions at UBC, SFU and Kwantlen are moving ahead on VFM:

I got an unofficial report that UBC AMS Council created its new VFM committee on May 30.

I presented a brief VFM proposal to the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Board on June 6. They’ve invited me to discuss it with their larger governing body, SFSS Forum, on June 27.

Kwantlen Student Association (KSA) Council has also asked me to present a VFM proposal at their June 27 meeting. (Good thing they meet at noon, so I’ll have time to get to the 4:30 SFSS meeting.)

The general reaction at all three student unions continues to be favourable. But like last year at UBC, I’m concerned that slow progress may lead to late implementation, thus reducing VFM’s benefit to students.

So meanwhile I’m rewriting my paper Voter-Funded Media for resubmission to the International Journal of Communication.

Interesting news from other blogs:

1. UBC Insiders posted an interview of me. (Well, I think it’s interesting!)

2. Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig just announced a major change of his focus from intellectual “property” issues to fighting political corruption. So I sent him this email:

Dear Professor Lessig –

Thank you for shifting your focus to fighting political corruption – we need all the help we can get!

I’ve long admired your public-interest work on IP. We met when I organized a debate between you and a former director (Dickinson) of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in February 2001.

My main project since 1996 has been designing ways to reduce corruption in corporations and politics. It’s more than 10 years but I’m not ready to change horses yet – I work slower than you!

Besides, the project is heating up now – see attached 1-page description, and

-- Mark

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!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Candidate Time Drain Problem

In UBC’s January 2007 student elections, many candidates complained that the voter-funded media contestants took too much of their time. The lists of written questions that most media sent them overlapped each other heavily. Those asking for in-person interviews added a further time burden. Some media seemed not to have read the candidates’ published platforms. With thirteen entrants trying to prove themselves worthy of voter funding, this diverted electoral candidates’ time away from other campaigning. Reducing direct contact with voters may have contributed to the low voter turnout. The media did not seem to deliver many votes in return for all the time cost. Does VFM help or harm the democratic decision process? Does it make running for electoral office more difficult?

The VFM Committee Report raised this issue on page 6. AMS Council discussed it when the report was presented at their March 28 meeting; minutes should soon be available here.

Some have argued that allocating time for campaigning both to media and directly to voters is part of being a candidate. Nonetheless, I think this problem is worth some attention. VFM should make it more inviting for well qualified candidates to run for office. Public-interest media can make elections less about postering one’s name all over campus, and more about qualifications and issues. There must be more time-efficient ways to achieve that.

We can expect some components of this problem to work themselves out naturally through time, even without specific countermeasures. VFM is a brand new mechanism, and all participants (candidates, media, voters, administrators) are moving rapidly up a learning curve. (Well, most voters are moving slowly, but still upward.) Voters will learn about the new media, increasing their impact. Electoral candidates will learn how to better allocate their time. Media will learn how to create more public benefit, and using less candidate time is a public benefit.

Launching the next VFM contest in September will spread media attention across five months, covering AMS Council policies in the fall, rather than just concentrating on a three-week election frenzy in January. That raises the possibility of excess demands on councillors’ time, but the distribution of effort through the semester will be more in line with voters’ information needs.

The AMS should take another look at how best to sequence the various possible stages of electoral campaigning – announcing candidacy, responding to media, active campaigning etc. One goal has always been to make campaigning effective without excessive time commitments, but VFM offers new ways to do that. For example, the VFM Committee Report recommended: “Allow candidates to declare their intent to run in mid-November, initiate non-public campaign period until the beginning of formal campaigning” (page 15).

Clearly the media can coordinate better to reduce duplication of their questions to candidates. But election administrators should beware the temptation to step in and impose a solution. Freedom of the press is a key political principle; government control of the media is to be avoided. Remember that VFM is intended not just for student elections, but more importantly as a model for reforming our national political systems.

Voluntary adherence to a consensus on best-practice media principles may be enough. For example, media contestants could create a question pool for each electoral candidate, with a few core questions plus one contributed by each contestant. The candidate can answer just the one list, and all media can use the answers.

Media should monitor each other’s behaviour in serving the public interest, and reflect those assessments in their media voting recommendations. They can thus encourage each other to use candidates’ time efficiently by:
- preparing for interviews;
- not asking questions that already have answers published;
- posting the full interview recording and transcript on the web;
- allowing any copying and re-use of their material as long as it’s credited.

This approach to sharing information is referred to as “Open Access” on page 14 of the VFM Committee Report. See for info on the global Open Access movement. VFM can be seen as a mechanism for funding a creative commons.

UBC election administrators should consult with the media to decide what mix of coordination mechanisms (rules, consensus principles etc.) would work best. AMS Council and its next VFM Committee should also keep in mind the likely impacts on candidates’ time when they discuss next year’s contest design, including total award pool, number of awards, and entry fee or other entry hurdle.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Media consolidation – yes!

It’s ironic for a media reformer to advocate consolidation these days. The mainstream private sector media in the USA are heavily and justifiably criticized for excessive concentration of ownership (e.g. But the nascent market for voter-funded media at UBC is at a very different stage of evolution, and has a very different incentive structure.

The brave souls who jumped into this unknown VFM contest in January 2007 had a lot of fun with it. We saw an exciting proliferation of new media styles. Next year there will be less uncertainty about how a VFM contest works, and many more people will know about it in advance. So we can expect more media groups to form and join in the fun. They will all look at what happened in January 2007 to see what is possible and what worked, then plan how to do it better. The bar will be raised!

In this earlier post and spreadsheet I analysed how the various media entrants won votes by their very different strengths. I predict that next year’s contestants will win more votes by assembling teams with several capabilities:

1. Insightful coverage of AMS policies in fall 2007.

2. Coverage and endorsements of electoral candidates in January 2008.

3. Reviews and endorsements of media contestants.

4. Graphics, photos, videos.

5. Humour.

6. Name recognition – some already have it; some will invest in it for the future.

7. Website presentation – appealing, easy to use.

8. Print publication – even if it’s just a flyer with summary info and website reference.

9. Other promotion, e.g. on Facebook.

Some examples of how January 2007 contestants could fortify their offerings: The Underground could create a website. The Thunderbird could recruit some AMS insider knowledge. The Knoll could get a photographer. The 432 could have more AMS-related content (humorous and/or serious). Elections Insider could print flyers. This media team formation can be facilitated by a Facebook group, by a networking meeting in September, etc.

It’s ultimately up to the voters though – media are free to consolidate or not as they wish, and voters are free to vote as they wish. The voter funding mechanism is designed to pull toward the public interest, including toward the degree of consolidation that is in the public interest. At a later stage of evolution, we could see some return to media specialization. But that would require a more sophisticated pattern of media referencing and crediting each other, plus voters voting for media they don’t read directly but benefit from by reference.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

UBC VFM Committee Report

I held off blogging during discussions leading up to the VFM Committee Report, which was presented to AMS Council last night (March 28).

The report’s main points:
- VFM was successful in improving election campaign coverage;
- however, it did not reach enough voters;
- recommend doing VFM again in the coming year (especially since I’m willing to sponsor it again);
- launch earlier (September 2007), to give voters more time to learn about the media;
- encourage media team formation (name recognition + good content);
- plan how media can use electoral candidates’ time more efficiently (“open access”).

Next I plan to blog about the potential for forming stronger media groups by teaming up complementary talents. A subsequent entry may cover how to use candidates’ time efficiently.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Multifactor analysis of UBC VFM votes

I’m going on vacation to Mexico February 10-17, so here’s a going-away present for my readers: a toy you can play with while I’m neglecting this blog. It’s an Excel spreadsheet (fun, huh?) modelling how UBC media contestants won votes – linked here.

Some explanatory outline is in the spreadsheet. Here are a few more notes:

I created this to help understand what factors affected voting in the UBC media contest. I defined 4 factors:

Name = how well known the name is among voters
Serious = quality x quantity of serious election coverage
Fun = quality x quantity of fun election-related content
Non-web = amount of promotion by print media and advertising (including Facebook) beyond having a website

I subjectively evaluated each media contestant on each of these factors. The spreadsheet calculates an OLS regression to “explain” the nuber of votes based on these factors. I’ve posted the spreadsheet here so that you can download it, input your own subjective evaluations, and see what results you get.

Based on my numbers, the most important factor was “Name”. My preferred measure of importance is the number of votes (“Impact”) caused by a one-standard-deviation change in the factor. (Standard deviation here is the cross-sectional variation across contestants.) Impact of Name was 116 votes; of Serious was 50 votes; of Non-web was 38 votes; and of Fun was 10 votes.

Keep in mind that we can play around with the input numbers to make the outputs say anything we want – garbage in, garbage out – lies, damn lies, and statistics. I can’t claim any objective proof here. I’m just trying for some plausible explanation.

I think that a media group’s “Name” is affected cumulatively through time by its past performance, especially its past history of “Serious”, “Non-web” and “Fun”. So even though “Name” is the biggest factor in the short run, the other three are more effective in the longer run. (Of course there are bound to be additional factors I haven’t captured here.)

In my next post I plan to explore how media groups can become more successful.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Year-round media coverage

What might we expect if we have VFM at UBC again next year? I’m willing to sponsor it again, and preliminary conversations indicate some AMS interest in a second year of VFM, with modifications to be determined. So in my next few posts I’ll speculate on how the behaviour of various participants (media, voters, electoral candidates) may evolve, and on some VFM system design changes we could consider.

Many observers (including The Ubyssey) have recommended broadening the scope of voter-funded media to extend beyond the election period, perhaps covering AMS issues year-round. I agree. I had wanted to launch the VFM contest in September 2006, but it took time to work out all the implementation details. I’m glad we launched it anyway though, because we learned a lot that will help us make it more successful next year.

The January 2007 VFM implementation generated new insights into AMS policy issues, candidate platforms, experience, and qualifications. Judging from the still-low turnout, these insights did not spread to many voters, but at least those who were paying attention (candidates, media and some others) benefited, which should be healthy for the AMS. The critical comparisons of media quality were enlightening, especially (I hope) for journalism students.

While year-round coverage may be ideal, it will take a few months to assess the results of January 2007, decide whether to do VFM again and if so how. So suppose it gets launched in September 2007. How will that earlier start change things?

Let’s suppose that other aspects of the contest are as before, so the media contest will be judged by voters in January 2008, with $8000 in prizes awarded. The media will have to decide how to allocate their effort through time. Will voters remember enough to reward them in January for what they did in September? Probably some media will cover AMS issues throughout the fall, while others may enter later and just cover the election. This should lighten the over-concentration of all VFM effort on the election that we saw last month, so electoral candidates should find it less fatiguing.

Most important, a September launch will give the media a much better opportunity to build voter awareness, of their coverage and of the VFM system. They can do this even before the contest begins, investing in their name brand reputation. Voters might also appreciate expanded media coverage of departmental student elections.

Next I plan a couple of posts on what elements make up a successful media group.

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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How VFM contestants can help voters and win votes

[Originally posted January 21 in votermedia Google group.]

We can have lengthy theoretical debates on the pros and cons of VFM, but with the UBC AMS election upon us, it's now time for practical action. Political systems are complicated, and we can best resolve these debates by seeing the results of VFM implementations. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." We will soon learn whether VFM can help voters, and whether voters can appreciate it.

The practices currently prevalent in journalism have been shaped by the incentives of existing private and public sector media systems. VFM is a new system with very different incentives, so it may call for very different practices. No one yet knows what those new practices will be. I have been thinking about and discussing this for years, so I have some guesses to share with you.

As emphasized in my January 19 post "My role in the UBC VFM contest", I have no authority over the contest, so no one has to do as I say. I am offering these ideas to help our group learning process, and invite debate on them. The media contestants will do as they think best, and voters will make their own voting decisions for their own reasons.

What follows is a very simplified and opinionated outline of my views. I expect they will differ sharply from those of many of you, so look forward to learning from discussion and from what participants will actually do. I have no formal training in journalism nor in political science, so have a lot to learn. My background is in financial economics.

Consider these different types of voters:

1. Very busy; willing to spend only a small amount of time to fulfill the community service of becoming informed enough to vote.

2. Might spend more time becoming politically informed if it's interesting or entertaining.

3. Willing to do some checking of political information.

4. Really into politics and media (this group includes the media and political candidates).

We could append a category #0 of potential voters who are like category #1, but busier and/or less community-service oriented so that they don't vote. The VFM system is designed especially to help type-1 voters make the most of the time they are willing to spend getting informed. If VFM creates a better information system, this can also gradually attract some type-0 non-voters to convert to type-1 and vote.

Voter-funded media should try to help all types of voters (and potential voters). But the media should not all try to do this in the same way. Ultimately they are a team, and different media will fulfill different roles and specializations. The value of each media organization should be judged in the context of what the other media are already providing. What does each one add to the total?

That said however, next I will outline an example of content and layout that I think would be helpful, especially for the type-1 voter. (We should also ask voters what they want.) Later I will return to the question of how some media might fulfill different parts of this in different ways.

(This outline is for websites. For other types of media, it would need to be adapted.)

1. Link from directly to your
website's main executive-summary voter's guide page.

2. On your main page, show the voting sections in the order they will appear on the ballot. I don't know if this order is correct, but
maybe it's:

- President

- VP Academic

- VP Finance

- VP Administration

- VP External

- Board of Governors

- Senate

- The Ubyssey (3 positions? What are they?)

- Voter-Funded Media

3. For each section, list all candidates in sequence of your endorsement, starting with your top-recommended candidate. I believe there is a long-standing debate on whether media should endorse candidates. More on this later. But to help type-1 voters, I suggest providing explicit endorsements of electoral candidates and of media contestants. Links to the other media would also help voters.

4. For each candidate, give a one-line summary of your assessment (strengths/weaknesses), with a link to explanations that support your assessment. These links lead to the depth and breadth of your
website's content.

Example: The Ubyssey's editorial on January 27, 2006 gave helpfully concise endorsements for last year's AMS elections:!--5--%3EOpinion/1edit.html

The big challenge for a VFM system is: how can a busy uninformed voter have any clue which media to believe? I see three main ways:

1. Brand reputation of the media organization.

2. Quality assessments by other media organizations. [Now that's incestuous!]

3. Spot-checking media opinions against the voter's own knowledge on some particular issue or candidate; or against voter's own research, including reading various media's supporting material.

Even without VFM, voters need to decide which media to believe, and can use the above three methods. The difference with VFM is that voters have a new way to reward media for providing helpful political insight. This should improve media quality generally, and help the key feedback loop in #2 (media rating media) work more effectively. It seems to me very important for the media to give voters quality assessments, rankings and endorsements of the other media. The diverse range of competing media supported by the VFM system provides some check and balance against back-scratching conspiracies of media that might endorse each other regardless of actual quality.

Brand reputation of media organizations will greatly enhance VFM effectiveness as this new system is implemented in more voting communities over more years. Media will build their reputations in the eyes of voters, and voters will learn to reward them and follow their voting advice. But in the world's first implementation at UBC, VFM reputations are not well established, so are less help to voters. This makes it all the more crucial for UBC media to assess each other's quality and communicate that to voters.

There are several different ways that media should refer to each other:

1. Recommending to voters which media to vote for in the VFM contest.

2. Recommending to voters which media to read.

3. Referencing and crediting sources in other media for endorsements and assessments given in your own media. It would be wastefully inefficient for each media organization to do all its own research on every candidate and issue. They should learn from each other. Thus some media could provide valuable insights without candidate endorsements, while other media read and credit those insights, then add their own candidate endorsements.

The ability of voters to support multiple media contrasts sharply with voting for electoral candidates, where voters usually have to choose one instead of another. So we can expect more cooperation among media than we see among competing electoral candidates.

I think one reason why some journalists avoid endorsing electoral candidates is that they fear readers may suspect some corrupt influence. Voter funding of media should reduce (although not eliminate) that fear and suspicion.

Another VFM-induced shift is the incentive for journalists to want people to spend time reading or watching their publications. Especially in the private sector, journalists are rewarded when people spend more time because it generates more advertising revenue. But if the revenue source is voter funding, busy voters would prefer and reward media that give the essential info in less time, as long as it is backed by a reputation for credible research.

With VFM, electoral candidates should find less need for campaign spending. This should attract more high-quality candidates with less obligations to those who helped them campaign.

One final reminder to media contestants: reach out and educate as many students as possible about the election and VFM!

Favouritism/bias in VFM contest?

[Originally posted January 21 in votermedia Google group.]

Various concerns have been raised about possible favouritism or bias in the VFM contest. VFM is all about reducing corruption, so it's appropriate that any such concerns are brought up.

First I'll address a specific minor incident as an example. On January 11, I flew to Memphis for a media reform conference, and returned to Vancouver January 15. I was reluctant to be away during the crucial launch of VFM at UBC, but the conference was definitely worth it (see my January 18 post). I was reachable by phone and email, but didn't take my laptop so couldn't update my website. The VFM contest was in the capable hands of Tiffany Glover and the Elections Committee - see my previous post on how my role is limited to advising.

A key goal of VFM is to better inform voters. My website has pages devoted to the UBC contest, and I update them with info that I think will be useful for voters and others interested. For the last two weeks I have closely followed the progress of contestant registration, linking to the official list at as well as copying it to The last time I copied the list before going to Memphis, only one contestant was on it. Then while I was away, several more signed up, but unfortunately I couldn't update my website's copy of the list until I returned to Vancouver. There were some complaints that this created bias in favour of the first contestant.

Note that I had a link to the official list; and note my January 9 post "Who's going to enter UBC VFM contest?" where I gave the best info I then had on who was planning to enter, listing seven groups. I guess it's true that showing one contestant on my web page for a few days gave them a slight benefit. But it was not done wilfully nor with malice, and I welcomed and responded to feedback on it when I could.

When serving the main goal of helping voters, it's hard to give perfectly equal treatment to all VFM contestants. Those of us involved with creating the contest faced this tradeoff many times, and we tended to choose what would best help voters, even if it meant an unequal competition. The VFM Committee and I especially felt this tension when debating whether to let The Ubyssey enter. (BTW these are my own impressions of our discussion; I speak about but not for the Committee.)

The Ubyssey is by far the best known campus media organization, and receives plenty of student funding. Any other campus media group would be hard pressed to compete with them for name recognition and the votes of busy students. We considered barring The Ubyssey from the VFM contest. But we felt the contest should be as open as possible, and that the absence of UBC's leading media group would detract from the goal of serving voters. On balance we decided to leave that door open. We thought The Ubyssey would enter and take first prize, so to encourage a diversity of media we cut the prize pie into eight slices.

This illustrates not only that we chose effectiveness over equality, but also that the VFM Committee did not stack the contest in favour of its members. Three of the five committee members are involved in VFM contestants, but none are with The Ubyssey. They could have barred The Ubyssey, but chose not to for the sake of the voters.

Choosing the members of the VFM Committee is another case of choosing effectiveness over equality. The contest is open to (almost) anyone, including committee members. Here too, to exclude them would have diminished benefits to voters. And a committee with no one connected to any campus media would have lacked the knowledge to design an effective contest. The final go-ahead decision was made by the full AMS Council, and the contest is run by the Elections Committee (whose members are barred from the contest, along with electoral candidates and Student Court members).

However, The Ubyssey's decision not to enter the contest is understandable for the same reasons we considered barring it. They already get student funding, they cover the elections anyway, and it doesn't look good to enter with a huge advantage - if you win you're a big bully, and if you don't you're a big wimp. Also, staying out may put them in a better position to provide a robust debate on the pros and cons of VFM. I welcome such debate in this group too - please join and speak up.

I will continue to help the contest by advising, answering questions etc., and will try to be even-handed in my treatment of contestants. I have been interviewed by some, and am available to all. The Knoll requested an article on VFM, which I was happy to provide as it gave exposure to the contest. But we agreed that the article is not exclusive to The Knoll. Anyone may copy it from and publish it (title: How UBC Can Change the World). Another contestant requested photos, so I have now posted several at Feel free to tell me if I seem to be biasing the contest (email mark[at] Soon I plan to post here some ideas for how contestants can help voters and thus gain their votes.

Human organizations and political processes all have conflicts of interest. We can reduce their harmful effects by enhanced disclosure and voter insight. An open VFM contest is designed to encourage a diversity of investigative journalists to check and balance politicians and each other. We will soon see how well (or poorly) this works.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant" - see

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.

Media Reform Conference: January 12-14

[Originally posted January 18 in votermedia Google group.]

The National Conference for Media Reform held in Memphis last weekend was the most exciting conference I've ever attended! See for full listing and free download audio of all sessions, plus video of main speeches.

Speakers: Amy Goodman, Jane Fonda, Jesse Jackson, Danny Glover, Bill Moyers and many more. Topics included:

- concentration of media ownership

- internet neutrality

- intellectual "property"

- future of public broadcasting

- role of media in politics

- plus a wide range of other media issues

Over 3000 people attended. The media reform movement is growing fast! If VFM is successful at UBC, I bet this movement will pick it up and run with it.

BTW, if you're ever in Memphis don't miss the National Civil Rights Museum -

Who's going to enter UBC VFM contest?

[Originally posted January 9 in votermedia Google group.]

Here's the info I have so far about who's planning to enter the VFM contest. Please note these are not confirmed entries, just talk I have heard about people's plans. Last I heard, no one had yet paid the $100 entry fee, submitted a registration form, and been approved by the Elections Committee. Once that happens, their info should appear at or .

1. The Knoll (newspaper) - see

2. Gina Eom and Tim Louman-Gardiner.

3. Stephanie Ryan (and someone?).

4. The Underground (Arts Undergrad Society newspaper) - see

5. The 432 (Science Undergrad Society newspaper) is considering entering - see

6. A group of UBC School of Journalism students.

7. Heard something about two students planning a magazine called "Election Erection" - gotta see that!

The Ubyssey is not planning to enter. As I understand it, one reason is that they cover the election anyway.

Topic for January 2007: UBC

[Originally posted January 9 in votermedia Google group.]

The world's first implementation of VFM is now underway at the University of British Columbia in their student council elections this month - see and

So we can discuss:

- who's entering the VFM contest at UBC

- issues & questions about contest rules

- impact of VFM on the election

- VFM benefits & dangers

- future design improvements

- what's next for VFM beyond UBC

Welcome to the VoterMedia blog!

Hi --

I'm moving the discussion here from the votermedia Google group to make it easier for people to comment.

So next I'll copy some previous posts from the Google group to here.