the Round Table

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We envision a world where Democracy leverages technology.
Where every citizen’s voice is weighed based on its articulation rather than its volume. Our generation faces complex, nuanced problems while our country is polarized by a monolithic two-party system. But why should all of our solutions be attached to each other? Should your stance on military spending influence your acceptance of climate change? Should a desire to regulate Wall Street also decide how you prioritize spending on public education? Linking unrelated issues serves politics, but not our country. And it creates a powerful tool, partisanship, that can make us vote against our best interests.  

We believe we see a better way.

Round Table seeks to connect like-minded people who are politically inclined. It’s a modern public square. A place where you can both organize and mobilize around issues that you are passionate about. And if you discover another voice that inspires you, it’s a place to encourage, support, and nominate that person for public office.

the Site

It all starts with how you sign up. All members create their Round Table account using Real ID authentication. With this, we pre-populate your profile with information about your district including the details and voting records of the elected officials that serve you. Your profile page can become your ‘political hub’ where you subscribe to stories through a local, state, and national lens. You can even learn more about the measures that will be on forthcoming ballots and request reminders for when and where those elections will take place. We believe that Democracy only works when an informed electorate participates in the process. So we aim to make it easy to track the issues that matter the most to you and make it easy to participate.

You’ll also gain access to a personalized set of forums within the
Round Table that only members from your state and district will be able to post in. This group of passionate voters becomes a valuable resource for any elected official - a place where they can discuss policy directly with an engaged subset of their electorate and provide broader context on their decision-making. These discussions embody the spirit of a democratic republic, because the elected know the conversation is limited to just the people who voted them into office… or could vote them out.

If you hear leadership from your representative, then you know that you are living in a functioning Democracy. And if you don't hear leadership - either due to their absence or presence - then you can begin the conversation to ignite the change you wish to see.

And if in that conversation, you discover a voice that is flagged to run as a Challenger, then the
Round Table gives you the opportunity to explore their profile. You can see where you both stand on other issues, quickly identify where you agree and disagree, and then have the venue to ask them why. And if you like their response, you can choose to follow or support their campaign.

Creating a government for the people; as determined by the people.   

Money in Politics

The Round Table aims to circumvent the power of money-within-politics by democratizing the ability for every citizen to engage in Democracy.

Currently, candidates need a small fortune to get their platform in front of voters. They leverage expensive radio and television commercials because, a generation ago, that was the only way to reliably get their message out. This model overwhelmingly serves Incumbents, who typically have both entrenched financial backing and name-recognition heading into their re-election campaign. Challengers, on the other hand, must purchase expensive ad-buys just to introduce themselves to their electorate. This ‘cost of admission’ to becoming a candidate creates two critical problems:

For one, a Challenger must determine where to get the requisite money to compete. If they aren’t already wealthy enough to self-fund their campaign then they must find the necessary capital elsewhere. Both Republicans and Democrats have tended to solve this problem the same way: By making policy commitments to special interest groups in exchange for their financial support. But special interest groups don’t always have the broader Republic’s best interests at heart. Within the current system, it’s possible for politicians from either political party to come to power through the financial backing of a hostile foreign government. So beyond the distortion that money puts on the conversation by filtering out those who can’t afford to run for office, the amount of money in politics poses a very real threat to our national security: Because if money can dictate domestic policy, then it can also dictate foreign policy.

And two, even in a world where equitable ad-buys were provided to every candidate, a TV commercial is still a terrible venue to introduce a platform of any substance. Thirty seconds is not enough time to provide a nuanced, line-item discussion of what a candidate believes and why - the type of conversation that leads to an informed electorate. Commercials are engineered to prey on our worst impulses - and political commercials are no exception. They target our fear, anger, greed, and sometimes even our hope. But emotions are rarely solutions
by themselves, and appealing to our base instincts only amplifies the amount of polarization within our discourse.  It should be the solutions, not the ‘public posturing’ that we end up debating. That kind of back-and-forth discussion isn’t possible in a commercial, but it is possible online. 
By providing a voter-focused venue to articulate the strengths of their solutions, the Round Table allows any candidate to speak directly to their electorate for roughly the cost of a web camera, giving every voice a seat at the table. A voice that can be judged by the strength of its solutions instead of its financial backing. Democratizing the ability for anyone to participate in Democracy.
We believe that when we reduce the need for money-in-politics, then we reduce the impact of money-in-politics. Because a government that requires wealth to get elected will soon become a government that primarily serves the wealthy.

a Neural Network

Political views are often discussed as if they fell somewhere on a spectrum. Even in the way ‘Conservatives’ and ‘Liberals’ are truncated down to ‘Right’ and ‘Left’, we focus on an either/or paradigm that speaks more to a collective identity than it does a solution for a specific problem. This can create a tribal approach to issues, where voters support their ‘team’ rather than being encouraged to explore issues with depth as they encounter them. But what if the paradigm shifted from being represented by a spectrum, and instead resembled a neural network where each stance further identified you? What if a strong stance on a single issue didn’t determine your position on every remaining issue, but instead you were encouraged to approach unrelated issues on a case-by-case basis? What if you were then able to find like-minded people who largely saw the world the way you did - who were in the same general clump within the neural network - and discovered amongst them a pool of candidates that closely aligned with your unique beliefs?

When you first create a
Round Table account - and periodically after that as new issues arise - you will be asked a series of questions. Some topics will be familiar to you - like your opinions on Climate Change, Gun Control, and Abortion. Others will be to better understand what you value like, “If you could only choose one, would you rather your children be well-mannered or creative?” These answers will help us identify where to place you within the neural network; the more questions you answer, the more accurately you should be placed. As time goes on and you discover more information about a topic or as your world view evolves, you are encouraged to go back and change your response to any previously answered questions.

With these answers, we will be able to connect you with like-minded people - using technology similar to online-dating sites - to find you a set of ‘matches’ based on your shared responses. Connecting you to a group of people living in your area who largely see the world the way that you do.

From this pool of people, we hope to empower you to find candidates that embody your values. We believe that elected offiials should reflect the unique views and goals of those who put them into office.
That the needs and viewpoints in disparate regions will be uniquely different, and that the voices of your elected officials should reflect that diversity. That they should always reflect you. 

We encourage our members to take a wide range of stances on a wide range of issues. We believe that when solutions to unrelated problems are approached independently, we unlock the ability break through partisan gridlock. We can build upon what unites us - instead of fixating on what divides us.  

Every member is encouraged to discover their own personal 'platform' where they can endorse solutions independent of the stances of either political party. With this approach, we disconnect the leverage that partisan wedge issues have over our democracy.

When it is your platform that you are endorsing, you are empowered to change it as often as you like. But when it's your tribe's platform that you are defending... your position changes far less frequently.  Changing your mind means that you're betraying your tribe.  

What Unites Us

While our platforms are as unique as each member's experiences, all members agree to a shared set of values: 

  • All people are born equal.
  • Politics should center on Policy rather than Identity.
  • Strong opinions should be weakly held.
  • Our shared aim is to leave this world better than we found it.

Beyond these core beliefs that unite us, we seek to empower citizens to find representation that aligns with their voice.  We encourage members to take the time to discover what their own unique platform looks like and then find the correct person to represent it.

a Healthy Political Discourse

While ‘matching’ you with like-minded people is a core function of the Round Table, we still believe that encountering conflicting opinions creates the greatest opportunities for growth. When we are able to push through our own echo chambers to strike up a conversation with someone that has a different outlook than we do... and listen.
We believe that conversation - where we separate our identity from our solution - is the way we’ll reunite our Republic.
With that in mind, the Round Table has developed a series of ‘Labs’ with the goal of facilitating a healthy political discourse amongst strangers. Each lab is seen as a ‘living experiment’ to be iterated on based upon the feedback we get from our members. Much like the mercurial nature of our government when it is healthy - we believe that any solution we find should be considered a ‘work-in-progress’ until we can discover a better approach. Here are a few of our founding Labs to provide a sense of their place within the Round Table ecosystem:

  • Question Exchange - Each month, the Round Table focuses discussions on a handful of topics as chosen by the community. The goal of these discussions is to dig past the surface of an issue and provide members a deeper understanding of conflicting viewpoints. Once a topic is picked, we ask members a series of questions that focus on different aspects of that problem. If the topic doesn't interest you, then you can opt-out of the discussion that month by not responding to the survey. But for those that do respond, the Question Exchange pairs you with another member who sees a different solution on a key issue, while still largely sharing your outlook on the rest of the world. We believe that by partnering you with someone whom you already have a lot in common with, both individuals will be more inclined to listen and work to find common ground.

    After you’ve been paired, the Round Table strives to make that conversation a productive one. With a scripted set of prompts throughout the month, we ask both sides to explain their solutions and ask questions. And at the end of the month, we ask both participants how the conversation went. With that feedback, we search for conversations where both parties felt the exchange was productive and healthy. We flag discussions where someone changes their mind, because we think unpacking those conversations tends to be very compelling. And then we share what we've found with the broader community, allowing members to stack-rank their favorite exchanges.  

    As they do, two things begin to happen:  The most productive discussions - and the most compelling solutions - ‘float to the top’ being seen by an increasingly wider audience. And instead of rewarding the most divisive voices, we have provided members with the ability to tie the ‘volume’ of an exchange to its ability to collaborate effectively. Celebrating the conversations that are able to find compelling solutions instead of the personalities that are reinforcing polarization.
  • Post Check - Occasionally, we’ll flag some articles with a ‘post check’ symbol. At the end of these articles, we ask members a couple of questions before allowing them to post a comment. These questions are typically a simple comprehension check aiming to ensure that all members have a shared understanding of the conclusions that the article had drawn before joining the discussion. We believe that productive conversations need to start with a shared understanding. That if you can’t agree on a common set of facts, then it will be impossible to walk away with a shared solution.  

  • Creating a Bill - Even the best solutions are inconsequential until they can be turned into action. To help accomplish this, we allow members - including Elected Officials and their Challengers - to collaborate on legislation alongside their electorate. We believe that the closer you are to the legislative process, the more likely it will be crafted to suit your needs. This collaboration is broken into two parts: aligning behind the goals of the legislation and then aligning behind its execution.

    We start with the bill’s author explaining their vision for the legislation - what it ultimately is intending to accomplish. This explanation culminates in a checklist of requirements that should be easily digestible by the broader public. Members then have an opportunity to provide feedback on those goals. Once that feedback has been factored-in, the author - or any interested member of the Round Table - crafts legislation that accomplishes those goals.  

    When the legislation has been drafted, the community has the opportunity to vet whether or not the bill accomplishes the original high-level goals it set out to accomplish. Members can discuss any unintended consequences of the wording of the final legislation, and then decide whether they would support the bill. This back-and-forth communal creation of proposed legislation brings the modern collaborative practices that technology has unlocked to a civic arena - allowing elected officials and candidates to work closely with their community to craft their solutions. Allowing a law to be crafted transparently, free from the specters of backroom deals and quid pro quo. 

Not all of our Labs will work. Some might have to be reworked or removed. Occasionally, we'll try out a new Lab, iterate on it with the community, and then replace it with something else. Because the goal isn't to find the perfect Lab. The goal is to always be looking for a better one. We believe this approach should govern the Round Table as much as our forefathers believed it should govern our nation.

We need less politics in crafting our policy. We need to work together on the issues that unite us instead of focusing on what divides us. And whether you live in a red or blue state, if any of this resonates: We need your help. We need you to join the discussion.

a Game in the System

A healthy Democracy depends on an informed electorate’s participation. If the broader public is misinformed, then that’s a fissure that no amount of compromise will help with. Having an opposing solution to a problem is not the same as disagreeing with what the problem really is or whether the problem even exists.

But it’s not just that we all need to be working from the same set of facts, we also need our electorate to participate. When normal people stop caring about the direction of our country - or are led to believe that their impact on their government is inconsequential - then that means that only
abnormal people are left to steer the ship. We need to combat this apathy head-on and find a way for more people to actively want to pay attention to politics. 
With these problems in mind, the Round Table has developed a set of meta-games to encourage members to stay informed and encourage civic participation. Similar to scouts earning merit badges or leveling up in a video-game, we try to make it fun. And while the rewards you earn have no innate value, the atmosphere that these systems create is extremely valuable; producing an ecosystem where conversations are incentivized to focus on solutions. And similar to our iterative approach with Labs, each meta-game is considered a work-in-progress; to be refined over time with help from our members:

  • Micro Badges  -  We celebrate topical awareness with Micro Badges; a cosmetic reward for those who demonstrate curiosity on a given topic. Much like merit badges, these collectible trophies become a shorthand to demonstrate aptitude of a subject at a glance. And while they vary in difficulty and commitment, each Micro Badge is unlocked by the same two-step process:

         1.  Reading a curated list of Post Checked articles.
         2.  Answering a series of questions based on those articles.

    After that, the badge is yours; permanently unlocked for your account. And although badges don't speak to the strength of a solution by themselves, they do ensure that all members with a specific badge are working with a shared understanding of the available facts as a backdrop to frame their conversation. They also serve as a great starting point for those that are looking to better understand a specific topic more deeply, as you’re able to quickly search for articles based on the badges that they build towards.

  • Groundwork  -  For any meaningful conversation to take place, we need to agree upon a shared set of facts as our foundation. It’s with this in mind that we allow members to flag comments or statements with a ‘fact check’ symbol. This sends a request for other members to find sourcing information to validate or disprove the statement or to simply label it as an opinion. Those validations will, in turn, get up or downvoted by the community based on their helpfulness. Members that develop a reputation for providing well-sourced, concise, and correct ‘fact checks’ will begin gaining a ‘Groundwork’ rating. And those with the highest ratings will earn exclusive flair that celebrates their contribution to the community.

  • Focus Gems  -  We treat upvotes a little differently than other social sites. When every member has unlimited opportunities to upvote each conversation they come across, it can become difficult to separate the productive conversations from the noise.  With this in mind, in addition to the traditional upvote system you find on most forums, we also supply a finite currency for members to further increase the visibility of a discussion.

    Every day, month, and year, members unlock a handful of Gems. These gems behave like a weighted upvote to strengthen the visibility of any topics, threads, candidates, or bills that a member endorses. By limiting the supply, we hope to give each of these upvotes increased value within our conversation; giving us a tool to highlight the issues that matter the most to our members.  

  • Leveling Up the Discussion - We value productive discourse and civic engagement. As members contribute to the conversation, we seek to acknowledge that participation. We provide Experience Points (XP) for writing productive posts, participating in the Question Exchange, earning Micro Badges, or helping us find a candidate. We also provide bonus XP to conversations that get heavily endorsed by gems from other members. As your account hits various XP thresholds, it will publicly ‘Level Up’, providing other members a shorthand descriptor of your previous contributions to the community by glancing at your level.

The intersection of Games and Politics will not appeal to everyone. We’re ok with that. We created the Round Table  for a very specific group of people. We are not for Liberals or Conservatives as much as we are for Freethinkers across the political spectrum. The ones who don’t always know the best answer, and are willing to talk through the problem from different perspectives to try and find it. We wanted a platform for normal people to try and find solutions. 

And we believe normal people like games. From Sports to Game Shows to Video Games to recreation... Throughout history, games have permeated every corner of our lives. And because we believe that a healthy Democracy depends on an informed electorate’s participation, we plan to use games to both inform our electorate and incentivize their participation.
With the problems our generation faces, we need average people to begin engaging with their government, again. The people who don't care about 'politics' but still care about policy...? We need a place for them. We need a place for average people to have sane, non-dogmatic discourse.  

And then we need to give those people a voice.