VERN: Facilitating Democratic Group Decision Making Online

Sarita Yardi,
Benjamin Hill,
Stephen Chan
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The system combines the underlying democratic process inherent in email chain conversations with a remapping of the voting process to a calendar-based graphical user interface. As an alternative to existing forms of constrained democracy in which members vote from a previously defined set of options, we offer VERN as a case study for the potential of using a visual interface to enable all group members to contribute equally without constraints to the group decision making process.

We hypothesize that democratic participation will increase, both online and face-to-face, in proportion to the speed and ability with which a participant can interact with the online system. Providing a democratically driven scheduling system will result in improved best-fit meeting times and accordingly, higher participation amongst group members.

This paper will discuss the design of VERN as a case study for online unconstrained democracy. All group members can share an equal voice and each opinion is included and weighted equally within the group. Our goals are therefore two-fold: to evaluate the success of VERN as a standalone meeting scheduling system as well as to consider future implications for applications other than meeting scheduling systems based on principles of unconstrained democracy in group decision making.

VERN beta is located at We encourage testing and feedback.

Keywords: Group decision support systems, groupware, deliberative democracy, computer-mediated communication, computer supported cooperative work, collaboration, participation
Stream: Technology in Community
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Sarita Yardi

Graduate Student, School of Information Management & Systems, UC Berkeley

Sarita's research interests are in user interface design, technology, education, and computer supported collaborative learning. She is currently researching children’s use of multimedia technologies and its implications for designing educational, collaborative, online games and storytelling with a group of fifth grade students at a local Berkeley elementary school. She is also conducting a photoelicitation study with middle school students in order to better understand children's use of technology in their everyday lives.
Sarita received her BA in Computer Engineering from Dartmouth College in 2002. She has worked on numerous hardware and software design projects and spent two years as a software engineer developing an integrated web application and database system.

Benjamin Hill

Graduate Student, School of Information Management & Systems, UC Berkeley

Benjamin was a computer science major from Dartmouth, class of 1999, and has worked with both IT consulting and document management and workflow firms for five years after graduation. He has been actively involved in groupware analysis and implementation in both professional and academic settings and is currently working with a team on an academic departmental wiki implementation as part of his role as the masters representative to the SIMS computing committee. His current academic courses include User Interface Design and Development, Analysis of Information Systems, Document Engineering, and Legal and Policy Challenges Posed by Peer to Peer File Sharing & P2P Technology. He is also the System Development team lead for Berkeley Garage Cinema’s Mobile Multimedia Metadata project.

Stephen Chan

Graduate Student, School of Information Management & Systems, UC Berkeley

Stephen received his BS in Information and Decision Systems from Carnegie-Mellon University.

Ref: T06P0140