Computer-assisted participation/democracy

$75k or more
estimated cost of external help
  • Scan and research
  • Prioritise options
  • Confirm options
  • Consult
  • Deliberate
3-5 weeks
estimated run time
3-5 weeks
estimated lead time
Strong communicator
recommended experience
Computer-assisted democracy and participation encompasses a number of means for participants to contribute to, or vote on, an outcome using electronic means. It is also called electronic democracy, or decision support systems. This activity provides the user with the ability to vote and/or comment on particular outcomes. Sometimes users place themselves on a spectrum rather than give a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This can provid for a more nuanced view of the group’s opinions.

In 5 steps...

  1. Determine what you want to achieve and the level of influence you are allowing participants to have on the outcomes, so you can select the right technology and clearly communicate limitations and commitments.
  2. Select the right technology to get your outcome and set it up with your messaging.
  3. If it’s a remote event, promote the opportunity to be involved and any time limits on doing so to your audience. If it’s being used as part of another in-person event, introduce the technology, allowing enough time for everyone to find or download it – and have a guide in your materials. Let participants know when and for what parts of the event they will use the technology, and who they can ask for help.
  4. Monitor behaviour and feedback, ensuring that you manage any conflicts and delete offensive messages.
  5. Communicate your outcomes back to participants once a decision has been made.

When to use it

This is best used when you would like to quickly assess the alignment of a large number of people with a decision outcome. Can be used as a part of an in-person event to complement the agenda, or online and promoted as a stand-alone, self-driven activity.


  • Quick way to test the alignment and/or level of division on a subject.
  • May reach those who would not otherwise engage.
  • Prevents single opinions from appearing representative.
  • Can be simultaneously delivered in multiple languages.
Long term
  • Higher-quality, better-aligned solutions.
  • Improved trust of outcomes.


  • As not everyone is equally digitally able, you will need to pair this technique with others if you are seeking a representative outcome.
  • Can be expensive, especially if users don’t have their own devices.
  • May not take into account or surface why participants are voting a particular way, only what their vote is.
  • Fear of new technologies may deter some people from participating.



  • There are many tools out there. Work out the specifications of what you’re looking for first before being overwhelmed by the various opportunities.
  • Set a budget, then work with a provider to meet that budget. Most are willing to negotiate, especially with smaller, values-centric organisations.
  • Test your messaging with some members of your audience. You won’t be there to answer questions or course-correct, so you need to know they’ll understand both the issue and the ask.
  • Consider if you need to provide content in multiple languages.

During the process

  • Have a strategy for handling offensive input and stick to it. It can be helpful to leave evidence to deter others. For example, rather than deleting a comment, replace it with a label that communicates why it was hidden: ‘Comment removed by admin due to not being in the spirit of respectful and generative debate’.
  • Monitor the response to your promotions and which promotion seems to be working the best. This may also tell you something about the type of bias that can be built into the results; for example, if most of the voters are coming to your tool from a left-wing news source.
  • Provide technical support to help users who are struggling to participate.


  • Statistics will be interesting to participants, but also include information on how, or if, the outcomes influenced your project.