The right decision.

One of the main concerns of people who are not familiar with the working of direct democracy in Switzerland is whether or not we would make good decisions. This same argument has been used time and time again to refuse the right to vote for women and black people. Contrary to pronouncements of the ill effects that would follow, the sky did not fall in with the extension of the franchise. Society has changed, with all of us being far better educated than in the past, and having much better access to information.

Brian Beedham, a former editor of The Economist magazine notes, "The ordinary man no longer feels, as his grand-father felt, that his representative is a genuinely superior fellow.... It is no longer possible for a handful of rich or educated people to claim that they are better equipped than the unlettered masses to understand complicated problems and devise suitable solutions for them: to be, in short, those indispensable "representatives" who take the actual decisions. Most of the voters are these days as capable of coping with such things as most of the people they are intermittently allowed to send to parliament".

It must be recognised that the decision-making powers of direct democracy operates over a much wider range than just choosing a party. People do have fears and concerns as to both the technical competence of the electorate and their ability to over ride personal prejudices and self interest in order to vote in the most informed and socially beneficial way.

The following comment from a blog in the Telegraph newspaper highlights the difference between consideration and opinion "All a referendum does is ask several million people to give their gut reactions on topics that they know next to nothing about and have likely given less than 5 minutes consideration over breakfast - if even that.". That's an opinion, but people who take part in referendums, who take the trouble to turn out, have usually made sure that they have at least acquired some understanding of the issues surrounding the subject, rather than just asserting an opinion and people who participate in referendums tend to be better informed and educated.

The question or the mistrust that people feel about us making decisions may not be so much are we stupid or intelligent or are we as good as or at least no worse than the politicians, but a question of whether or not we are able to overcome our personal prejudices in favour of a common good. Can the electorate implement fair and effective policies that address the problems of all stakeholders in an issue?

There is a widespread belief that only certain "qualified" people can make important decisions and that most of us are ill equipped to make proper decisions. Nonetheless, most of us go to work and may also be members of other organisations. In these situations, we make decisions or participate in meetings which are about the collective good of the organisations we are a part of. In the family, we make decisions about housing, schooling, finance, in other words, most people make good, informed decisions as they do now in many groups and organisations on an every day basis. These groups and organisations are staffed by people with very different backgrounds and personal opinions.

Successful decision making needs the four elements of diversity, independence, decentralisation and a means of aggregating the decisions.A range of ways of thinking, opinions and knowledge, produces a variety of possible solutions even though individually people may have limited knowledge. When the collective intelligence of a diverse, independent and decentralized group is taken as a whole and judgements and decisions aggregated, a collectively intelligent decision emerges.

Independence of individuals within the collective pool is important. The greater the independence of thought, the wiser the group becomes. A lack of independence leads to a phenomenon known as "herding" whereby individual judgement is affected by the decisions of group members. Herding begins when people imitate or follow the decisions of fellow members. Decentralisation allows for local and specialised knowledge to enter the wider arena. Decentralisation enhances diversity and independence of thought.

The possibility that ill-informed, uneducated voters could be easily swayed by charismatic figures is an unrealistic fear where direct democracy mechanisms are in place, indeed history shows that when there are problems with the abuse of power they are usually the result of party politics or small groups within political parties who are not representative of the people.

Once it has been established that the people of Britain and Wales fulfill the requirements of diversity, independence and decentralisation needed to make good decisions all that is left is to find a way of aggregating their knowledge and experience.

The mechanism needed is the initiative and referendum process.