After the success of the Policy tool in the 2017 general election, this time we’re going local – making it easy to compare the rival candidates in your area.
In May 2017, a small group of young people from Wellington approached The Spinoff with an idea. “Proposal: interactive election content,” read the subject header. Their idea was at once simple and terrifyingly complex: distil the reams of policy from political parties into a clear, accessible and easy-to-compare form. “Tools like this have been tried before around the world, but never on this scale or in such an exciting and accessible way,” they said in their email. “We’re confident that Policy is the best of its kind.”
Asher, Ollie, Chris and Racheal from Policy proved that and more in the 2017 election. The tool – which you can view here if you don’t know it already – was used by 5% of all voters, with 140,000 users exploring 700 party policies on more than 100 issue areas, generating more than 1.5 million page views. It was lauded across the wider media, and the feedback from users was overwhelmingly positive. Political commentator Bryce Edwards wrote in the New Zealand Herald: “The stand-out success of the 2017 election is the Policy tool published on The Spinoff website.”
What made it is especially brilliant, to my mind, was what it didn’t try to do: yes, you could see what the rivals for your vote were offering across the issues; yes, you could line them up against one another. But there was no gimmicky algorithmic wheeze seeking to tell you who you should be voting for based on checking multi-choice boxes. This was a democratic tool, not a personality quiz.
When Policy got in touch again earlier this year (having in the meantime deployed their platform with a media partner for the Belgian election) and said they wanted to soup up the tool for the local elections, I figured they meant the mayors in the main centres, or maybe even the bigger city councils, too.
Nope. They’re doing more than just that. A lot more. Policy Local, coming very soon to your friendly local website The Spinoff, will cover an extraordinary 573 elections across the country. That’s not a misprint: 573. Territorial and regional authorities, local boards, community boards and district health boards around New Zealand. (Licensing and community trusts aren’t included, owing to the way they’re administered.) Policy Local is also partnering with Local Government New Zealand as part of the nationwide VOTE2019 campaign.
If you’re standing in one of those elections and provided your email address on your nomination form, you should have an email in your inbox inviting you to undertake the short questionnaire so that you feature in the exercise. If you can’t find it, or mistook it for a personality quiz, fear not: but please ping an email to email@example.com without delay.
It’s a genuinely awe-inspiring undertaking, and very, very timely. At a moment when misinformation is so abundant, when elections around the world are at risk of contamination by nefarious actors online, Policy puts the internet’s muscle to real democratic purpose: unimpeachably non-partisan, its reason for existing is to provide lucid information for voters. In the often mystifying landscape of local elections, Policy is a beam of light.
For that reason, we’re putting into the project significant funding from The Spinoff Members – whose contributions are an increasingly critical part of what we do here. And it wouldn’t be possible without the support of two major sponsors, Meredith Connell and an international partner we will reveal on launch. We’ve also received philanthropic support from Jenny Sutton. If you would like to look at supporting the project, here are the best ways for individuals and for organisations. We mean it when we say that our partners’ shared enthusiasm for a project that seeks to make democracy better is not for a second taken for granted.
We’ll be launching the tool in mid-September, ahead of the polls opening. If you can’t wait, you can read more about Policy Local here.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.