What problem does the tool solve?
The Digital-o-Mat is a tool similar to the Wahl-o-Mat (Vote Match) which was launched in 2002 by the Federal Agency for Civic Education in Germany as a website in preparation for the federal election. The Wahl-o-Mat is an election information platform for which the political parties are asked to answer questions about their political views covering the whole political spectrum.
Afterwards, the user is asked to answer the same questions in order for the platform to identify similarities and differences between the users’ preferences and those of the political parties. These results are then presented to the user as percentage of agreements. The intended aim of the interactive tool is to inform the users about different political agendas of the competing parties. In addition, it is possible to examine whether or not they correspond with the user’s own political views.
So why a new tool?
In the recent version of the Wahl-o-Mat, 38 questions are asked in order to cover the political spectrum. This means, considering the range of political subfields, that a single topic can not be represented in detail - if at all. Therefore, the most influential political field for the civil engagement of Wikimedians - digital policy - is barely represented on the platform. Even the two questions concerning digital policy do not closely relate to the interests of most Wikimedians or other digital volunteers. Additionally, the topic of digital policy does not seem to be a notable part of the electoral program for most of the parties. All of this indicates that the interests of Wikimedians and other digital volunteers are largely excluded from the mainstream public discourse and, as a result, from the decision-making process before the election.
The lack of public discourse on digital policy in the run up to elections is the reason why WMDE decided to join forces with further NGO's working in the field of digital policy in the early days of 2017 to establish a Vote Match platform for digital policy. The so-called Digital-o-Mat, a tool analogous to the original Wahl-o-Mat, was designed to exclusively focus on issues of digital policy. We have two different approaches to the Digital-o-Mat. One rather prospective, which was used for the state and federal elections in 2017 and 2018 and one retrospective approach, which was developed especially for the European election 2019. The goal of both versions is to increase the public profile of certain digital policy issues and to give further information on the party's positions. Despite the somewhat difficult measurability of the impact of such a tool, we can affirm that the Digital-o-Mat reached a broad audience during the election campaign (~65k pageviews/ ~40k complete answers). At the same time we are aware that the coverage could have been wider. This is the issue of this pattern and the reason why, in order to help improving future projects, we would like to share our learnings with this learning pattern. Please note that this pattern is not dealing with the public relations work necessary to increase the outreach of an online tool, which would be a great topic for further learning patterns.
The prospective toolThis tool is useful for state or federal elections. The main focus are the different positions of the parties towards different public policy topics. It also helps to compare the answers to their election program. An advantage of this version is that fairly new or very small parties can participate as well.
|1) The first step to initiate the project was to informally discuss the idea with various NGOs concerning digital policy. Discussing the issue generated a loose coalition willing to realize a Digital-o-Mat focussing on digital policy only. The catchy title “Digital-O-Mat” was somewhat key in getting everybody on board.|
|2a) In the time following this first step, the focus of the coalition was 1) to negotiate structure and layout of the website 2) to divide the political issues to be dealt with between NGOs and 3) to decide which political parties should be integrated into the vote match.|
|2b) On the logistics side, questions needed to be answered regarding budget for the project and regarding the choice of contractor to program the tool – or whether it could be developed by volunteer coders instead. It was decided, that in any case, the software must in the end be open source and available on GitHub or a similar platform.|
|3) Afterwards, every member of the coalition was asked to formulate a list of questions to be put to the political parties, which were based on the respective electoral programs as well as the partner NGO’s policy interests. The collaboration on creating this questionnaire took place through a etherpad, which helps everybody to stay updated about the total progress.|
|3b) In the 2018 version for the regional elections in Bavaria and Hesse all members of the coalition were asked to send their questions in separately. Also, the number of questions was reduced to 2 per NGO/member in order to keep the total number of questions down.|
|4) Then, the questionnaires were sent to those political parties which were most likely to enter the German parliament after the election.
Also, make sure that you emphasize that it is important for the parties to answer the questions with yes/no/no comment (or neutral) and then give their respective explanation/proof for the answer (see learning). As a yardstick for this, we resorted to a collection of poll data from all polling institutes and selected the parties that were above the parliamentary threshold of 5 percent continuously for the entire past year. This included a controversial right-wing party, which led to intense debate amongst the coalition partners. We decided to include them nonetheless in order to not give merit to claims of any political bias of the project.
|5) After receiving responses, the answers had to be checked for evidence to prevent popular but ambiguous as well as misleading statements. Without this step, we reckoned, the vote match might be abused by the participating political parties to gain extra matches by answering in ways that fit mainstream opinion but are in fact not what they propose in their electoral programs. Fortunately it turned out that no party tried this.|
|6) When this was done and all responses were collected, they could be transferred to the website, which is when the period of testing began. After implementing the feedback gathered and completing the final test the website was ready to go public. Initially after that, additional feedback swept in from the first batch of users, which led to another update regarding mostly clarity of the website’s explanatory texts.
The retrospective toolThe main focus in this version is to compare how the different parties have voted in parliament over a certain period of time. This is the reason why this version was used in order to build a Digital-o-Mat for the European Election in 2019. It gives the chance to compare more parties over a longer period of time. We chose this version because it would have been too complicated to get answers to our question from all the German parties.