Less than 12 hours after launching, a new tool being used to consult Canadians about democratic reform was facing serious criticism online.
The site, mydemocracy.ca, was designed and implemented by Toronto’s Vox Pop Labs at a cost of around $250,000.
The website will be up and running until Dec. 30, 2016. It’s unclear, however, exactly what the government will do with the data that is collected.
Visitors to the site are told only that “your feedback will help shape a healthier democracy” and that “the Government of Canada will make the final report from Vox Pop Labs public in the coming months.”
Some Canadians who have already visited mydemocracy.ca were unimpressed, suggesting it is too simplistic or designed to push them in a policy direction the government supports.
The perceived leading nature of some of the questions even spawned a Twitter hashtag, #rejectedERQs.
Visitors to the site also flagged several methodology issues on social media, including the fact that users can input different postal codes and complete the survey numerous times.
Users can delete the site’s cookies (small bits of data downloaded onto the user’s computer) and re-take the survey from the same machine, or travel around to different public computers and input answers over and over.
Vox Pop Labs says the large sample of responses they are expecting should cancel out such activity.
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Final price tag unclear
It’s unclear what the final cost of the project might be, however.
The mydemocracy.ca site takes users through a series of questions about how they would prefer to vote, how Parliament should function, how much decision-making power individual parties or MPs should hold, and whether they would be comfortable with certain types of reforms.
After asking a series of questions about gender, age, income and geographic location (which you don’t need to answer if you don’t want to), the tool pops out a ‘type’ for the user. The possible types include:
The five groups are based on “clusters” of similar values and priorities. Vox Pop Labs says it built those clusters through a pre-survey of 4,273 Canadians conducted earlier this fall (users can check out the full methodology on the website).
The somewhat vague categories also prompted online mockery:
Vox Pop Labs is an independent, non-partisan group of social researchers and data scientists. It is also the firm behind Vote Compass, an online tool that allows voters to compare their own political views to those of the major parties during an election campaign.
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The new website is only one part of a broader outreach effort being carried out this year by the Liberals on electoral reform.
Town halls, a “cross-country electoral reform dialogue” led by Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef, a report from a special, all-party committee of MPs and a postcard that will be mailed out to Canadian households this week are other elements.