Audience Dialogue

Dotmocracy

For years, we called this "sticky dot voting" - till Rochelle Woodley-Baker told us about the catchy new name. (Actually, not so new - according to a page on the Web, it dates back to 1980, in the US city of Louisville). Anyway, sticky dots are circular pieces of coloured paper, about 15 millimetres in diameter. Red ones are often used in auctions to show that an item has been sold. They usually come in rolls, with hundreds of dots on each roll, all on a long waxed paper backing strip, so that dots can easily be peeled off. Lots of different colours are available.

How dotmocracy works

In a group discussion, many statements are made, and sometimes it's difficult to tell how many participants agree with the statements. In a consensus group people discuss and reword the statements, but when more than about 12 participants are involved, this takes a long time. So an alternative is to write all the statements in large letters on large sheets of paper, and put these sheets of paper on the wall. Next to each statement is a voting space.

Voters are each given a waxed paper strip with a certain number of sticky dots, and asked to put one or more dots on statements they most strongly agree with. You can't control the number of dots they put on each statement, so don't waste time trying - just leave it to the participants to spread their dots around however they like. (Sometimes they tear dots in half, if they're having trouble deciding.)

Getting the numbers right

But how many dots should be given to each person? If it's too few or too many, you risk not getting a clear picture of voters' preferences. Here's how we do it...

Miscellaneous hints

1. Leave enough space. If the statements that people are voting on are written (as they usually are) on large pieces of paper on the wall, you need to leave enough space next to each statement for a large number of dots. Draw lines between the statements, so that you can tell which statement somebody has voted on, after everybody has gone home and you've taken the sheets of paper down from the walls for counting.

2. Ask voters to overlap dots when they make multiple votes. Often it's interesting to find out how many different people have chosen each item, but if some participants stick more than one dot on an item, you can't count the people, only the dots. If that's important to you, just ask participants to overlap their dots if they give more than one dot to an item.

3. Colour coding. If different types of stakeholder are voting (such as "staff" and "audience") you can give different coloured dots to each type of person. This will reveal differences in opinion between the different groups. For example, in a codiscovery conference that we did in Indonesia, the most popular statement for staff was "staff should be paid much more". The audience weren't opposed, but it wasn't their top priority. Without using different coloured dots, that fact wouldn't be known.

4. Positive and negative voting. Another way of using different coloured dots is to have one colour meaning "Yes, I agree", and another colour meaning "No, I disagree". Our experience with this is that people get confused, and sometimes vote against things they intended to vote for. If it's important to distinguish between "don't care" and "don't like" a better way is to have statements with negative wording, and see how many people agree with them.

5. Writing on the dots. If you'd like voters to make comments, there's no space on the actual dots. Instead, you can use small pads of not-very-sticky notes, e.g. "Post-it", about 50 by 38 mm. Voters can write comments on these, and stick them next to the statements they choose - but there must be enough space on the wall for everybody to vote.

dotmocracy in Banjarmasin, Indonesia
Dotmocracy at a codiscovery conference in Banjarmasin, Indonesia. Notice the colour coding: black and yellow dots. (Hello to you, too, Fitriana!)

For more on dotmocracy: see Dotmocracy Resources at www.cooptools.ca.