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A new online platform on which everyone dares to tell their opinions piloted in Finland

On 15 September, the International Day of Democracy, Sitra launched an experiment that enables Finns to test a new form of online debate. The Polis platform allows for a constructive exchange of ideas and views on a chosen topic.


Ilari Lovio

Specialist (on extended leave), Communications and Public Affairs


Sitra’s What do you think, Finland? campaign (Mitä mieltä Suomi?) is piloting a new type of online platform that allows for the surveying of opinions in a way that aims to increase mutual understanding. In the four-week-long experiment, Sitra will gather people’s opinions on what direction Finland should take. The Polis platform, which is based on open source code, may offer a solution to a situation where many people do not express their opinions due to the polarising conversational culture of social media platforms.

“There is already fairly widespread recognition that current social media platforms have certain characteristics that enable polarisation, but there has been quite little discussion about what discussion platforms designed for the needs of democracy could look like. Polis is an example that has been tested internationally and found to work well,” says Veera Heinonen, Director of Sitra’s Democracy and Participation theme.

Discussions on the Polis platform do not take place in the same way as on social media or internet forums. Instead, the platform presents statements on a topic, to which the participants respond by either agreeing or disagreeing. What makes Polis different from ordinary survey tools is that the participants can add statements to the topic, which other users can then vote on.

Polis produces real-time information on what the participants agree and disagree with. The participants can also see what kind of opinion groups the respondents form based on their responses. These features can be used to find common ground. Participants see which questions there is agreement on and can, for example, aim to formulate statements that others can agree on.

“According to our studies, Finns would like to be able to have their say in society and decision-making digitally and easily online, but there are no tools for this. Decision-makers may also be frustrated by the way social media discussions highlight the opinion of a small but vocal minority,” says Joonas Leppänen, Senior Lead at Sitra.

The What do you think Finland? campaign gives Finns the opportunity to take a stand on the direction Finland should take. Participants can vote on proposed solutions and add their own ideas on how to build a better Finland. The distribution of opinions and other results can be followed in real time.

In Taiwan, Polis discussion was used to set ground rules for the taxi company Uber

The Polis platform was developed by the US organisation Computational Democracy. In Taiwan, the platform was used to draw up ground rules for the taxi company Uber, when it started up on the island.

The Polis discussion sought consensus on issues such as whether an Uber taxi could pick up customers from the street without being ordered, and whether the same pricing rules would apply to all service providers.

“This is a good example of how a Polis discussion can help to get an accurate situational picture of people’s opinions. In Finland, Polis could have enabled a more nuanced public discussion about NATO than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” says Leppänen.

The deployment of the Polis platform and related experiments are being carried out in collaboration between Sitra and DigiFinland, which promotes the digitalisation of public administration. The goal is to make it possible to use the platform in the future to solve various issues in municipalities, well-being services counties and companies.

The What do you think Finland? campaign will continue until 13 October. Audrey Tang, the Minister of Digital Affairs in Taiwan, where the Polis platform has been used extensively, was the keynote speaker at Sitra’s Day of Democracy event on 15 September.

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