ARC Project profile: CODES

We talk to Michael Bruter, from the London School of Economics, about his venture tackling the lack of understanding of public opinion in electoral processes.

This project profile is part of the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator, Class of 2021. ARC (formerly SUCCESS) is now on to it’s second cohort of university-based ventures seeking to change the world through their innovative, creative and disruptive ideas.

Q: What’s your academic background and how did it lead to starting your venture?

I’m a professor of political science at the London School of Economics and specialist of electoral psychology. This is the part of political science where we try to understand what happens in the minds of voters, and what affects the democratic experience of citizens. We also work a lot in a field, which we call electoral economics, which is about the interaction between the way democratic processes like elections and consultations are organised and how this affects the experience of people, the way they behave, and the way they manage to feel part of their political system. 

This has led us to get unique insights into what people feel is not working and on that basis, my team and myself have started wanting to just understand what the problems are, and instead try to find solutions for them. We’ve now got massive insights into the problems and we think we’ve found a solution, which enables people to give their opinions in their own words. And for us to use a human led artificial intelligence tool, to then translate those opinions into collective decisions.

Q: What does your venture aim to achieve and how does it tackle the issue?

There are a lot of issues which worldwide democracies are facing at the moment, a lot of people are abstaining, and if they are not abstaining, they are not satisfied with elections. A lot of people say that they are voting for the “lesser evil” in elections, as opposed to having candidates or options they really care about. As well as that, local governments are really keen and eager to understand the opinions of citizens because it’s one of the most precious “commodities” that we have – people’s thoughts. The problem is that they usually don’t capture them. 

“They do not ask the right questions, the questions that people care about. People do have a lot of thoughts but, as a result, those opinions are wasted.”

Michael Bruter

The CODES tool (Collaborative Democratic Solutions) is trying to rectify that problem by allowing people to tell us their opinions on what they care about in their own words. Then we will make sure that this opinion is channelled and understood in a way which is going to be able to improve consultation and decision making processes. And by giving them the power back, you capture the very opinions which people organising consultations and democratic processes need and want to understand. 

Q: How is the ARC Accelerator program supporting you in bringing your venture to life?

One of the main lessons for us is to be able to switch away from the natural or the intuitive academic perspective, which is often very conceptual and analytical to asking ourselves much more concrete questions. Our work has always been very concrete in intention and the issues we solve, but it’s the practical things that we don’t always think about. For example, price or legal protection.

We don’t want to abandon our values. We want to put our values – such as ethics or the need to improve the lives of citizens and the quality of democracy – at the heart of our work so that it can actually improve what those who will use our tool deliver to their citizens, their customers and so on. So, learning about doing these things in ARC, while still being proud of our specificity as academic innovation, has been a very useful lesson for me. 

You can find all the project profiles from the ARC Accelerator here

Photo credit: cottonbro from Pexels

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