Mike Rouse is a West Midlands-based independent digital consultant with a focus on pushing innovation in political activism.
With local elections drawing nearer, I found myself firing up yet another spreadsheet to start keeping track of who turns up to campaign events. As I started adding rows, I stopped, and said: ‘this is crazy. There’s got to be a better way’.
I googled what attendance tracking software was on offer, but these were either really expensive or didn’t offer the flexibility I would need. For instance, I need my attendance tracking system to be flexible for things such as illness and non-mandatory sessions. It became clear I didn’t really want to track attendance as a binary record; I wanted to track the amount of effort our candidates and sitting councillors are giving.
It’s then it occurred to me how I can do this both on a budget and with maximum flexibility. The blockchain. So I set to work.
But first, I’ll illustrate what a blockchain actually is in overly-simplistic terms. It’s a bit like a spreadsheet that the whole world can add rows to, like a giant globalised ledger of transactions.
I created a special type of token within an existing blockchain system called Ethereum and named it ConservativeCoin. Labour will call it the ConCoin, and they’ll say we’re bribing money-minded Tories to come out campaigning, whereas they turn up powered only by the desire to change the world. But this isn’t about paying people (despite it being called ConservativeCoin – bear with me). That very evening, I minted 10,000,000 of these coins and gave them all to myself (in my pretend role as a central authority, as CCHQ would be). I then created 20 dummy activists, and worked out how my scheme would operate.
Let’s say someone turns up to a campaigning session on a wet Saturday morning. They could be credited with 0.0500 of my ConservativeCoin from the central pot. If they stuff some envelopes, we give them 0.0100 perhaps. If they go to the trouble of travelling to a target area, we’ll give them 0.1000, maybe. If the area is a red hot target, we can add a premium, and make it 0.5000 – or even a whole 1 ConservativeCoin if we like. (With 10,000,000 to play with there’s no chance of running out any time soon.)
The way all this would work is with a QR code, which could be placed on the back of our membership cards, or on a campaigner ID card. I thought we could do lanyards, as you get when you go to a concert, because activists always complain to me they lack an official- looking ID when they knock the doors. This would solve that problem, and be something doubly useful.
By the way, though the blockchain is open to all to see, only the central authority and the activist would know the identity of a person behind an e-wallet number.
When the activist arrives, he or she’d be ‘scanned in’ by someone, say a campaign manager. As soon as this takes place, what is really happening is a transfer of 0.1000 ConservativeCoin to that activists’ e-wallet. These e-wallets could even stay in the possession of CCHQ, who could connect them into apps, and let activists check their balance. Think of it as being like the Activity Points offered by the official Conservative Campaigner app, except these ConservativeCoins actually have utility and purpose.
Over time, an activist would build up a large balance (hopefully). It’s then up to the party to decide what they can do with it. I originally posited the idea that the cost of an Association’s annual dinner could be paid for from the balance of ConservativeCoin held by an activist, for instance. Perhaps they could use their coins to get a discount on the cost of party conference, buy some merchandise, or upgrade themselves to priority seating at big speeches, or queue jump.
There are many possibilities presented by such an approach, as I hope readers can see – though, admittedly, there are still various practical questions about how such a system might work. Actually paying people to canvass is illegal, and paying for other types of campaigning might also be considered dodgy. Also, some people might feel like they’re being ‘bribed’ to go out.
Furthermore, what happens with people who have low balances? Do they get de-selected? Could they perhaps use their built-up balance to cover a period of leave, perhaps?
It should be stressed that despite its name, ConservativeCoin doesn’t have to be a payment. With a central authority like CCHQ always in control of the wallet’s private keys, they would technically be paying nobody but themselve – essentially turning the whole token system into an internal record-keeping system of activism. It is up to the lawyers to decide if allowing activists the freedom to ‘spend’ their earned coins/points then turns it into a payment or not. I leave that debate to others.
It’s also important to point out that by putting the solution into the blockchain we solve the problem of someone at CCHQ developing the system internally, using whatever language they prefer, and then leaving a year later for the project to then die. By having it in the blockchain, control rests with somewhere like CCHQ, but innovation is decentralised.
The technology is here and it’s ready now. Blockchain can revolutionise the way we work by putting an activist system like the one described above beyond the frailties of internally-developed and managed systems, in a way that allows other innovations to flow outwards by talking to the ConservativeCoin eco-system. Indeed, ConservativeCoin is not restricted to the UK either: it could be rolled out globally to encourage and innovate inside the wider conservative movement.