TU Wien Informatics

20 Years

Informatics for Civic Engagement at the City of Vienna

  • By Theresa Aichinger-Fankhauser
  • 2024-01-23
  • Community

Jan Maly gives insights into how proportional decision-making can transform participation projects at the City of Vienna’s ‘Vienna Science Talks’.

Informatics for Civic Engagement at the City of Vienna
Picture: René Krenn / MD-BLWFW

The majority rules. This fundamental principle organizes our democratic governments, public decision-making, and even daily social interactions. However, when electing more than one candidate or outcome, the majority rule limits minority voices from being heard. Instead, a proportional voting rule (like in the Austrian parliamentary elections) helps foster diverse and inclusive outcomes. Yet, how to achieve proportional outcomes in elections without an explicit party structure is a very challenging problem.

Jan Maly, PostDoc Researcher at the Research Unit for Database and Artificial Intelligence explores alternatives to traditional decision-making processes and how they can be implemented computationally. In December 2023, he was invited by the Director’s Office for Science, Research and Business Location to present his research on proportional decision-making to experts from the City of Vienna within the Vienna Science Talks.

Proportional decision-making, using, e.g., the ‘method of equal shares’, is a transformative approach to civic engagement, which tries to mirror the diversity of perspectives within a group by allocating an equal vote to every participant. Imagine a big family deciding what to have for dinner: Instead of the majority deciding on a dish, everyone gets a say. No matter if you don’t like spinach or have a milk allergy, it all influences the final decision. Of course, this approach gets more complex as groups grow and increasing information has to be processed – this is where methods from logic and computation come in. The City of Vienna hosts the large-scale participation platform mitgestalten.wien.gv.at, where citizens can decide on diverse projects to shape the city. Maly’s research findings could enhance this endeavor by introducing more nuanced and inclusive decision-making mechanisms.

Public participation platforms, especially on a municipal level, predominantly allocate funding for different projects. This is called ‘participatory budgeting’: Citizens can vote for cycling infrastructures, parks, or community spaces – depending on how popular specific projects are, the city council allocates its resources. Of course, voting rules tremendously impact which projects are funded. In his research, Jan Maly advocates for fairness and equal voting measures, meaning that voting rules should ensure that each voter has the same share in budget allocation and can be equally satisfied. Together with colleagues, he has also advised the City of Amsterdam on using proportional decision-making procedures for their local participatory budgeting projects. The research platform equalshares.net combines the efforts of international researchers in this field and shows municipal projects and elections where proportional decision-making has already been put into action. The potential transformation brought about by the method of equal shares extends beyond the allocation of resources – it represents a shift toward a more fair, empathetic, and, ultimately, more cohesive society.

About Jan Maly

Jan Maly is a PostDoc Researcher at the Research Unit for Database and Artificial Intelligence of TU Wien Informatics. He is currently pursuing his project, “A holistic analysis of participatory budgeting,” for which FWF granted him an Erwin Schrödinger Fellowship. In this project, he explores Participatory Budgeting not as an isolated voting instance but as a multi-year, city-wide process that consists of several stages. He has worked extensively on proportional decision mechanisms for non-standard voting frameworks such as Participatory Budgeting and Perpetual Voting and co-authored the first in-depth survey on voting rules for Participatory Budgeting.

Jan Maly received his PhD from TU Wien in 2020. Following his studies, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the group of Ulle Endriss at the University of Amsterdam before returning to TU Wien in 2023. While in Amsterdam, he co-founded the European Digital Democracy Network, which organizes interdisciplinary online and offline events on digital democracy.

About the Vienna Science Talks

Vienna Science Talks is an event format within the framework of the Cooperation Agreement on the University Location Vienna (2019). Researchers present and discuss knowledge from the universities in a low-threshold manner at the City of Vienna. The Director’s Office for Science, Research and Business Location regularly organizes events for their experts on key topics and current challenges facing the City of Vienna.

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