Possibilist concept document

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last updated:  Feb 21, 2016. 


See also discussion, notes on related projects at Twitter page:  @Possibilist_

this is a project concept from Tim McCormick & collaborators to describe/design/prototype a platform to:

a) Constructively gather and evaluate ideas to address some defined problem (e.g, housing affordability); and
b) Facilitate development of existing and and new response initiatives via tools such as an "ideas market" and equity assignment.
I've also described it as "an Angel List for early, new or existing ideas." 

There are many ideation platforms already (which we attempt to survey in research notes below).  However, ideation & collaboration platforms are usually designed to generate new ideas/proposals, whereas with Possibilist we are exploring how to gather and evaluate existing as well as new initiatives in a given problem space. 

The first part of its function is to build the most useful possible "map" of existing ideas/proposals, and this may serve as a media resource for anyone working in that area, or to provide a reference framework for other reporting/media on the topic. 

Secondly, the concept of Possibilist is to bridge from a static description of existing ideas, to platform for incenting and developing proposals existing and new. This makes it partly like startup networks such as AngelList, a platform to list and resource already-established ventures. 

Map, gather and evaluate existing ideas (around a particular issue):

Generally, on any important issue, there are many ideas existing and emerging about what to do to address it.  However, how do you get a useful, objective overview of all response proposals? How can you evaluate which responses are most promising or impactful, which may be conflicting or compatible or forms of the same thing? How could you contribute or bring more attention to those which are most promising or interesting to you? 

Most existing media and organizations, I'd argue, are not usually well-aligned with those goals. Few people are resourced and motivated to comprehensively and objectively consider the key factors and reform/innovation proposals around some problem. Political / public-affairs issues are dominated by partisan or advocacy groups; conventional media operate mostly to achieve attention and 'engagement', not so much to find solutions to issues. 

In a given problem space, how might a online forum/platform be run to openly and comprehensively gather and evaluate analysis and response proposals -- without necessarily providing or imposing its own subject-domain expertise? 

Existing models: issue-mapping, etc. 

Some precedents/models for such open, contributive fora are: Wikipedia, ideas futures market (aka prediction markets), ideation platforms, issues-mapping (aka information mapping, mess mapping), or deliberative democracy processes.

Issue-mapping: researchers associated with the concept of "wicked problem" have developed various methods and tools for addressing such problems. Werner Kunz and Horst Rittel [1970] described a model of Issue-Based Information System to represent and work on such problems. 

Robert E. Horn and Robert E. Weber developed models of Mess Mapping and Resolution Mapping to examine and address complex issue. See Horn & Weber [2007].

Possibilist considers and looks to builds on all of these precedent models.  

Proposed pilot:  see: Pilot.

Documentation Components: 

a) Docs: gather/summarize existing policy documents & proposals, eg those regarding SF housing issues from SPUR & CCHO.  These may then be factored into..
b) Proposals (may be factored into component proposals, ie those that can be independent or grouped differently or are better evaluated separately);
c) Key Questions: try to isolate fundamental questions around which issues debates revolve, and then present different parties' answers/evidence on it. For example: "How does new market-rate housing affect price and rents of existing housing?" 
[note: both Proposals and Key Questions may often be generalizable to wider/other contexts]. 

Ideas Market: evaluate+develop new AND existing ideas

goals: incent gathering, rating & resourcing of good responses

encourage + facilitate people to
a) post ideas -- for project, tool, business, reform, etc;  
b) exert partial or full ownership of the idea as expressed on system. 
c) have the idea or proposal be a verified and tracked entity, which can take on valuation in a system or real currency. 
d) be able to sell or exchange stakes in this entity, for payment or services or stakes in other projects. 
e) therefore, be incented to make and develop good proposals; have contributions credited and rewarded; and be provided with resources to facilitate further development - money, services, new team members, etc. 

. Survey of existing platform/products:  

  • "idea markets"
    • Enterprise: BrightIdea,Spigit, Qmarkets, Uservoice, IdeaScale
    • consumer or open idea markets: Quirky, AHHHA, shouldexist.org (defunct?)
    • Civic/local-oriented: Neighborland, Neighbor.ly, Civinomics, MindMixer, Tumml accelerator
  • IdeaMarket (has pre-funded venture ideas, finds entrepreneurs/teams).
  • X-Prize-type bounty models
  • ReframeIt 
  • Ideator (SF / San Diego
  • UC Berkeley’s Opinion Space
  • Blockchain / cryptoequity-based: Swarm, Ethereum, Colony. 
  • AngelList, the best-known startup listing platform, offers various tools that help ventures register, hire, attract funding, close deals, etc. In 2012 it launched Angel Docs, a tool set to automate drafting and closing of seed-stage funding deals, but this project was discontinued in 2014.


Walkthrough of how this might work:

1. Participant A registers on Possibilist. 
[possibly, some verification of real identity is wanted/needed, for A to be able to exert ownership of a project entity or IP on the system?  Perhaps by linking to other profiles eg LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter].  

2. Participant A submits a proposal P1 to Possibilist in issue area/forum F.  It then becomes a registered entity RP1 in Possibilist. The record of it and subsequent transactions/annotations on it are maintained archivally -- i.e. as stably and verifiably as possible. This may serve as, or be linked to, an IP registration function, eg for helping to establish prior art, copyright, or attribution.See also Creative Barcode, Defensive Patent License, Internet Archive Wayback Machine.  

3. RP1 may be a description of an existing proposal (i.e. as surfaced from study of the issue/space and existing responses, in Part A above); or be one for which A claims some degree of authorship. P can record/assert the authorship/ownership of RP1 when submitting. 

4. Even if what's described in RP1 is entirely an existing proposal, A may be given credit or some degree of 'ownership' of the entity. This may serve as an incentive for participants to register and develop proposals even if they did not originally create them.  In this case, they are in effect a representative for that proposal on Possibilist. 

5. A can assign a percentage of the ownership, ie equity E, to another participants P2 at any time. That may be by selling that equity stake, for real or system currency.  If a stake is purchased, this sets a valuation of E.  An owner may also offer portions of equity in exchange for a specific amount in system or real currency; for specifed services, or for another participant to take on some role in the project; or in exchange for equity stake(s) of other project(s).  
[Note: in the US, buying and selling of an equity stake with real money may be viewed as a type of online gambling, thus presumptively not legal; this interpretation is generally applied to prediction markets unless they are granted exemption by US govt]. 

6. Other factors/events can create or change the valuation of RP.  Eg, owners can set a threshhold at which they'll sell equity unit, or they can invite bids.  If a bid accepted, it sets new valuation of RP.   Or, Possibilist may have general funding pool which is automatically allocated, say monthly, to purchase a stake in the top-rated or -valued entities. 

7. In other words, a project/proposal in the system can have valuation and get capitalization to develop, like a company; but it can occur at a much earlier point, with much lower setup/transaction costs, and than an actual company. 
[note:  as with various cryptoequity models like Swarm, Colony, etc. ]

Funding / Economic Models 

Possibilist compared to enterprise, civic, & platform-business models

Thirdly, we are also interested in developing viable economic/compensation models for all contributors -- to incent, credit, and reward people to do good issues-mapping, documentation and evaluation of existing proposals, and development of new ones.  This makes the goal somewhat different than 

  1. most enterprise ideation platforms (which are generally for use with people already being paid to work together; and 
  2. most civic platforms, which are generally for voluntary contribution, uncompensated; and 
  3. platform business models whose goal is profit for the platform, not necessarily any for (most) contributors. 

YCombinator - SAFE docs (Simple Agreement for Future Equity)

One precedent we might look at is YCombinator, a leading startup accelerator and innovator in accelerator practices. YC Led the move to convertible notes, and more recently a successor, SAFE docs (Simple Agreement for Future Equity), among other standardized equity documents for use in its investing. These initiatives seek to simplify and streamline equity assignment at an earlier point and/or smaller investment level in the investment/accelerator process. As with Possibilist proposals, they simplify the transaction by not involving actual stock equity (which doesn't exist yet for the ventures) and referencing instead some other, less complicated or regulated, mechanism: in SAFE's case, an option to buy future stock in venture. 

In theory, we might imagine how to extend this and create successively earlier, simpler, lower-cost, lower-investment-level contracts, as Possibilist concept aims to. 

Emerging Blockchain / Cryptoequity approaches

Blockchain-based systems such as Swarm, Ethereum, Backfeed, and Colony are developing means to securely record and automatically transact contractual/operational details such as offering equity for specified services. They may offer platform services to implement the mechanisms described here. Swarm focuses particularly on the model of Distributed Collaborative Organizations, in which the blockchain is used to establish and maintain an automatically distributed ownership/governance structure among contributors].


Bashaw, Nathan. "The Origin of Product Hunt." (June 24, 2014). 

Hanson, Robin [1986]. "Idea Futures (a.k.a. Prediction Markets, Information Markets).

Hirshman, Albert O. [1971]. "Political Economics and Possibilism." in, A Bias for Hope: Essays on Development and Latin America. (Yale University Press).  

Hoover, Ryan. "The Wisdom Of The 20-Minute Startup.Fast Company, December 9, 2013. 

Horn, Robert E., and Robert P. Weber [2007]. "New Tools For Resolving Wicked Problems: Mess Mapping and Resolution Mapping Processes."

McCormick, Tim [2013]. "Collaborative Argumentation and Advocacy." (June 1, 2013)
___. [2014]. "Can we turn news articles into action? proposal for civic-ideas markets/accelerators.

Putorti, Jason. [2015]. "Six Problems With Our Democracy… And Who’s Working To Fix Them.Techcrunch, Oct 28, 2015.  @putorti. 

Werner, Kunz and Rittel, Horst. “Issues as Elements of Information Systems.” 1970.  

Background & Notes 

IP protection, low-cost fractional investment/involvement, team-forming

"Market" in "idea market context can mean a few different things. 
a) Individual proposals/projects are funded by supporters.  Project sponsor/team get that money, as in crowdfunding. 
b) Proposals/projects are supported by votes (or such non-financial currency) from participants. Presumably, there would be some way the number of votes, who can vote, etc. is managed to guard against abuse. Leaderboard!
c) Projects are voted on by participants, and greater success in this may lead to automatic reward through the system, such as winning a monthly monetary prize for top-rated projects, or being accepted to a pitch event or investor meeting or venture incubator. 
d) Projects may have an assessed value within the system, based on participants voting for or "buying" stakes in them with some virtual currency. These values can change, and participants' 'portfolios' of stakes change in value, analogous to an actual securities market. The virtual currency within the idea market may also, potentially, be convertible into real currency. See: Wikipedia, "Prediction market"; Hanson, Robin. "Idea Futures (a.k.a. Prediction Markets, Information Markets)." (1986)

"Marketplace for business ideas" - Naval of AngelList

"ideation platforms." That is, platforms/services where people might research, express, register, & organize around early-stage venture ideas. 

@naval Naval Ravikant   April 20, 2014
Had a great idea for a marketplace for business ideas, but couldn't find anyone to build it for me...

@tmccormick April 20, 2014
@naval great idea. IdeaList, market for earliest stages of ventures: IP protection, low-cost fractional investment/involvement, team-forming

.@naval business-idea marketplaces: @creativebarcode @quirky @ahhha, @msbernst's Foundry http://hci.stanford.edu/publications/2013/FlashTeams/FlashTeams_CrowdConf2013.pdf /cc @dretelny @altrepreneur

"Civic-ideas market/accelerator" proposal (McCormick 2014)

Idea-market basic idea is, let's say you have some idea for example to reform property tax provision X or to make glow-in-the-dark bike lanes for bicyclist safety. How might this go from just a thought or conversation, or newspaper article, to a project with team & funding, or a functioning program or product or organization? How might you facilitate and incent early-stage ideas/proposals to be gathered, evaluated, and resourced? 

I (Tim McCormick) wrote about this in a 2014 post, "Can we turn news articles into action? proposal for civic-ideas markets/accelerators.

That post discusses the example of successful platform Angel List, on which new startups can set up a profile to describe themselves and team, and find angel/seed investors, new employees, and partners. It has become a central listing space and transaction coordinator in that field, facilitating formation and large-scale funding of 1000s of companies. 

Possibilist asks: what might we build to perform a similar gathering, funneling, and filtering/forming role, except for ventures which may be at an earlier point (as early as just a thought or conversation), or which might not be just tech startups/projects but government programs, legislative bills, social enterprises, or creative projects etc?  imagine a platform which, like AngelList does for tech startups, allows founders/proposers and project ideas to be registered, linked, and combined; and good proposals incented and surfaced by voting, micro-seed funding, ownership stakes, etc. You could think of it as bridging the gap between older media, focused on static/expositional “articles,” and organizations which seek outcome actions, such as startup accelerators or advocacy groups.