According to Regis Fracis Xavier Philbin, host of the USA version of the ubiquitous show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’, the audience is right a staggering 98.9% of the time. What would happen, we thought, if the audience not only answered the questions, but if they also proposed and then voted on which questions to ask? And what if, using this same method, they could actually decide the rules of the game itself? That, we thought, is a recipe for cultural and social change.
We invited 100 people to give us £10 each, and gathered them in the rotting splendour of Old Limehouse Town Hall in East London’s Docklands. Then we used a simple majority voting system to ask this audience how they’d like to spend their £1000, and if they voted to change the voting system, how they’d like to to decide on how to spend it.
Predictably, the first 45 minutes were total and utter chaos. The audience flailed about, majority voting on first one idea then the next, then starting again. People got frustrated and angry and voted (unsuccessfully) to get their money back, and what’s worse, the voting system kept misbehaving and crashing at crucial moments.
Then finally, someone made a tentative ruleÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Âchanging suggestion.
“How about if we vote on general themes first, then on specific ideas?”
Then someone else suggested three rounds of pitches, with the winner staying on until we picked a winning idea. Then, all at the same time, everyone just got it. The audience elected an adjudicator to write down decisions and arbitrate on whether a decision was valid or that a previous decision would have to be revoked first. Within half an hour, they had written their own decision making protocol.
And suddenly, there was a new organism in the room. What had been an amoebic soup of random audience suggestions had rapidly evolved into some kind of audience borg, with two hundred arms and legs, and a hundred loud mouths and a million ideas. The audience borg quickly decided on some themes: to do something ‘sexy and subversive’ that ‘involved everyone there’. Ideas flowed thick and fast, from a flotilla of canoes to paddle up the Thames to launch an insect larvae bomb into the ventilation systems of parliament, to a cash prize for a dance off to Jean Michelle Jarre.
Finally, the audience decided that they had enjoyed themselves so much that they wanted to do it again with a bigger audience and with more money. So they gave us back the money and asked us to publicise a new event, hire a bigger, better venue, and fix the software to work with their new decision making protocol. Which we did. And the ensuing second show (which is a whole other story) saw the audience borg with its new rule set in full effect from the off. You can read about that game, and how the audience continued to evolve both the game and their idea here
You can read a longer explanation of this radical experiment in audience participation here